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Tips for Working With Co-Counsel

A man cannot have two masters. But a legal matter can, at least when those two masters are co-counsel.

You've probably heard horror stories about co-counsel situations; anecdotes about overbearing, intolerable co-counsel, about attorneys who steal all the work, or lawyers who are inept, sabotaging your chance for a big payout. (We could go on.) But working with co-counsel doesn't have to be difficult, if you do it right.

Find Your Perfect Match -- Or At Least Someone Who's Just Good Enough

Working with co-counsel is like entering into a strange, temporary work marriage. And you wouldn't take just anyone from the street to the altar, so don't co- it up with just any other attorney, either. You'll want to make sure your co-counsel is a good match if you're going to make this relationship work.

That means focusing on two things: personality and experience, in that order. On the personality front, you'll want someone whose approach to legal work is something you can work with. Are they good sharers? Are they receptive to opposing ideas and dialogue? (Alternatively, if you're neither a good sharer nor particularly open to hashing things out, are they willing to take a back seat?)

Experience, too, is important. If you simply have too many cases to handle on your own, you'll want to bring along someone with similar experience to yours, or someone who can compliment your weak areas. If you're just starting out, you'll probably be looking for someone who has more experience and can guide you through handling a particular matter. (Just make sure they don't run away with it.)

Put It in Writing

Make sure the terms of your co-counsel agreement are clear, mutually acceptable, and memorialized in writing. Who, for example, will be the main point of contact for the client? How will the proceeds from the case be split? If it's according to hours worked, who will apportion those hours? Will there be a premium paid to the attorney who got the client in the first place?

And don't forget, it's not just co-counsel who has to sign off on a co-counsel agreement. In most, if not all, jurisdictions, you'll need to client to agree to your co-counsel agreement and that agreement may have to conform to particular local rules.

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