The Yale Law Journal

May 2018

Attorney for the Day: Measuring the Efficacy of In-Court Limited-Scope Representation

Legal Ethics

abstract. Limited-scope representation is on the rise. But the efficacy of helping a client for only part of a case has been called into question. This Note is the first published work to find that limited-scope clients receive significantly better outcomes than those without counsel. The focus of the study is the Attorney for Short Calendar program (“ASC”) run by the Mortgage Foreclosure Litigation Clinic (now known as the Housing Clinic) at Yale Law School. To evaluate the ASC program, I studied case files for more than twelve hundred foreclosure-related motions from October 2015 through January 2017. The study includes all such motions in New Haven Superior Court at which defendants appeared pro se or with limited-scope counsel. To measure the efficacy of ASC, I compared outcomes for ASC’s limited-scope clients against outcomes obtained by pro se homeowners—both rulings on that day’s motions and the eventual resolution of each case.

The benefits of ASC were profound. ASC clients received about forty-eight more days of lawful possession than did pro se homeowners. Indeed, the effects of ASC were significant enough that I could control for selection bias: regardless of whether a homeowner interacted with ASC, coming to court on a day when ASC occurred correlated with a significantly better outcome on that day’s motion. Furthermore, the beneficial effects of limited-scope representation persisted: at a case’s end, even after ASC’s involvement had long passed, ASC clients were more likely to keep their homes than those who came to court on non-ASC days.

Based on this evidence, this Note recommends that all states permit attorneys to appear in court on a limited-scope basis in a manner consistent with existing ethical requirements. Furthermore, this Note proposes that legal aid clinics, law school clinics, and law firm pro bono departments consider implementing limited-scope representation programs, including in-court programs, to meaningfully assist litigants who would otherwise lack counsel.

author. Yale Law School, J.D. 2017. I am incredibly grateful to J.L. Pottenger, Jr. and Jeff Gentes, whose vision and supervision led to the launch of the Attorney for Short Calendar program. I am also deeply indebted to the students of the Mortgage Foreclosure Litigation Clinic (part of the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at Yale Law School), whose dedication to their clients inspired me to conduct this research. Thanks to Allison Drutchas for overseeing the Clinic’s effort to persuade the Rules Committee that limited-scope advocacy should be permitted in Connecticut, and to Wesleigh Anderson, Allan Bradley, and Nathan Nash for their efforts to ensure the ASC program launched successfully. J.L. Pottenger, Jr. and Jeff Gentes offered detailed and insightful comments throughout the development of this Note. Ted Janger provided helpful suggestions concerning study design. I am grateful to many colleagues for conversations on the Note and related topics, from legal ethics to selection bias. I could not name them all, but I am especially grateful for feedback and suggestions from Scott Levy, Nathan Nash, Lizzy Pierson, Solange Hilfinger-Pardo, and Anderson Tuggle. Finally, thanks to the editors of the Yale Law Journal, and especially to Samir Doshi, for outstanding editorial suggestions.