Traditionally, when an attorney appears on behalf of a client in a matter, federal courts have required that the attorney represent the client in all respects. The Local Rules in the Southern District of New York continue to reflect this approach, and do not provide for limited-scope representations—i.e., representations when an attorney represents a client for only a portion of a case. In criminal cases, limited-scope representations typically are unnecessary and ill-advised, including because counsel is constitutionally guaranteed. In civil cases, however, where counsel is not guaranteed and litigants often cannot afford a full-scope attorney, commentators, bar associations, and courts have recognized the value of limited-scope representations.
In Villar v. City of New York, 2021 WL 2024434 (S.D.N.Y. May 21, 2021), Southern District Judge Jed S. Rakoff recently authorized a limited-scope representation. An attorney sought to appear for the pro se plaintiff solely for purposes of assisting the plaintiff with settlement negotiations. Recognizing the benefits of limited-scope engagements, Judge Rakoff allowed the representation. To avoid confusion, however (including with respect to when defense counsel could and could not contact the plaintiff directly), Judge Rakoff issued a detailed order specifying the precise nature and extent of the limited-scope representation.