Ten tips on how to be more effective local counsel

by Adam Rabin

The role of local counsel is an important and necessary one. Below are ten tips on how to serve as more effective local counsel.

10. Define Your Role as Local Counsel Up Front

The role of local counsel comes in several forms, ranging from “mail drop” to active co-counsel. It is important that you define your expected role up front with lead counsel and the client. Define your role early so that you know what to expect and can manage your role from a workload, staffing, and financial standpoint.

9. Determine Whether the Client or Lead Counsel Will Be Responsible for Payment

Local counsel relationships vary as to whether the client or lead counsel will be engaging and paying you, as local counsel, for your services. In many cases, the client will retain you and be responsible for making payment. In other cases, lead counsel will retain you, be responsible for payment, and seek reimbursement from the client. Either type of relationship is acceptable, but make sure the terms of engagement are clear.

8. Communicate the Need to Satisfy Federal Rule 11 and Florida Statute § 57.105

In a federal action, lead counsel should already know about counsel’s duties under Rule 11. In the Southern District of Florida, however, local counsel’s compliance with Rule 11 is particularly precarious. This is because only local counsel may e-file papers under CM/ECF. This makes it critical for local counsel to remind lead counsel to get papers to local counsel early enough to be properly reviewed before filing. Similarly, local counsel should advise lead counsel of Florida Statute § 57.105 and its analogous tenets to Rule 11.

7. Manage Expectations

Make sure lead counsel and the client know how long it may take to get a motion specially set in state court, the “at issue” rule, and the length of time it often takes to get a case to trial. Likewise, explain the improbability that anyone will be granted summary judgment in state court. Similarly, in federal court, educate lead counsel and the client on how the Southern District of Florida is now one of the fastest moving districts in the country and how the judges are very conscious of their statistics for case disposition.

6. Impart Unwritten Practices, Procedures, and Customs

Every locality has certain unwritten practices, procedures, and customs. An example in state court is that counsel may set any appropriate motion on UMC by providing opposing counsel with proper notice. In contrast, it may take several months to schedule a specially set hearing. Another example is that while a motion may be e-filed with the clerk of court, the judge will not receive that motion unless you hand-deliver a copy to the judge’s chambers. Informing lead counsel of unwritten practices, procedures, and customs will help decrease the learning curve for lead counsel.

5. Meet and Communicate with the Client

A key area in which there are problems in a local counsel relationship is when local counsel has no or little contact with the client. Local counsel should make clear with lead counsel early on that he or she expects to be able to communicate directly with the client as appropriate. If lead counsel is open to local counsel communicating with the client, your direct contact can help you build rapport with the client and manage client expectations.

4. Be Responsive

One of the critical roles of local counsel is to respond promptly to inquiries from lead counsel or the client. Being responsive to lead counsel and the client is an easy way to build credibility. On the other hand, failing to respond promptly to inquiries is a quick way to lose credibility. Timely responses remind lead counsel and the client of your value to the team.

3. Know the Standards of Professional Courtesy

Beyond the local procedural rules, local counsel should know our Standards of Professional Courtesy (“Standards”). Our Standards are inherent in our local practice culture. Informing lead counsel and the client early in a case that our judges enforce the Standards will be more effective than after an issue arises. Educate lead counsel and the client that zealous advocacy is acceptable so long as it remains within the parameters of our Standards.

2. Know the Local Rules

An effective way to show your value as local counsel is to know the local rules. This provides great assistance to lead counsel and reaffirms your value. Lead counsel often will not know our state or local federal rules. Refreshing your recollection of these rules will help you integrate more with lead counsel in defining the case strategy and decision-making.

1. Know Your Judge

The most important role of local counsel is to educate lead counsel and the client on your judge. Each judge has different practices, procedures, interpretations, preferences, styles, biases, routines, demeanor, habits, and idiosyncrasies. Know and communicate them to lead counsel and the client. This will instill their confidence in you and help you manage their expectations.

Conclusion

The role of local counsel is an important and necessary one. Learning as much as possible about the judge, local rules, standards and practices, and responding timely to lead counsel and the client, will make you more effective as local counsel.

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