In Defense of the Local Counsel Gig
I’ve heard people denigrate the local counsel gig: You’re nothing more than a drop box. Lead counsel can send you a filing at 11:46 PM and expect you to get it filed by midnight. And heaven forbid an ethical issue comes up. Sure these problems can occur, but I’ve learned a lot from undertaking local counsel representation. As part of a balanced diet, these gigs can offer real opportunities for a newer attorney.
You’ll Learn the Rules
First and foremost, local counsel serves as a travel guide to visiting counsel. This means that lead counsel will be calling with questions. Questions can be as diverse as inquiries about the rules, the filing system, your judge’s reputation, and court decorum. You may know the answer to some of these questions (and know which rule book to hit up for others) but if you have never appeared before this particular judge, you’ll need to reach out to your colleagues for insight. All this research, however, is going to make you an expert fairly quickly.
Repetition Leads to Competence
You’re not great at your state court’s e-filing system? Still unsure about ECF’s rules and procedures? Serving as local counsel will likely resolve these issues forever. One of your key jobs as local counsel is to make sure filings go off without a hitch. This means you’ll focus on learning the filing system, the rules for filing under seal, and courtesy copy rules. After a couple of filings for your lead counsel, these rules and procedures will become old hat. You may also get to know your local clerk of court (especially if you have filings under seal). The more you’re filing, the more familiar your name will become to the clerk’s office, and the clerk’s office can be a great resource. Take advantage of your status as a frequent filer to get to know these folks, find out their preferences, and learn any tips or tricks. You can then bring your in-depth knowledge to all your cases.
Your Range of Experience Broadens
Local counsel gigs tend to take up less time than those cases where your firm serves as lead counsel. This means that, as a newer attorney, local counsel gigs enable you to see a wider range of actions, motions, and cases, than you would see if you only focused on cases where you served as lead counsel. A local counsel gig may let you see a motion to strike, a motion to bifurcate, or other types of rarer birds so that when, one day, you need to bring a motion to strike in your own case, you’ll know where to look for an example and you’ll have some insight into how that motion played out.
For smaller motions, lead counsel may not even want to fly in, and you may get the experience of showing up in Court. You also never know when a lead counsel may be swamped, so it never hurts to offer to write that response brief, research memo, or letter to the Court. In addition to providing valuable experiences, these opportunities can showcase your substantive skills, perhaps leading to a more fulsome role in the future.
Make Friends in Far Off Places
The local counsel gig is also an opportunity to make friends across the country. I may be the only lawyer in Minnesota that my New York lead counsel knows. I hope that I can impress these folks such that the next time a firm wide email goes out in their New York office asking “does anyone know Minnesota counsel,” I can be the name that pops into their heads. Because several East Coast friends and colleagues think that Minneapolis is the same thing as Milwaukee, I may even get those calls too.
Don’t Forget to Do Your Job
It can be tough to tell a lead counsel that their heavy-handed vocabulary or wrong-headed motion for sanctions will not be well received in your district. But you need to make these tough calls, not only because that’s why they hired you, but because you don’t want these efforts to reflect badly on your firm. Local counsel gigs are often one-shot deals, and no one should burn local reputations for these engagements. Sometimes you may even need to invoke reinforcements from colleagues on these issues if out-of-staters are out of line.
And, of course, there’s still the fact that you might be treated as a drop box or left hanging with an 11:55 filing. A good conversation up front can clarify expectations and filing requirements (i.e., we need any filing by10 am the morning of the filing to ensure quality control). And, if things start to go haywire, a reminder call may be in order.
The bottom line, however, is that a good lead counsel should want their local counsel to review the filing and take time to ensure that the formatting and tone jives with local practice. Reminding people of the advantages you can bring to the table (and the time necessary to execute your role) should focus everyone on the fact that you’re all in it together.