A long-awaited initiative intended to ease delays in family court begins Monday, Jan. 6, when the state Judicial Branch formally launches a pilot program that will, for the first time, allow people to hire lawyers to handle only a portion of their cases.
The statewide limited-scope representation pilot program is designed to help people with limited resources who can’t afford to pay a lawyer for the entirety of a divorce or other family law case. If successful, the practice, also known as unbundling, could be expanded to include other civil legal matters, court administrators say.
The Judges of the Superior Court last year approved the pilot program for limited-scope representation as a way to ease docket backlogs created by the proliferation of self-represented parties. By some estimates, as many as 80 percent of all family law cases have at least one self-represented party.
“This will ultimately get more lawyers involved in helping to handle what are now pro se cases,” said Superior Court Judge Raymond Norko, who served on a committee that studied the feasibility of limited-scope representation.
State court officials will monitor the program and a report will be completed in December 2014. That study will help the Judicial Branch determine what types of staffing and other resources might be needed to expand the program.
Kimberly Knox, president of the Connecticut Bar Association, said she hasn’t heard much one way or the other on whether members of the bar will embrace the limited-scope representation concept. It’s a case of “wait and see,” said Knox, who noted that many of the regulations were borrowed from a similar program in Massachusetts.
“I think a year is going to be used to work out any issues,” Knox said. “We have the benefit of not being the first state to have limited-scope representation.”
Under the pilot program, an attorney may agree with a client to represent her for a specific aspect of a family law case, such as a hearing to determine alimony or child support. The attorney will be required to fill out a limited-appearance form, which will describe the specific event or proceeding for which the attorney has been hired.
Under the Practice Book rule creating the program last year, when attorneys have completed tasks for which they have been hired, they will file a completion of limited appearance form with the court. At that point, the judges are required to allow the attorney to step aside. When implementation of the program was being discussed last year, some lawyers expressed concern that judges, anxious to see justice done and dockets cleared, would not readily release attorneys before the entire case was resolved.
All forms for lawyers will be available on the Judicial Branch website, jud.ct.gov, at Court Service Centers in state courthouses, in law libraries, and at any Judicial District clerk’s office. Answers to frequently asked questions can be found on the Judicial Branch website.•