What are Limited Scope Legal Services?

When you hire a lawyer to provide a limited legal service, you’re hiring the lawyer to perform a specific task or to only do a part of your case. Limited scope legal services occur when a lawyer performs discrete tasks for a client, and the client handles other matters that, in a full-service retainer, would form part of the services the lawyer would provide. In these circumstances, the lawyer takes responsibility for only those discrete steps or tasks in a case with the client retaining responsibility for the remainder.

There are many different types of service that can be provided in a limited scope capacity in the family law context. Counsel might, for example, be retained only to:

  • give an opinion about a legal problem or how it can potentially be resolved;
  • do research about a legal problem;
  • prepare court documents;
  • go to court with the client for a particular step in a case, such as a case conference or a motion;
  • attend with a client at mediation;
  • give an opinion regarding a draft agreement; or
  • do research about a particular stage of the case.

Another type of limited scope family law service involves a lawyer taking responsibility for one or more issues, such as equalization of property, while leaving other issues to the client.[1]

[1] Like many concepts related to limited scope retainers, the difference between horizontal and vertical unbundling was articulated by Forrest Mosten, “Unbundled Legal Services Today and Predictions for the Future” (Fall 2012) Family Advocate 14-21: <http://www.mostenmediation.com/books/articles/Unbundled_Legal_Services_Today_and_Predictions.pdf>

Legal coaching is an exciting new form of unbundled legal services. With legal coaching, the client remains responsible for all tasks and steps of their legal matter, but receives advice, feedback, and other support from the lawyer to help them meet those responsibilities.

In legal coaching, the client drafts all documents and represents him/herself entirely, with the assistance of a legal coach “in the wings” who on request of the client advises, educates, and empowers the client along the way. Legal coaches work with the client in a number of ways by establishing short and long-term legal goals, discussing strategy, explaining legal concepts and tests, providing legal advice, reviewing and editing documents, breaking tasks down into manageable pieces for the client to tackle, and outlining and recommending process.[1]

To learn more about legal coaching – click here.

[1] Innovations in the Practice of Family Law: Ontario’s Unbundled Family Law Services Project. Paper presented by Nicholas Bala, Rachel Birnbaum, Tami Moscoe, and Lisa Eisen, 12th Annual Family Law Summit, Law Society of Ontario (April 2018)


There are currently two Summary Legal Counsel (SLC) pilot program locations in Ontario supported by the Family Law Limited Scope Services Project and more are being developed. In all SLC programs, a roster of experienced family law lawyers assists self-represented litigants on a limited scope services retainer on the day of their family court attendance. The roster in each location is managed by local members of the family bar and has the support of the local law association, judiciary and Legal Aid Ontario.

Barrie SLC Program:

The Summary Legal Counsel (SLC) pilot program provides family lawyers in Barrie’s family court who can assist litigants with matters in court that day. These lawyers can provide summary legal advice and in-court assistance. In this program, SLC services are available to litigants at a fixed fee of $200 plus HST for one hour or $300.00 plus HST for one and one-half hours of service, as agreed upon in advance between the lawyer and the client.

The goal of this project is to provide affordable help to litigants who are not eligible for Legal Aid duty counsel at Settlement and Dispute Resolution Officer Conferences. Services can include helping litigants to manage their way through the event, providing advice regarding potential settlements, and preparing “to do” lists so that the litigant understands what steps need to be taken next.

Advice and Settlement Counsel (ASC) Toronto:

In the ASC Toronto pilot program, experienced family law lawyers provide services at a rate of $200.00 plus HST for up to one hour at the Superior Court of Justice (Family) in Toronto. ASC counsel can assist people with both ongoing court cases or out-of-court family law problems. In this pilot, services can include attendance in court on motions or at conferences, negotiating and reviewing consents, summary legal and procedural advice and coaching about how to start or respond to a case, and preparing “to do” lists.

For more information on ASC Toronto – Click Here