Lawyer buddies and what’s "Of Counsel"?

There are three or four other lawyers with whom I consult more or less constantly. Actually maybe it’s five other lawyers. Two are guys I office with, and the others are people I speak with a lot, usually by phone. I’m reluctant to name them because I don’t want them held responsible in any way for anything that I’ve done; but there are days when I have been temped to ask one or two of them if they would mind if I listed them as “of counsel” on my letterhead and web site.

That “of counsel” designation is something you will run into now and then as you are reading about or looking up lawyers. The meaning as I understand it is a bit vague, but it usually refers to a lawyer who is not an associate or partner, but who is in the same building or general vicinity, and with whom one consults a lot.

My Black’s Law Dictionary defines the term as a lawyer “employed to assist in the preparation or management of a cause, or its presentation on appeal, but who is not the principal attorney of record …” The usage of the term in my experience is much broader and would include lawyers who are around – that is physically present or close by – and with whom one consults; but I wouldn’t expect them to be actually “employed,” since generally there is no money changing hands. Today I ask one of them a question about something, tomorrow one of them may ask me. It’s a fair exchange usually, but not a monetary one.

OK. I’ll admit it. Sometimes it’s not exactly a fair exchange. Sometimes I monopolize the time of my friends to the point that it’s unfair to them and an embarrassment to me. On the other hand, I have done a few things for some of them that could be considered beyond the call of duty; so I think or like to think that in the end it does balance out.

I don’t think I could ever practice law and operate out of an office entirely by myself. It would never work for me. I need other lawyers around; people with whom I can chew over, mull around, run up flagpoles, dispute and otherwise try out ideas.

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