FAQ: Understand Limited Assistance Representation in Massachusetts

by | Aug 27, 2021 | Trial of Cases |

Question: What is Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) (also known as “unbundling”)?

Answer: Limited Assistance Representation (LAR) is when an attorney represents or assists a litigant with part, but not all, of his or her legal matter. The attorney and litigant enter into a detailed agreement defining what tasks the attorney will be responsible for and what tasks the litigant will be responsible for. LAR may be practiced in all Divisions of the Probate and Family Court.

Question: What are the different ways an attorney can help in LAR?

Answer: Some examples of unbundling that a law firm may provide in the context of a divorce or paternity case are:

  • Ghostwriting
  • Document review
  • Legal research
  • Negotiating
  • Making limited appearances
  • Advising on court procedure and courtroom behavior
  • Coaching on strategy or role playing
  • Preparing exhibits
  • Alternate dispute resolution; such as conciliation and mediation programs offered through the Probate Courts
  • Organizing discovery materials
  • “Collaborative lawyering”
  • Providing direction to resources, such as local and state rules
  • Drafting contracts and agreements, divorce/separation agreements
  • Providing legal guidance or opinions
  • Providing direction to resources; such as local and state rules, law library
  • Alternate dispute resolution; such as conciliation and mediation programs offered through the Probate Courts
  • Drafting pleadings, briefs, memorandum, pretrial memorandum, discovery requests, proposed orders

Question: For whom is LAR appropriate?


  • Limited Assistance Representation is appropriate for those who do not wish to represent themselves and cannot hire an attorney for the entire case, but need representation for a specific matter.
  • Limited Assistance Representation is appropriate for persons who feel comfortable taking on certain responsibilities, for example, the preparation of the financial statement and the gathering, organizing and producing of financial records.
  • Limited Assistance Representation is appropriate for a pending court matter or a matter soon to be filed with the court.
  • Limited Assistance Representation is appropriate for those who do not quality for legal aid services.
  • Limited Assistance Representation is appropriate for those who have low to moderate incomes.

Question: What are the benefits and risks of LAR?


  • Only qualified attorneys may provide Limited Assistance Representation services. Attorneys must complete a mandatory training prior to offering Limited Assistance Representation services.
  • Under the law people who represent themselves are not entitled to special considerations or leniency. This is important because many people believe that if they represent themselves the judge must “go easy” on them.
  • Today consumers are comfortable handling business and professional transactions online. Many people appreciate the benefits and convenience of handling these transactions on their own after shopping around online to find what they perceive as the best available options. The empowered consumer also understands that when a product or service has a do-it-yourself component, it tends to be more affordable. This is seen as an acceptable way trade-off for doing a little or a lot of the footwork. Likewise, in the current economy, many low to moderate income individuals are more willing to do the extra work to save money on legal services.
  • When you cannot afford to pay for a lawyer to handle your entire case, limited-scope representation can be a great way for you to have legal help with your case while keeping costs down. Courts approve of limited-scope representation because they want to encourage people to get as much legal assistance as they need to protect their rights. They know that you will do a better job of following proper court procedures and presenting the important information to them if you have the help of a lawyer during the more complicated parts of a case.
  • The fiduciary duties of loyalty, confidentiality, competence, requirements of zealous advocacy, avoiding conflicts of interest etc. apply with equal force and effect whether an attorney is providing full service representation for a transactional or litigation matter, or representing the client only on a limited scope basis.
  • You can keep greater control of your case than if the lawyer handles the entire case.
  • Having a lawyer helping you with parts of your case can save you a lot of time and energy because the lawyer can educate you about the process and your specific issues. He or she can also help you find self-help books and other resources so you can handle the parts of the case when you are on your own.
  • A lawyer, by being more removed from your case than you are, can see things about your case that you cannot. A lawyer can help you focus on the legal issues and on what the court can do for you, and not let yourself be distracted by other issues and emotions.
  • A lawyer can identify potential problems or hidden complications early on, so you can avoid making a costly mistake.
  • Your case has a lot of technical issues or is very time-sensitive.
  • You do not have the time to put into educating yourself and effectively handling many of the tasks that you need to do.
  • There is a lot of stake in your case, so if you lose, you could lose your home, lose rights to see your children, lose benefits which you may be entitled to, or owe a lot of money.
  • You are worried that the other side will not “play fair” and a lawyer is more likely to notice this and know what to do.
  • Limited Assistance Representation allows you to hire an attorney for “game changing” events such as the Pre-Trial Conference with the judge when an attorney’s experience can make a difference in the outcome of the Conference.

But, there are many times when limited-scope representation may not be a good choice, like when:

  • The biggest risk is that you lose your case because (1) you are unable to follow all the required procedures to bring your case to trial so your case is dismissed, or (2) once you get to trial, you cannot meet all the technical requirements to prove your case.
  • If you lose your case (example: complaint for contempt), the judge may order you to pay for the other side’s court costs and attorney’s fees, which can be a lot of money.

 Question: What is “ghostwriting”

Answer: Ghostwriting is a term used to describe the drafting of documents by attorneys for clients without filing an appearance for the clients. The attorney does not sign his/her name to the document but instead writes, “This document was prepared with the assistance of counsel.” This discloses to the court and to the opposing party that an attorney assisted in the drafting of the document but will not appear in court. This disclosure does not constitute an appearance by the attorney and the attorney is not required to identify himself/herself or sign the pleading. The usual ethical and practice rules apply. The attorney drafting the pleading must make reasonable inquiry about the facts and issues raised in the pleading. If there is something patently false, outrageous, etc. on the face of the pleading that is of concern to the Judge, the Judge can require the filing party to divulge the identity of the drafting attorney.

Should you be in the midst of a divorce or paternity case, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar at 978-844-4095 for a FREE one hour no obligation consultation to explore the ways limited assistance representation may aid you in your case.

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