GPSolo Magazine - July/August 2006
Of Counsel: An Alternative to Solo and Firm Practice
A year ago I was a partner at a 12-attorney firm. I attended partners’ meetings regularly, maintained a rigid work schedule based on the firm’s established hours of operation, and limited my cases to matters consistent with the firm’s practice.
Today I am a solo with an asterisk. I no longer attend partners’ meetings and have limited my dealings with firm bureaucracy. I have great flexibility in my schedule, which allows time to attend events for my 15-year-old twins. I am taking in more diversified cases and coordinating more creative payment arrangements for my clients. I have effectively become a firm of one, with one caveat: By negotiating an of counsel relationship with a local firm, I have mitigated the uncertainty and risk that often accompany solo practice.
Birth of an Idea
I commenced looking for alternative arrangements for my practice not because of any dissatisfaction with my former firm and partners (I continue to maintain good relations with all), but because of my desire to be more entrepreneurial, lessen my entanglement in red tape, and have greater control over my time and cases. My initial thought was that only a pure solo practice would provide what I sought, and I scheduled a meeting with a friend who had maintained such a practice for several years before hiring associates and increasing the size of his firm. My goal was to feel him out on what I needed to do to effectively move from firm to solo life.
I met my friend for drinks on a Friday afternoon and explained what I was contemplating. He, in turn, disclosed that his practice was thriving and he needed experienced help handling his cases. After a couple of beers, the idea of creating a relationship that satisfied both our needs began taking form. It would ultimately evolve into the of counsel position that I now hold with his firm.
The “Of Counsel” Relationship
My of counsel arrangement is simple. I maintain a separate and independent practice while occupying an office at my friend’s firm. I keep my own schedule, develop my own clients, and run my own firm. In exchange for the office space and a percentage of fees collected for my work on my friend’s cases, I guarantee that I will work a certain number of hours per month on those cases. This arrangement is beneficial to us both: He has some of the burdens of the practice lifted from his shoulders by someone he knows and trusts, and I have guaranteed work and income every month, as well as an office where I can grow my practice. The of counsel arrangement also provides me the added benefit of always having someone with whom to discuss issues and ideas, as well as assurance that, in my absence, someone will be there to step in and handle emergencies on my cases.
So, what are the keys to a good of counsel relationship? First, find a firm with a compatible practice and lawyers you know and trust. The firm must be able to provide you with sufficient work. Make sure both sides know what to expect from the relationship, and that the arrangement provides flexibility. At the end of the day, the arrangement has to make sense professionally, personally, and financially for everyone involved.
In the planning stages, ask yourself the following questions: Does the firm expect rental payments, or can alternate arrangements be worked out? Is the firm willing to market your practice as an extension of its own? What does the firm expect in return? Is the firm willing to cover your health benefits? If not, you will need to make other arrangements. What constitutes fair compensation for your work on the firm’s cases? Will the arrangement work on a long-term basis for both sides? If not, the terms will be renegotiated at some point, which may impact how you view the arrangement.
For me, the of counsel relationship is the best of both worlds. I have the independence and entrepreneurial aspects of the practice that I sought, but I never find myself alone. I have the freedom to seek new clients and varied matters, as well as the security of knowing that I will not be short of work. I am indeed a solo with an asterisk—and enjoying every minute of it.
Elio F. Martinez Jr. is of counsel with Concepcion & Associates, P.A., in Coral Gables, Florida, where he concentrates on commercial litigation and intellectual property law. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.