The Importance of Hiring Local Counsel

Imagine that you are  sitting in a courtroom in New York City. Everyone is dressed in suits and ties and the men are wearing black shiny shoes. You may be able to see your reflection in them. You are  waiting for the judge to arrive who will likely appear in a black robe. Everyone will likely stand up when the Judge walks in. It is all very formal.

Suddenly, you turn around and into the courtroom walks a man wearing a ten gallon hat and cowboy boots. He is a lawyer. In fact, he is your lawyer. How do you feel about that?

Court rooms can be similar to high schools. There is a dress code, albeit unspoken. There are certain norms to be observed. One unspoken rule is that a lawyer should not stand out as being different from the other lawyers.

This is the reason that you hire local counsel  – so that you can avoid having your lawyer look like the guy in the ten gallon hat and cowboy boots in the New York City Court. You can keep the lawyer in the ten gallon hat and cowboy boots if you want. He (or she) is probably very good. In fact, the lawyer in the ten gallon hat and cowboy boots may be one of the best. Just don’t let him (or her) appear in court unescorted by local counsel. There are numerous things local counsel can do to help you (and your lawyer) blend in.

  1. Local counsel Will Most Likely Know the Judge.

Believe it or not, It really is important for your lawyer to know the Judge, and for the judge to know your lawyer. This is why  local lawyers go to bar functions, judicial receptions and serve on committees. The knowing nod of the Judge when your local counsel walks into the court room is important. It means “I know you”. “You are part of our community. You are not the guy in the ten gallon hat who is here for only this one case. You will be here tomorrow. We will see each other again, so you have to behave yourself.”

  1. Local Counsel Knows the Local Rules.

There are all sorts of rules. There are the federal rules governing federal courts. There are state rules governing state courts. And, believe it or not, there are local rules for each individual court. Certain judges even have their own rules. The likelihood is that your local counsel will know the local rules well; the guy in the ten gallon hat may not.

3. Local Counsel Knows How the Court Papers Are Supposed to Look

Believe it or not, court papers in each local state  or federal court look different depending upon the state you are in. In New York State, for example, lawyers affix blue covers to all of their pleadings which is called a “blue back”. Without the “blue back” the Clerk of the Court will not accept your papers for filing. Sound ridiculous? Of course it’s ridiculous. But it is the way they do things. And you have to know the way they do things.

In California, the court papers are arranged in a certain style in which Counsel’s name appears on the upper left-hand corner of each court paper. Does this sound silly? Of course it is silly. However, if your court papers in California do not have your name in the upper left-hand corner you will look like the guy in the ten gallon. And you do not want to look like the guy in the ten gallon hat.

4. Local Counsel Has Connections

Local counsel will be able to find you a qualified mediator when the time comes. He or she will know court reporters. Local counsel likely  will have an office with a conference room that you can use. Local counsel help you find a hotel. Local counsel should know all the good restaurants and take you and your client to dinner when you come in to town for a hearing or the trial.

5.  Local Counsel Knows Local Lore.

This may sound strange but there is law (or lore) that only  local counsel knows about. It is not written in the casebooks, cannot be found on Westlaw and is not reported anywhere.  Local counsel will know local stories by sitting in the Judge’s court room and watching the Judge. All day long judges make unreported rulings; rulings that no one knows about. Except your local counsel.  A good local counsel may be sitting in the courtroom, in front of your judge, listening, watching, taking notes, ready to report back on relevant developments that may affect your case. Local counsel will know that “Judge Smith doesn’t like discovery motions.” He or she will know that “Judge Jones doesn’t think very much of motions to dismiss.” These are things that are not written down anywhere. Local lawyers just know them. The guy in the ten gallon hat will not.

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