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October 02, 2007

Unprofessional: The Wimpy Local Counsel

Even the WAC? monkey (left, giving client service pep-talk) has nailed this one down: Clients do come first--you shouldn't even have to think about it. Our firm once engaged for litigation a local counsel who focused more on preserving personal relationships with local lawyers in his Midwestern city than on going to bat for our mutual business client, a very good one at that. Aside from being somewhat pathetic, it was frustrating, like having a tennis doubles partner on downers with weights strapped to each of his legs. But it was my firm's fault. We "let go" his well-known firm and him as soon as we caught on. We resolved next time to do better research on the ability of local counsel to be aggressive (if we needed it). You can serve a client without hurting

relationships between lawyers. And why not? One of the advantages of local counsel in litigation is a knowledge of, and rapport with, the locals. However, those relationships come second to a mutual client. Anything less is at best truly "unprofessional" and, at worst, a conflict of interest. The following posts, from our "Sensitive Litigation Moment"/Federal Courts series, are among the most visited WAC? articles:

Is "Professionalism" Just A Lawyer-Centric Ruse?

The Client's Professionalism Rules For Litigation

See also, Professionalism Revisited: What About the Client?, from the San Diego Daily Transcript, April 29, 2005.

Posted by JD Hull at October 2, 2007 11:28 PM


Interesting post, Dan, and much needed! Retaining local counsel is a recurring issue for many lawyers with sometimes disappointing results. I've had experiences with foot-dragging local counsel as well (well, only once). It made my blood boil.

Elizabeth Lee Beck, Miami, Florida. p.s. I mention the topic as well on my blawg at http://elizabethleebeck.wordpress.com/

Posted by: Elizabeth Lee Beck at October 2, 2007 01:45 PM

This must be a weird US thing. In the UK I get on well with other barristers - often we get blasted together - but in court we will rip each other apart. But it's nothing personal we all know it's "just business". It is even the same for UK solicitors and they're all oiks.

In my view it's about integrity: if you take your clients buck and then short sell him service it's fraudulent conduct, not merely unprofessional.

If you need friends that bad join a hunting club. And make the punter pay - it's in his long term interest :)

Posted by: Geeklawyer at January 11, 2008 12:49 AM

It IS a weird US thing. Except in the very large American cities, the tendency is for lawyers to protect their relationships with the local lawyers. Everyone wants to be Willy Loman: ineffective but well-liked. It's like a social club in high school: the Club Where Clients Are Besides The Point.

Most local counsel don't even get it. They think, apparently, that honest aggression using the procedural rules on behalf of the client is immoral or unpleasant. "We just don't practice any other way in ______." They call it "professionalism" and "upholding the quality of law practice in ______". They also fall back on "saving money" and "efficiency". We call it breach of fiduciary duty and bad client service. And laughable--if only it didn't hurt clients.

Posted by: Holden Oliver at January 11, 2008 09:27 AM

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