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Unbundling Resource Center

Ethics Opinions


ABA Formal Opinion 472 (2015)
The ABA Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility released an ethics opinion addressing the obligations of a lawyer when communicating with a person who is receiving limited-scope representation. The Committee recommends that if the lawyer has reason to believe that an unrepresented person on the opposing side has received limited-scope legal services, the lawyer should begin the communication with that person by asking whether that person is or was represented by counsel for any portion of the matter so that the lawyer knows whether to proceed under ABA Model Rule 4.2 or 4.3 (to avoid violating the “no-contact” rule).   

ABA Formal Opinion 07-446 (2007)
A lawyer may provide legal assistance to litigants appearing before tribunals "pro se" and help them prepare written submissions without disclosing or ensuring the disclosure of the nature or extent of such assistance.


Alabama State Bar Ass’n Ethics Op. 2010-01
The Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct allow a lawyer to limit the scope of the representation. Ordinarily, a lawyer is not required to disclose drafting assistance to the court.


Alaska Bar Ass'n Ethics Op. 93-1 (1993)
A lawyer may ethically limit the scope of representation of a client, but the lawyer should notify the client clearly of the limitation of representation and the potential risks the client is taking by not having full representation. When a lawyer limits the scope of representation, an attorney-client relationship is still created between the lawyer and the client, with all the attendant duties and responsibilities detailed in the Professional Canons.


Arizona State Bar Ass’n Op. 06-03 (2006)
An attorney who limits the scope of representation and coaches the client or ghost writes papers must direct the client to be truthful and candid in the client’s activities.  While an attorney is not required to disclose to opposing counsel that the attorney is providing limited-scope representation, the attorney must maintain client confidentiality if doing so.

Arizona State Bar Ass’n Op 05-06 (2005)
An attorney representing a client may enter into an agreement limiting the scope of services to a specific and discrete task. An attorney is required to have sufficient knowledge and skill to provide reliable counsel to the limited scope client as to the advisability of the action requested by the client. The attorney providing limited scope representation is not required to disclose to the court or other tribunal that the attorney is providing assistance to a client proceeding in propria persona.

Arizona State Bar Ass'n Op. 91-03 (1991)
A lawyer "may ethically represent a client on a limited basis as long as: 1) the client consents after consultation; 2) the scope of the representation is not so limited as to cause the attorney to violate the Ethical Rules or other law; and 3) the attorney does not advise the client to do something that the attorney would be prohibited from doing personally."


Orange County Bar Association Formal Opinion 2014-1 (Ghostwriting by Contract Lawyers and Out-of-State Lawyers)
A lawyer may use another contract lawyer or out-of-state lawyer to ghostwrite court documents without having to disclose that assistance to the court.

The State Bar of California Ass'n Standing Comm. on Prof. Resp. and Conduct Ethics Op. No. 2012-184
As it pertains to the use of technology, the Business and Professions Code and the Rules of Professional Conduct do not impose greater or different duties upon a VLO practitioner in operating in the cloud than they do upon an attorney practicing in a traditional law office. While an attorney may maintain a VLO in the cloud where communications with the client, the storage of and access to all information about the client's matter, are conducted solely via the internet using a third-party's secure servers, Attorney may be required to take additional steps to confirm that she is fulfilling her ethical obligations due to distinct issues raised by the hypothetical VLO and its operation.

Los Angeles Cnty Bar Ass'n Prof. Resp. and Ethics Comm. Ethics Op. 502  (1999)
Attorneys may limit scope of representation of a litigation client to consultation, preparation of pleadings to be filed by client, and participation in negotiations, as long as client consents to the limitation in advance. Attorney must still tell the client about reasonably apparent legal problems even if they fall outside the scope of representation.

Los Angeles Cnty Bar Ass'n Prof. Resp. and Ethics Comm. Ethics Op. 483 (1995)
An attorney may limit the attorney's services by agreement with a pro per litigant to consultation on procedures and preparation of pleadings to be filed by the client pro per. A litigant may be either self-represented or represented by counsel, but not both at once, unless approved by the court. In order for attorney to specially appear on behalf of the litigant before the court for a limited purpose, the attorney should comply with all applicable court rules and procedures of the particular tribunal.


Colorado Bar Ass'n Ethics Op. 101 (1998)
Colorado Rules of Professional Conduct, and particularly Rule 1.2, allow unbundled legal services in both litigation and non-litigation matters. A lawyer who provides limited representation must nonetheless make a sufficient "inquiry into and analysis of the factual and legal elements of the problem" to provide the competent representation required by Rule 1.1.

UPDATE: Colorado Revises Ethics Opinion 101 on Unbundling (2016)
The Colorado Bar Association’s Ethics Committee has revised Formal Opinion 101 addressing the unbundling of legal services. The new, more comprehensive Opinion discusses the provisions of Colorado RPC 1.2(c) that expressly allow limited scope representation, related rules that enable lawyers to provide limited scope representation and to ghostwrite pleadings and briefs, and other rules of professional conduct that lawyers engaged in limited scope representation must follow. The Ethics Committee originally adopted Formal Opinion 101 in 1998, and the new Opinion 101 discusses the increased use of unbundling throughout the state and country since then.


Connecticut Informal Op. 90-18 (1990)
Legal aid agencies, in lieu of representation, may offer a class on pro se divorce to individuals seeking simple uncontested divorce and, for more complicated matters, provided clients are fully advised of the risks of proceeding pro se.


Delaware State Bar Ass’n Op – 2006-1
A lawyer may be required to perform beyond the term of a limited scope representation agreement if the Court requested, or the Client’s circumstance warranted such action. In most circumstances, an agreement to withdraw from representation would not violate any ethics requirement, as long as the lawyer provides adequate advice to Client concerning the scope of representation. In family court, the Court’s permission may be needed to withdraw from simple divorce petitions in certain circumstances.

Delaware State Bar Ass'n Comm. On Prof. Ethics Op. 1994-2
A legal services organization may properly limit its involvement in matters to advice and document preparation, but must disclose any significant assistance it provides to an otherwise pro se litigant. If it prepares pleadings or other documents, or provides advice or assistance on an ongoing basis, it should disclose the extent of its involvement.

District of Columbia

D.C. Bar Op. 330 (2005)
Unbundling of legal services is permissible under D.C. Rule 1.2 (c), provided the client is fully informed of the limits on the scope of the representation and these limits do not prevent the provision of competent service. If a party is proceeding pro se, opposing counsel should treat that party as unrepresented unless and until that counsel receives reasonable notice of representation from the party or her lawyer.


Florida State Bar Ass'n Op. 79-7 (Reconsideration 2000)
Any pleadings or other papers prepared by an attorney and filed with the court on behalf of a pro se litigant must clearly indicate that the litigant was aided by an attorney. Specifically, such filings should state, "Prepared with Assistance of Counsel."


Illinois Ethics Opinion No. 12-09
A lawyer not admitted in Illinois may not primarily practice in the state, physically or through a virtual office, even if the co-owner of the law firm is a lawyer, licensed in Illinois, who has direct supervision of the non-admitted lawyer on matters involving Illinois clients.

Illinois State Bar Ass’n Prof. Conduct Comm. Op. 04-03
A lawyer who mediated a divorce settlement between unrepresented husband and wife may not prepare a proposed judgment of dissolution of marriage, a marriage separation agreement and joint parenting agreement for husband and wife and allow husband and wife to file said documents as pro se litigants.

Illinois State Bar Ass’n Prof. Conduct Comm. Op. 94-01
A lawyer aids in the unauthorized practice of law, and may violate rules pertaining to confidentiality, conflicts, and the duty to communicate with and explain matters to a client, by limiting his role in a real estate transaction to the drafting of documents and delegating the gathering and dissemination of information, the resolution of problems arising from such the documents drafted, and other problems which may arise at the closing, to the real estate broker.

Illinois State Bar Ass'n Prof. Conduct Comm. Op. 849 (1983; Affirmed 1991)
An attorney may agree in advance with his or her client to limit the scope of the attorney's representation and draft pleadings without appearing or taking any part in any of the proceeding itself, provided that the client gives his or her fully informed consent to such limitation of employment and the attorney takes whatever steps may be necessary to avoid foreseeable prejudice to the client's rights.

Illinois State Bar Ass'n Prof. Conduct Comm. Op. 85-6 (1985; Affirmed 1991)
It is improper for a lawyer to advise a client; prepare pleadings, motions and petitions for client; file documents in court on client's behalf, but then seek a waiver from the client excusing the lawyer's presence in court in a bankruptcy representation.


Iowa State Bar Ass'n Op. 96-31 (1997)
An attorney may draft a dissolution petition without charge for an indigent client who wishes to proceed pro se where the attorney indicates on the petition that he or she drafted it. As long as the court is informed of the lawyer who prepared the pleading, no ethical violation would occur and it would not be improper.

Iowa State Bar Ass'n Op. 94-35 (1995)
Ghostwriting that represents pleadings to be pro se is a deception on the court when it is in fact a product of the lawyer "who is counseling the party and not accepting the inherent lawyer responsibilities to the court and to the law."


Kansas Ethics Opinion No. 09-01
An attorney may offer limited scope representation.  Any lawyer who prepares a pleading for an otherwise pro se litigant must disclose such assistance, including the phrase “Prepared with Assistance of Counsel” on the pleading. The attorney need not provide identifying information such as name, bar number or address.

Kansas Ethics Op. 92-06 (1992)
A law firm's operation of a 900-number legal advice telephone line is not per se unethical. However, callers are deemed clients and thus entitled to all the protections afforded to them, including competency, confidentiality, and freedom from conflicts of interest. A firm maintaining such a 900 service would have a duty to screen callers to ensure that there were no conflicts of interest and to make sure that there were no competency issues, and could not charge callers for the time spent conducting such screening.


Kentucky Bar Ass'n Op. E-343 (1991)
A lawyer may limit his or her undertaking and provide assistance in preparation of initial pleadings. However, the lawyer should not aid a litigant in the deception that the litigant is not represented when, in fact, the litigant is represented behind the scenes.


Maine State Bar Ethics Opinion No. 89 (1988)
A lawyer is not required to sign a complaint or enter an appearance as counsel of record when representation is solely limited to preparation of the complaint.


Massachusetts Bar Ass'n Committee on Professional Ethics, Op. 98-1 (1998)
An attorney may provide limited background advice and counseling to pro se litigants. However, providing more extensive services, such as drafting pleadings, i.e., ghostwriting, would usually be misleading to the court and other parties and therefore would be prohibited.


State Bar of Michigan Op. RI-348 (2010)

After consultation with the client, a lawyer may ethically limit the scope of representation in the context of Chapter 7 bankruptcy proceedings. The lawyer must provide competent representation to the client in light of the proposed limitations and the proposed limitations may not violate other law.

State Bar of Michigan Op. RI-347 (2010)
An attorney may assist a pro se litigant by giving advice or preparing documents as long as the attorney complies with the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct.  An attorney who assists a pro se litigant is not required to appear in any proceeding and is not required to disclose the assistance to the court or opposing counsel.

State Bar of Michigan Op. RI-301 (1997)
When no confidential information has been divulged and the participant of a pro se self-help clinic has signed an agreement where the legal services agency disavows legal representation, no client-lawyer relationship is established. The legal services agency that provides the clinic is not disqualified from representing a party to litigation when the litigation has been filed by a participant in the clinic.


Mississippi State Bar Op. 176 (1990; Amended 2013)
An attorney may participate in a counseling service sponsored by a Chamber of Commerce in which business owners receive free legal counseling on a limited basis.


Advisory Committee of the Supreme Court of Missouri Formal Op. 124 (2008)
It is ethically permissible for Missouri attorneys to engage in collaborative law practice.  The attorney must inform the client how the process works and must obtain the client’s written consent.

Missouri Bar Ass'n Advisory Op. 940161
It is impermissible for a lawyer to draft responsive pleadings to an unrepresented opposing party in a divorce. However, a lawyer may draft an entry of appearance if the lawyer includes a letter indicated that he or she represents the opposing party and that the unrepresented party should obtain counsel.

Missouri Bar Ass'n Advisory Op. 940049
It is impermissible for a lawyer to prepare an answer for an unrepresented opposing party in a divorce or marital separation.


Montana State Bar Ass'n Advisory Op. 900409 (1990)
It is unethical for an attorney to sell "do-it-yourself" divorce kits. Kits lead clients to believe that they need no further consultation with a lawyer and present a very real possibility that client will suffer harm as a result of failure of the kit to meet particular needs.


Nebraska State Bar Ass'n Ethics Op. 94-2
Non-lawyers may not, through a 900 number telephone service, provide legal advice to the public. Attorneys encouraging such an enterprise would be in violation of the rule that prohibits a lawyer from aiding a non-lawyer in the practice of law.


State Bar of Nevada Formal Ethics Opinion No. 34 (2006, Revised 2009)
A lawyer who provides substantial assistance to a self-represented litigant must disclose such assistance to the court. The lawyer’s identity must be disclosed by signing all papers filed with the court for which the lawyer gave substantial assistance to the pro se litigant, by drafting or otherwise. In non-litigation settings, any attorney that provides substantial assistance to a pro se litigant must disclose such assistance, in writing, to the opposing party.

New Jersey

New Jersey Supreme Court Advisory Committee on Professional Ethics Op. 713 (2008)
Limited Representation is fully permissible as long it follows the requirements of RPC 1.2 (c). Disclosure of limited assistance is not required if part of a non-profit program designed to provide legal assistance to people of limited means, or if it represents an effort by a lawyer to aid someone who is otherwise unable to afford an attorney. Disclosure of limited assistance is required in other situations such as when a used as a tactic to gain advantage in litigation or when a lawyer effectively controls the final form and wording of pleadings and the conduct of litigation.

New Jersey Sup. Ct. Comm. On Attorney Advertising Op. 17 (1994)
Is it not unethical per se for a lawyer to operate a 900-number pay-per-call service giving legal advice. However, the lawyer must comply with the ethics rules and should proceed with great caution.

New Mexico

New Mexico Ethics Advisory Op. 1987-12 (1987)
Where an opposing client is proceeding pro se but has given the attorney no indication that he is relying on the attorney to protect his rights, the attorney has no obligation to call to the court's attention a possible mistake that favors the attorney's client. The attorney is entitled to act as though the opposing client were represented by counsel and accordingly require the opposing client to protect his own rights.

New Mexico Advisory Op. 1987-6 (1987)
A lawyer may participate in a pro bono clinic that provides educational programs to individuals interested in pro se representation, provided the programs do not give specific legal advice to any individual.

New York

New York County Law Association Committee on Professional Ethics Op. 742 (2010)
It is ethically permissible for an attorney to prepare pleadings and other submissions for pro se litigants. Lawyers are not required to disclose such assistance, except in certain, limited situations.

Ass’n of the Bar of the City of New York Formal Op. 2009-2 (2009)
Ethics rules permit an attorney to make certain statements to a self-represented individual who is adverse to their own client. The attorney may identify general legal issues that a self-represented person should address and may also discuss undisputed statements or facts of law. In addition, an attorney may advise a self-represented individual to seek counsel and may also refer a self-represented litigant to seek assistance from a court-sponsored self-help program. The attorney may also clarify his or her role, and must volunteer such information if the self-represented person misunderstands the attorney’s role in the matter.

New York State Bar Ass'n Op. 613 (1990)
A lawyer who does not appear as counsel of record for a pro se litigant may prepare responsive pleadings and demands for financial disclosure, provided the lawyer investigates the matter adequately.

North Carolina

North Carolina State Bar Formal Op. 3 (2008)
A lawyer may assist a pro se litigant by drafting pleadings and giving advice without making an appearance in the proceeding and without disclosing or ensuring the disclosure of his assistance to the court unless required to do so by law or court order.

North Carolina State Bar Formal Op.10 (2005)
Lawyers may provide services over the internet so long as: 1) the lawyer website includes a physical office address; 2) the lawyer provides competent representation, engaging in the same level of communication and taking precautions as does a lawyer in a law office; 3) the lawyer determines jurisdiction of client and runs comprehensive conflicts checks and; 4) the lawyer takes reasonable precautions to protect confidential information transmitted to and from the client. Lawyers providing services over the internet may offer unbundled client services if they obtain client consent, provide competent representation and follow RPC 1.2 (c).

North Carolina State Bar Formal Op. 6 (2002)
A lawyer may not represent one party in a divorce and prepare pleadings for the other ( pro se) party to sign, regardless of the willingness of the parties.

North Carolina State Bar RPC 114 (1991)
Legal services attorneys may provide legal advice and drafting assistance to pro se litigants without appearing as counsel of record. If court approved pleading forms exist, attorneys may make them available to individuals wishing to proceed pro se.


Oregon State Bar Association Formal Opinion No. 2011-183
Limited scope representation is expressly allowed by Oregon RPC 1.2(b) and clarifies that an attorney may limit representation to certain actions or to certain issues. Communication is addressed and attorneys are encouraged to use written engagement letter to minimize risks associated with providing limited scope representation.


Pennsylvania Opinion 2011-100
A lawyer may ethically limit the scope of representation of a client, but must adhere to the normal duty of competence and must be sure the client has exercised informed consent to the limitation. Lawyers are not under an obligation to disclose his or her role to either opposing parties or to a tribunal. Five safeguards for lawyers engaging in limited scope representation are outlined in the opinion.

South Carolina

South Carolina Bar Ethics Advisory Op. 05-18
An attorney may limit representation in a real estate closing to certain portions or phases of the transaction without violating the South Carolina Rules of Professional Conduct, if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances and the clients give informed consent. However, the arrangement presents elevated risks of ethical violations, and attorneys are advised to take additional precautions to avoid violating, in particular, Rules 5.5(a), 1.1, and 1.2(c), or in the alternative should avoid undertaking the representation.

South Carolina Bar Ethics Advisory Op. 90-18
 A lawyer may draft and submit a responsive pleading and waiver of appearance on behalf of an opposing party in a divorce action while representing the interest of his or her own client when he or she determines that the preparation and submission of the pleadings does not constitute representation.


Bd. of Prof. Resp. of the Sup. Ct. of Tenn. Op. 2007-F-153
An attorney may prepare pleadings for a pro se litigant without disclosing the name of the attorney on the pleading in circumstances where doing so allows the pro se litigant to protect his or her claim or matter from being barred by a statute of limitation, administrative rule or other proscriptive rule where the assisting attorney will not provide further assistance. An attorney may not prepare pleadings and other legal documents to assist a pro se litigant in the conduct of his or her litigation where doing so creates the false impression that the litigant is without substantial legal assistance.

Bd. of Prof. Resp. of the Sup. Ct. of Tenn. Op. 2005-F-151
Attorneys may offer limited representation through a pro se clinic if they obtain client’s consent, preferably in writing. Attorneys may draft proceedings for clients, if the attorney notifies the Court that counsel has assisted a pro se litigant. The phrase "Prepared with Assistance of Counsel" is recommended for inclusion on such pleadings in a prominent manner. Attorneys who draft proceedings need not appear and represent the client.

Bd. of Prof. Resp. of the Sup. Ct. of Tenn. Op. 93-F-130 (1993)
An attorney may represent a client solely for the purpose of reviewing and advising on a mediated agreement for divorce when no complaint has yet been filed or when the opposing party has filed for divorce.


Utah State Bar Ethics Advisory Op. Comm. Op. 08-01 (2008)
A lawyer may provide legal assistance to litigants appearing before tribunals pro se and help them prepare written submissions without disclosing or ensuring the disclosure to others of the nature or extent of such assistance. Undertaking to provide limited legal help does not generally alter any other aspect of the attorney’s professional responsibilities to the client.

Utah State Bar Ethics Advisory Op. Comm. Op. 02-10 (2002)
It is permissible for an attorney to review the contents of a divorce agreement resulting from mediation on behalf of one party and inform that party about the options and advisability of the agreement. However, it is inappropriate to for an attorney to limit his or her services to assisting in the drafting of pleading and failing to advise about the relevant law.

Utah State Bar Ethics Advisory Op. Comm. Op. 96-12 (1996)
Is not unethical for attorney to use a 900 number to give legal advice to paying clients. A disclaimer of the attorney-client relationship may be effective, but only if caller has no expectation that such relationship would be created by call. However, if legal advice is sought, if the advice is pertinent to the attorney's profession, and the attorney gives advice for which a fee is charged, the attorney-client relationship has been established and it may not be disclaimed by the attorney giving the advice.


Standing Comm. On Legal Ethics, Virginia State Bar Ass'n Legal Ethics Op. 1761 (2002)
Legal aid staff may provide legal forms to pro se litigants, so long as no assistance is provided in the completion of those forms.

Standing Comm. On Legal Ethics, Virginia State Bar Ass'n Legal Ethics Op. 1592 (1994)
An attorney representing an uninsured motorist carrier creates attorney-client relationship with uninsured driver when he gives driver legal advice. If there are no conflicts of interest between carrier and driver, then it is not unethical for attorney to advise driver even if carrier may later file a subrogation claim against driver, but attorney could not state that he was disinterested in driver. Carrier could eliminate any conflict by waiving its subrogation rights. If attorney continues to advise driver, it would be improper for him to allow driver to represent to a court that he is appearing pro se.

Standing Comm. On Legal Ethics, Virginia State Bar Ass'n Legal Ethics Op. 1127 (1988)
It is ethically permissible for a lawyer to advise and assist a pro se litigant and provide: general legal advice, recommendations for a course of action to follow discovery, legal research, and redrafting of documents prepared by the pro se litigant. A lawyer may prepare discovery requests, pleadings or briefs for signature by the pro se litigant. However, failure to disclose that the attorney provided active or substantial assistance may constitute a misrepresentation to the court.


Washington State Bar Ass’n Informal Ethics Op. 2169 (2008)
An attorney cannot provide limited scope representation as part of an arrangement with a real estate brokerage. Such an arrangement, where the attorney receives a salary from the brokerage, violates rules that prohibit the splitting of fees and partnership with a non-lawyer in any part of a business to provide legal services. The limited scope representation itself, however, does not violate any rule.

Washington State Bar Ass'n Informal Ethics Op. 1763 (1997)
Unbundled legal services is defined as a party engaging an attorney to take limited measures, such as helping prepare initial pleadings and perform child support calculations, without either the lawyer or the client being obligated to the other for the duration of the proceedings.

West Virginia

West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board L.E.O 2010-01
Ghostwriting is permissible under the West Virginia Rules of Professional Conduct as long as a lawyer discloses his or her identity when preparing documents and pleadings filed before a tribunal. A lawyer must follow procedures to ensure that the client is fully aware of and consents to the specific limitations and possible ramifications.


State Bar of Wisconsin Formal Opinion E-09-03
In every representation, an attorney must inform the client of the scope of the representation, the basis of the rate or fee, and any expenses for which the client will be responsible. The communication, whether required in writing or permitted verbally, must provide a clear description of the services and the matter for which the attorney has been retained. When oral communication concerning the scope of representation is permitted, communicating any limitations on the scope of representation in writing protects both the attorney and client.

State Bar of Wisconsin Formal Opinion E-97-1
A lawyer may limit the scope of representation, after client consultation, to the preparation of deed and transfer return. When the scope of representation is limited in this way, it is the lawyer's responsibility to insure that the client understands and accepts the limited nature of the representation. A lawyer who limits the scope of representation to the drafting of deeds and transfer returns does not solely by that limitation assist a title company in the unauthorized practice of law.