New Zealand Law Society - Recent rules amendment encourages provision of legal services under a ‘limited retainer’

Recent rules amendment encourages provision of legal services under a ‘limited retainer’

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A  recent amendment to the High Court Rules 2016 helps lawyers to provide legal services under a ‘limited retainer’ to lay litigants

Limited retainers are an important means of bridging the ‘justice gap’ for litigants unable to afford traditional full-service legal representation.

A limited retainer (also known as ‘unbundled’ legal services) allows a lawyer to perform one or more tasks for a client, while the client handles other matters that would be provided by a lawyer in a traditional 'full service' retainer.

The High Court Amendment Rules 2020 came into force on 24 July 2020 and introduces rule 5.40(1A). The new rule provides that a litigant in person is not required to file a notice of change in representation if they appoint a lawyer for a limited purpose, other than to file documents in the proceeding. For example, a party may appoint a lawyer to act as the party’s advocate in a hearing or to give assistance in drafting, settling, or revising documents for filing in a proceeding.

The Rules Committee approved the amendment to provide clarity to lawyers who wish to act under a limited retainer.

The Committee’s decision was prompted by feedback provided by the Otago University Legal Issues Centre (UOLIC) and the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa.

The Law Society expressed support for the change because of its potential to improve access to justice, particularly for self-represented litigants on low incomes who are not eligible for legal aid.

In its submission, the Law Society told the Committee it might also have the effect of improving the quality of material submitted by lay litigants to the courts.

The updated version of the Law Society’s Practice Briefing, Guidance to lawyers considering acting under a limited retainer noting r5.40(1A) is now available.

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