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Rules petition seeks to clarify limited-scope representation (UPDATE)

State justices this week will consider a petition that seeks to make it easier for attorneys to partially represent indigent clients.

The petition, put forth by state courts Director John Voelker, would clarify limited-scope representation requirements for attorneys who participate. If the petition, which is up for a public hearing Friday at the court, is passed the rules would spell out how and when an attorney could take on a client in a limited fashion.

For example, an attorney would have to spell out the agreement with a client in writing. The proposed changes also would outline the procedure and filings an attorney would use if they appeared in court on behalf of a client, such as notices to appear and withdraw.

Finally, the petition would require filings prepared by an attorney in these cases to note as much. An attorney would not have to identify his or herself on the form, but rather note that an attorney prepared the filing.

Friday’s agenda has the petition listed for a discussion and possible vote by the justices after the 9:30 a.m. hearing, but the court is not required to follow its agenda.

Voelker introduced the petition on behalf of the court’s Planning and Policy Advisory Committee, which advises him and the court on administrative issues. The proposed changes have been in the works for several years, according to a supporting memo.

A spokesman said Voelker would not be available all week to speak about the petition.

The supporting memo states the petition’s goal is to assist with the nearly 500,000 people across the state who are in need of legal services. Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Mike Dwyer, who was a PPAC subcommittee pertaining to limited scope, said he thinks the petition, if passed, would have a “significant impact” on family court, where the majority of those who appear before a judge do so without an attorney.

The petition has support from Wisconsin’s Access to Justice Commission and the State Bar. Others that weighed in through letters to the court expressed support, though there were a few sticking points

Mike Gonring, an attorney with Quarles & Brady LLP who regularly works with indigent clients, said the provision that requires filing notices of representation and termination just adds another layer of work that isn’t needed.

Dwyer, in turn, said it’s important “important that client knows what they’re getting” when they hire an attorney for a part of a case.

And to take that even further, Voelker’s supporting memo states that “there is significant concern that a judge may not permit a lawyer to withdraw from a matter after completing a limited scope representation.” The memo states that this “could be a significant barrier.”

And Dwyer said that possibility is there, especially since having an attorney on a case can make it easier for a judge. However, he said that type of situation is rare.

“This is not an absolute guarantee, but the whole point of the rule is pretty apparent,” Dwyer said. “It is to promote this kind of thing.”

The petition also states that nonprofits and clinics that are run through law schools will not have to change the way they work.

The petition is one of several put forth in the past year that seeks to make it easier for poor people to have representation in the courts.

Another petition, sponsored by the Access to Justice Commission, spells out the abilities judges have in cases where at least one side is unrepresented. That petition was given a public hearing last month, though the justices have yet to vote on it.

About Eric Heisig

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