Co-counsel arrangements can be a great way to expand your practice. Negotiating the best arrangement involves knowing the right questions to ask.
Check out prospective co-counsel
Do your homework. Investigate the lawyer ahead of time by searching Avvo.com and Martindale.com. Call your lawyer friends and colleagues. Check for professional discipline through the state’s Supreme Court attorney registration or bar association, as well as Avvo. Ask the prospective co-counsel for attorney references and call those people. It would not hurt to research the references to determine their credibility.
Verify malpractice coverage as both lawyers can be held responsible for malpractice in a co-counsel relationship. Ask the prospective co-counsel for a copy of the current endorsement page of his or her malpractice policy.
Spend some time together to see if you can have a productive and comfortable working relationship. Sit down and decide who will be in charge of the file and who will be the point person with the client. Determine if you will have the same approach and strategy and whether you are philosophically aligned on the file. Discuss the division of the workload and define responsibilities. After analyzing these issues, you will have a good idea of whether or not you can work well together.
Head off fee disputes
Most disputes in co-counsel arrangements revolve around fees. (No big surprise there.) So how do you avoid those disputes? First and foremost, enter into a written agreement. Whether you can come to terms in negotiating that agreement will also help determine whether you can work well together. Several questions must be addressed regarding fees. Determine how the work will be divided and who gets paid what and when. Decide who will hold the retainer in trust and who will send the bill to the client. Establish how expenses will be billed and paid, as well as who discusses with the client whether to incur expenses. Create a formula to determine who will be paid what amount if there is an outstanding balance and a partial payment is made. Agree on a mechanism to be used in the event of a fee disputes. If the case involves a contingent fee, the fees division should be consistent with the work division. Fee splitting rules in each jurisdiction must be followed.
Make an honest assessment
If you do your homework, you are more likely to have a successful co-counsel relationship. And if you didn’t do your homework, you can’t say you weren’t warned!