The Ethics of Limited Scope Engagements

By: Craig S. Brodsky | 2.26.24 | Media

A new client calls. She is a healthcare provider. She has gotten a letter from the licensing board. She needs assistance preparing an initial response and representation at the board interview. She’s convinced the complaint is without merit. She’s confident it will be dismissed, and her funds are limited.

You listen to her story. You’ve heard it before, and you decide you want to help her. While you also have the sense that the complaint should be dismissed, experience tells you it isn’t always so simple. You decide you want to help her. How do you do it?

Maryland law gives you the option of a limited scope engagement under Md. Rule 19-301.2. A limited scope engagement provides counsel with the ability to limit scope of the representation while at the same time permitting a client the opportunity to get legal advice on a limited issue or matter.

Per Md. Rule 19-301.2(c), counsel may limit the scope of the representation if (1) the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances, (2) the client gives informed consent, and (3) the scope and limitations of any representation, beyond an initial consultation or brief advice provided without a fee, are clearly set forth in writing.

Comment 8 details several scenarios for which limited engagement may be proper. For example, lawyers can participate behind the scenes in cases without entering an appearance, conduct factual investigations, conduct settlement negotiations, draft documents or perform legal research that the client may use in a different proceeding.

Lawyers can also step in for a single hearing or motion, such as initial portion of a licensing proceeding like the one I raised above.

Serving as “local counsel” is another scenario in which a Rule 1.2 limited engagement might be proper. The role of “local counsel” compared to “lead counsel” was the subject of D.C. Bar Ethics Opinion 387 published last month. While the committee focused on local counsel’s overall ethical responsibilities and predictably concluded that local counsel could not limit her ethical obligations, the Committee thought it was “good practice” for the engagement letter to delineate the scope of local counsel’s tasks and responsibilities in the engagement letter.

Like other retainer agreements, limited engagement letters should be in writing. The agreement must fully and fairly inform the client of the extent and limits of counsel’s obligations. It should state specifically what the lawyer will be doing, and what is outside the scope of the representation.

If a specific end of the engagement is contemplated, put the termination date or event in the letter. I also recommend stating in the letter (1) that the engagement is per Rule 19-301.2 and (2) that the client acknowledges having been given “informed consent.” Lastly, the engagement must also address your duty to forward court notices and orders to your client as per Ms. Rule 1-324.

Limited engagements benefit clients who may not have the financial means to have full representation, clients who need assistance with insurance coverage issues, or a client who simply wants a second opinion. Similarly, limited engagements allow lawyers protect themselves by clearly delineating their role and by setting expectations in writing. I favor them, and encourage readers to use them in the future.

Craig Brodsky - Blog-HeadshotCraig Brodsky is a partner with Goodell, DeVries, Leech & Dann LLP in Baltimore. For over 25 years, he has represented attorneys in disciplinary cases and legal malpractice cases, and he has served as ethics counsel to numerous clients. His column in The Daily Record appears on the first Thursday of every month. He can be reached at

This article originally appeared in The Daily Record on February 1, 2024.


Goodell DeVries defends various professionals in Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Virginia, including lawyers and law firms. Many of these cases are ethics matters involving Bar Counsel. If you have questions about the above or are a Maryland lawyer facing discipline, please contact us at