To generate a score which clinically identifies surface-directed autoantibodies in adults with new-onset focal epilepsy, and evaluate the value of immunotherapy in this clinical setting.Prospective clinical and autoantibody evaluations in a cohort of 219 consecutive patients with new-onset focal epilepsy.10.5% (23/219) of people with new-onset focal epilepsy had detectable serum autoantibodies to known or novel cell surface antigenic targets. 9/23 with autoantibodies were diagnosed with encephalitis, by contrast to 0/196 without autoantibodies (p<0.0001). Multivariate analysis identified six features which predicted autoantibody positivity (area under the curve=0.83): age ≥54 years, ictal piloerection, lowered self-reported mood, reduced attention, MRI limbic system changes and the absence of conventional epilepsy risk factors. 11/14 (79%) patients with detectable autoantibodies, but without encephalitis, showed excellent long-term outcomes (modified Rankin Score=0) despite no immunotherapy. These outcomes were superior to those of immunotherapy-treated patients with confirmed autoantibody-mediated encephalitis (p<0.05).Seizure semiology, cognitive and mood phenotypes, alongside inflammatory investigation findings, aid the identification of surface autoantibodies among unselected people with new-onset focal epilepsy. The excellent immunotherapy-independent outcomes of autoantibody-positive patients without encephalitis suggests immunotherapy administration should be guided by clinical features of encephalitis, rather than autoantibody positivity. Our findings suggest that, in this cohort, immunotherapy-responsive seizure syndromes with autoantibodies largely fall under the umbrella of autoimmune encephalitis.