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Q. Unable to pay a significant retainer in a divorce case, a client asked if I could help him "behind the scenes" and ghostwrite certain pleadings without entering an appearance. Is that allowed?
A. Hmm. If I understand your question correctly, this pro se litigant wants to hire you on a piecemeal basis to draft pleadings for his signature, while concealing your identity and involvement from the Court?
In most states, you may.
Once upon a time, ghostwriting was universally condemned as a form of misrepresentation. By preparing pleadings for the signature and filing of a litigant claiming to represent himself, these jurisdictions frowned upon the lack of candor toward tribunals that often cut pro se litigants a break and liberally construed their paperwork.
But today, we ain't afraid of no ghosts. Absent other procedural rules, few jurisdictions even require the disclosure of a lawyer's involvement.
Since some form of legal assistance is better than none at all, most jurisdictions have amended the Rules of Professional Conduct to let lawyers limit the scope of representation and provide many services à la carte.
Under Rule 1.2(c), lawyers may limit the scope of their services if:
The Court may never know your name. But you are still an "officer of the court" and must obey all legal and ethical restrictions in your jurisdiction. Thus, while you won't be signing the papers you prepare, you may not prepare frivolous pleadings or motions for filing in court. Nor can you misrepresent or conceal material information in any of these documents. While your role as counsel may be limited, your duty to perform this role competently, diligently and ethically remains.Even though you won't appear in court or sign pleadings, you may not ghostwrite pleadings or coach clients on cases pending in courts where you are not licensed. The only thing more frightening than unlicensed ghosts are criminal charges for the unauthorized practice of law.