When an attorney is requested to act as “local counsel” by an out-of-state attorney in a new lawsuit, the practical needs of the out-of-state client can be at odds with rules of professional responsibility and local rules that can sometimes expand the duties and responsibilities of local counsel. The client is already paying a lead counsel whom it knows and trusts, and is then asked to retain and pay local counsel as well. Surely, the client is looking to avoid duplication of effort and being charged twice the amount of attorneys’ fees. One court recognized this tension and found that local counsel’s role can appropriately be limited to save expense to the client.
Sean McDonough is a deputy managing partner in the Orlando office. Most of his twenty-year legal career has been devoted to trial practice. Among the areas in which Sean focuses are hospitality, professional liability, product liability, premises liability, trucking and transportation litigation, and insurance defense.
When an attorney is requested to act as “local counsel” by an out-of-state attorney in a new lawsuit, the local counsel may have additional duties that flow from Rules of Civil Procedure or Local Rules that govern lead counsel’s admission pro hac vice. For instance, Alaska R. Civ. P. 81(a)(3) states that “local counsel shall be primarily responsible to the court for the conduct of all stages of the proceedings, and their authority shall be superior to that of attorneys permitted to appear [pro hac vice].”
Occasionally, attorneys may get a call from an out-of-state attorney requesting them to serve as “local counsel” in a new lawsuit in their home town. Lead counsel explains, “Yeah, I just need you to file some papers, let me use your office for depositions once in a while, and tell me what the judge is like. I might even need you to attend a discovery hearing if need be.”
It sounds like a tempting opportunity to bring in new work and maybe get some easy billable time without a substantial increase in workload. But when one accepts the responsibility of being “local counsel,” traps await that may result in professional liabilities in surprising and unexpected ways.
Surely it is not breaking news that the Gallup poll shows only 19 percent of respondents find lawyers to be very honest or ethical. In 1976, only 25 percent of those polled found lawyers’ ethics or honesty to be high or very high, and since 1996 that figure has been below 20 percent. Lawyers are only trusted more than members of Congress, insurance and car salespeople, and stockbrokers. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement.