Supreme Court changes rules for legal pro bono work

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Published: February 2,2011

Tags: courts, law

JACKSON — The Mississippi Supreme Court has revised Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers in an effort to increase the availability of legal services for low-income people.

Rule amendments adopted by the Supreme Court address limited scope representation in an effort to encourage lawyers to provide some services to clients who are limited in what they can afford. The Court also adopted a new Rule 6.5 Nonprofit and Court-Annexed Limited Legal Services Programs rule intended to encourage lawyers to provide volunteer services to legal hotlines and clinics without fear of creating conflicts of interest.

Chief Justice Bill Waller Jr. signed an order on behalf of the unanimous Supreme Court adopting the rule amendments. The amendments are effective immediately.

Chief Justice Waller said, “Today’s challenging economic circumstances have created heightened needs by members of the public to have access to our courts. These amendments will facilitate opportunities for attorneys across our state to participate in pro bono legal services.”

The Supreme Court in a revised comment to Rule 1.2 of the Mississippi Rules of Professional Conduct regarding scope of representation said, “Limited scope representation is an important means of providing access to justice for all persons regardless of financial resources. Lawyers are encouraged to offer limited services when appropriate, particularly when a client’s financial resources are insufficient to secure full scope of services.”

Lawyers historically have treated limited scope representation with great caution, fearing the possibility that undertaking part of the work without providing complete representation would be a violation of their professional obligations. But people of limited  resources sometimes can’t afford to pay a lawyer to represent them through the entire process of a matter in litigation.

The Supreme Court’s rule amendments regarding limited scope representation address what has become known as “unbundling” of legal services, allowing a lawyer to undertake specific tasks for a client, without the obligation to represent the client at each step of a legal process.

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