November 05, 2015 Top Story

Ethics Opinion Provides Guidance for Local Counsel Representation

Limited local counsel representation agreements may not also curtail ethical obligation

Cynthia Ford

Attorneys acting as local counsel may limit their scope of representation by agreement but not the scope of their ethical duties, according to The New York City Bar Association's Committee on Professional Ethics . Recognizing the risks posed by undefined local counsel arrangements, Formal Opinion 2015-4 expressly permits limited scope representation by local counsel, who usually serve as attorneys of record but lack primary responsibility for case handling and client communications. The opinion also clarifies the role and ethical obligations of local counsel and serves as an important reminder of the potential pitfalls of such relationships.

Defining the Limits on Limited Scope Representation

The opinion emphasizes that though a limited scope representation is permissible and may have the practical effect of reducing liability by limiting the tasks undertaken by local counsel, the attorney cannot contractually limit his liability nor contract away his or her ethical duties. Specifically, the opinion holds that an attorney retained as local counsel may limit the scope of representation so long as the agreement complies with New York Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.2(c). Rule 1.2(c) permits limited scope representation “if the limitation is reasonable under the circumstances, the client gives informed consent and where necessary notice is provided to the tribunal and/or opposing counsel.”

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