by: Kelley J. Johnson, Attorney
Congratulations! You landed a great case with a great client. Unfortunately, the case is out of your jurisdiction. Do you still take the case? The answer is “yes” if you can find and hire effective local counsel. I have been fortunate in my career to be hired as local counsel and to have needed to hire local counsel myself. Based on my experience, here are a few hiring tips for those seeking local counsel:
Look for local counsel who knows their local courts and knows the local courtroom procedures. It’s invaluable to find a local lawyer who knows the “ins and outs” of their local court system. It’s not just the local rules and courtroom procedures that are important to know, but also the local nuances of the courts. For example, local counsel should be able to provide insight about the likely makeup of a jury pool. They should also be able to provide helpful information about local events that may influence a potential juror or jury pool. Local counsel who knows the judge can also be advantageous. Does the judge set case management dates or expect the parties to tender a plan? Does the judge despise Motions to Compel? What are the court’s pro hac vice requirements? The only way to really know those answers is to find local counsel who actually practices in the courts, which leads me to my second tip.
Look for counsel who is experienced. While a local counsel prospect may know the local court rules, an important follow up question to ask them is “do you know the judge and have you been in their court?” Many courtroom procedures are unwritten and only known after one has been in the judge’s courtroom. For example, a judge may prefer or even expect a telephone call to court staff to alert of a planned response to a simple motion. Or a judge may require the attorneys to address witnesses only by their formal names. Even as simple as knowing the court’s etiquette rules, such as no water bottles are allowed in the courtroom, can save lead counsel from unnecessary worries and embarrassment.
Look for counsel who is available. Even if your hiring prospect knows the court rules and procedures and is very experienced, that knowledge will not be helpful if they consistently travel out-of-town. While it would be unfair to expect local counsel to be available to you 24/7, the hiring prospect should still be honest about their ability to respond in a reasonable time to needed filings and local advice.
Finally, once hired, use them. While using local counsel simply as a file clerk may be cost efficient for your client, the potential of valuable information that you are losing is priceless when it could make the difference of winning or losing a case. Consult with your local counsel about the strategy of the case from the beginning and listen when local advice matters. A successful local counsel relationship can lead to a winning case and a happy client for you.
Following these four tips can go a long way in helping your client, but don’t stop there. Build a relationship with the counsel you hired and consider them as a potential source for future business or information for that jurisdiction. Share periodic updates of litigation your firm is working on and be sure to request the same from them. You’ll never know how you can help each other unless you share what’s happening. Many great business opportunities can come from local counsel arrangements if you are proactive and build a good relationship. Contact us for a free consultation.