Cost-effective use of local counsel by national counsel must comply with local ethics rules

Substantive legal issues impinge on law department management (See my post of Oct. 24, 2005 on a few examples of the intersection.). That is an ironic introduction, because obviously the legal work that needs to be done shapes fundamentally how an effective law department operates. Still, despite having managed to keep my license to practice law in the State of New York current, I treat matters of “the law” gingerly, infrequently or not at all.

Making an exception, I recommend a article in the NYS Bar Assoc. J., Vol. 79, Feb 2007 at 48, regarding the relationship between national counsel and local counsel. From the operations and budget standpoint of a law department, the best arrangement may be the thinnest arrangement — local counsel does as little as possible but still permits the national coordinating counsel to represent its client.

The article argues for a thicker representation, and quotes a 1990 New York decision where the court cautioned local counsel that an “attorney cannot present himself as an attorney-of-record and charge a fee for services without subjecting himself to the concomitant responsibilities.” A desire for cost control and centralized management by a national firm must not ride roughshod over local ethical rules of proper representation.

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