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In every relationship between lead counsel and local counsel, there is a unique dynamic.  This dynamic can make or break a case.  Whether local counsel is brought on for a quick, finite matter, or utilized throughout an entire case, it is important to have a seamless relationship between co-counsel.  Here are 5 tips for building effective local counsel relationships in Virginia and elsewhere:

1)      First and foremost is to first select local counsel that is well-suited for a particular matter.   The selection of local counsel can be based on a number of factors, including:

  • Geographic location (are there going to be numerous filings and the office is across from the courthouse?),
  • Counsel’s experience in a particular area of law or experience in front of a particular court or judge,
  • The size of the firm (can a one-man shop handle a complex litigation matter?  Do you want big firm rates for a small matter?), and
  • Personality compatibility between local counsel and lead counsel.

 

2)      Once you’ve selected local counsel, it is important to define the relationship.  Set out in the beginning what you expect from local counsel, and what local counsel should expect from you.  Some important items to define up front include:

  • Is this a finite assignment, or an ongoing relationship (of course there are instances where this cannot be determined up front – see item 3 below)
  • Who will be the lead contacts at both the lead counsel and local counsel’s offices?
  • What is the best method for communication between counsel
    • If someone is on a different time zone, would email be preferable over phone calls?
    • Does someone have a mobile they prefer to use when out of the office?
  • Are there current deadlines pending?
  • Will local counsel be appearing in court alone, or will lead counsel be joining them?

 

3)      As the case proceeds, both sides need to be prepared for change. 

  • While it is important to define the relationship up front, both sides need to be prepared for the unexpected.
  • Deadlines can shift, responsibilities can broaden or shrink, and the case strategy may change.

 

4)      Throughout the relationship communication is key.

  • Local counsel will need to be sure to inform lead counsel of everything happening on the case docket, to copy lead counsel on all case-related correspondence and to stay on top of all court rules and deadlines.
  • Lead counsel will need to keep local counsel informed of overall case strategies, themes and issues.

 

5)      Whenever possible, use the person who is most well-suited for the assignment.

  • Both sides need to communicate about which counsel will be handling what throughout the case.
    • Is there an issue involving state-specific law with which local counsel is more familiar?
    • Is there a witness that would respond better to lead counsel instead of local counsel?
    • Does someone have experience dealing with a particular person, entity or matter?

While the relationship between a local counsel and the lead counsel will have a unique dynamic, with well-suited counsel and effective communication, co-counsel can work together as a seamless, cohesive team of attorneys serving the needs of the client.

*Protorae Law attorneys have served as local counsel in the Eastern District of Virginia and Fairfax County courts and have worked with firms throughout the country on various legal matters.


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