Fengling Liu and Ghostwriters for Pro Se Litigants

Legal representation has traditionally been an “all or nothng” arrangement. You turned a legal dispute over to a lawyer or you appeared in court “pro se,” meaning that you represented yourself.

Limited-scope representation, also called unbundling, occurs when clients keep control of their cases but hire lawyers to perform specific tasks. For example a client who needs to file a “brief” in court may hire a lawyer to ghostwrite it. A judge may not know that a client has hired a ghostwriter, because typically the lawyer’s name does not appear on the brief. The American Bar Association’s Model Rule 1.2(c), which many states have adopted, allows lawyers to offer unbundled services. However, many federal court judges are light years behind the curve. In some federal court districts, ghostwriting is considered to be an unethical fraud on the court, and lawyers who unbundle to help clients who can’t afford to pay full price for justice may be fined.

In the 2011 Fengling Liu case, the Second Circuit federal court decided to accept limited-scope rpresentation as an idea whose time has come, even to federal courts. Here’s hoping that the trend continues. If a prisoner wants to file a brief in support of a habeas corpus petition in federal court, a ghostwriter can help both the prisoner and a judge interested in knowing whether the petition has any merit.