Lawyer Referral Services Are the Key Gateway to Unbundled Services and Calfornia Leads the Way

It is impossible to overemphasize the importance of lawyer referral services (LRS) in opening up unbundling to the millions for whom it is the key to access to justice, and the tens or hundreds of thousands of lawyers who might finally find a financially viable way of practice through providing such service.

Now the California State Bar’s Standing Committee on the Delivery of Legal Services Moderate Means Working Group, chaired by Christine Page, has produced a brochure aimed at LRS, and it has been sent to the all certified Lawyer Referral Services on the California LRS listserv.

Here is some of the key language.


Yes!  There are hundreds of attorneys practicing limited scope representation in California today, and many thousands across the country.  After initial resistance in family law courts, most family law judges in California now both understand and embrace unbundling.  In time, civil court judges will also become more familiar with limited scope representation and appreciate its advantages over self-representation.

LRS’s with established limited scope panels, such as the Contra Costa County Bar Association, report that the panels are inexpensive to administer and bring valuable added revenue.  Most attorneys who practice limited scope report that it comprises between 15-30-% of their practice and, for many, it has enabled them to stay in business during the recession.

Many attorneys who first learn of limited scope fear they will be exposed to malpractice claims or that they will be “stuck” with a client after the limited services are provided.  These fears are unfounded if attorneys practice limited scope according to the guidelines set forth in the risk management training materials.  A recent survey of limited scope practitioners in California revealed that they have been able to provide meaningful assistance to low and moderate income clients exactly as set out in the limited scope engagement.  These attorneys also reported a great deal of satisfaction in educating and coaching clients on what aspects of a matter they can handle on their own  so that they can resolve a dispute without being crushed by legal fees.


In addition to referring interested attorneys to the free training programs on the PLI and ABA websites, your bar association may wish to sponsor a training seminar for attorneys in your community in order to publicize and generate interest for a limited scope panel.  These seminars offer MCLE credit, including one-hour of ethics credit.  For assistance in setting up a training seminar, contact Rodney Low, Program Developer of the State Bar’s Office of Legal Services,


The easiest way to educate the public about limited scope representation is to post a link on your website explaining what it is and how a client can be referred to a limited scope practitioner.  Examples can be found on the websites of the Contra Costa County Bar Association and San Fernando Valley Bar Association, both pioneers in promoting limited scope in California.  A sample pamphlet answering frequently asked questions regarding limited scope can be found at under the FAQ’s for their Attorney Referral Service.

Most clients, however, will only learn about limited scope as an option if you educate them during the intake screening.  Callers who have been referred by Self Help Centers and other court-based programs are among the best candidates for limited scope representation and should be routinely informed about the limited scope option.


For those interested in establishing a panel, there are materials providing step-by-step instructions on how to identify prospective panelists, provide needed training, and screen callers for referrals to limited scope panelists.  The article “Establishing a Limited Representation (“Unbundling”) Lawyer Referral Service Panel” is posted on the ABA website and can also be obtained from Barbara Tillson, LRIS Coordinator for the Contra Costa County Bar Association.  Feel free to contact Ms. Tillson at

If your LRIS is too small to justify a separate panel, there are still a number of things you can do to promote limited scope:

  • Encourage attorneys to add limited scope to their practice by advertising limited scope on your website and providing a link to the PLI and ABA programs that provide free training.
  • Send a survey to your current panelists to identify who has received training and/or is currently offering limited scope and maintain that information in your database for potential referrals.
  • Educate your intake staff so they can “triage” referral clients and direct them to a limited scope practitioner.
  • Remind your panelists to educate their clients regarding the limited scope alternative.

Any other questions?  Contact Rodney Low at Rodney.Low(at)

These are great ideas.  Its fabulous to see the LRS community stepping up to the plate.


About richardzorza

I am deeply involved in access to justice and the patient voice movement.
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4 Responses to Lawyer Referral Services Are the Key Gateway to Unbundled Services and Calfornia Leads the Way

  1. Pingback: Access to Justice: Lawyer Referral, Self-Represented Litigants, Courthouse Self-Help, and more | Oregon Legal Research Blog

  2. We’ve had a limited scope panel at our Lawyer Referral Service of Central Texas in Austin for several years. We have found the public education is an issue. We need to get the word out!

  3. Pingback: ALI CLE: Continuing Legal Education Seminars in Multiple Formats

  4. Richard, Did you see my post on the Celebrate Pro Bono site?

    (I also make a strong pitch for this in my $10 ebook.)


    Date: Tue, 16 Oct 2012 17:58:15 +0000 To:

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