May 2017

4 must-dos before co-venturing your next case

With a focus on trying civil cases, solo practitioners Karen M. Goodman and Joan M. Swartz are approached frequently to co-venture cases with other attorneys.

They typically enter these relationships with much optimism and hope, but the results have been decidedly mixed, they admit.

In a recent article published in GP Solo eReport, “Co-Venturing Your Next Case,” the two lawyers distill their lessons learned into four tips that should be part of a basic set of guidelines that all practitioners should use when considering a joint endeavor.

1. Critically examine the merits of the case at hand. “You should not assume that your colleague who is now seeking your help has carefully scrutinized the case as you would do,” Goodman and Swartz say, noting that weak cases will never get better because of your skills. 

Goodman and Swartz recall learning that lesson the hard way. They were swayed by colleagues who played up to their trial lawyer’s ego, causing them to not evaluate the co-venture carefully enough to identify the flaws in the case that just could not be overcome at trial.

2. Structure the fee agreement to realistically reflect what you bring to the table. The finances should reflect your skills and productivity – not just your time spent, Goodman and Swartz advise. 

“In an era of reduced civil trials, there is not any question that someone who possesses superior trial skills brings a lot of value to a case that is tried. You need to factor that added value into the division of fees,” the authors say in their example, further pointing out that lawyers should also consider the resources they bring to the venture, such as staff support.

And, while both parties are deciding at the outset on such matters as fees, they should also spell out as clearly as possible the respective responsibilities of each lawyer, to hammer out confusion beforehand.

3. Secure the client’s agreement in writing. Goodman and Swartz remind lawyers that the Model Rules allow fee-splitting outside a law firm as long as the fee relationship among the attorneys is communicated to the client, the client gives informed consent and the fee relationship does not increase the cost to the client.

The authors recommend that both lawyers meet the client. Obtain consent to your involvement in a face-to-face meeting, just like all the other cases you decide to undertake.

4. Evaluate whether the partner’s communication skills are compatible. “A partnership is not a dictatorship,” Goodman and Swartz say, noting that talking through case strategies is vital, especially to avoid hurt feelings, bruised egos – and possible missteps.

Since frank discussions, candid input and quick decisions are often part of a working relationship, two attorneys looking to co-venture should always consider their ability to work together.

For more tips on co-venturing, read Goodman and Swartz’s full article here.

GP Solo eReport is a publication of the ABA Solo, Small Firm and General Practice Division.

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