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Limited-scope representation rule proposal simplified

The Supreme Court’s rules advisors are offering a simplified proposal to regulate limited-scope representation of needy clients in civil matters.

The court’s Advisory Committee on Rules of Court is again seeking comments on a proposed addition to Rule 1:5 to “encourage making available legal services to as many Virginians as possible,” in the words of an April 16 committee memo.

This time, there are no alternate ghostwriting provisions. The proposal does not address ghostwriting at all. Also missing from the new proposal is a requirement that the limited-scope lawyer attend all court proceedings. And there is no limitation on representation of multiple parties.

Under the new proposal, any lawyer could provide limited-scope representation in a civil case. If the lawyer is not connected to a legal aid office, however, he or she would have to seek leave of court.

The proposal would require lawyers to give notice of their limited-scope presentation.

To withdraw, a lawyer would need to file a motion with seven days’ notice to the client. Regardless of client consent to withdrawal, if the court finds that the lawyer’s limited-scope obligations have been completed, the court “shall” grant leave to withdraw.

“The Committee has concluded that for a number of reasons there should be a court order granting withdrawal, but that – on the other hand – such approval should be automatic when the obligations an attorney has undertaken … have been completed,” the panel said in its memo.

“Having a court order for withdrawal will protect the client, the withdrawing attorney, and the court system by providing clear approval for cessation of the limited-scope representation,” the committee said. “This will reduce the chance that uncertainties over the continuing role of counsel will arise unexpectedly during court proceedings, and it will minimize client bar complaints.”

The committee said it considered comments to its earlier proposal in offering a “much shorter and simpler” revised draft rule amendment.

The new proposal has a sunset provision. The rules committee said it tentatively resolved to recommend to the Judicial Council of Virginia and the Supreme Court a “Pilot Project” whereby the rule amendment would expire at the end of 2021 unless extended. The idea is to “gather experience on the operation of this process,” the committee said.

The revised proposal also includes language to address concerns that the rule would apply to so-called “appearance counsel” in collection actions.

The committee memo made it clear that the proposal has not been considered or approved by the Judicial Council or the court. Comments from the bench and bar should be directed by Aug. 1 to Steven Dalle Mura at [email protected] or by post to

Steven Dalle Mura

Director of Research, Office of the Executive Secretary

Supreme Court of Virginia

100 North Ninth Street, Richmond, VA 23219