How To Co-Counsel With Another Female Lawyer in Alabama - Sara Williams ESQ

How To Co-Counsel With Another Female Lawyer in Alabama

January 7, 2022

The legal profession is not a solo career. Most attorneys choose to work for law firms rather than open their individual office. They benefit from the prestige of a known brand name in the legal world, mentoring from experienced lawyers and the chance to be part of important cases and grow their reputation. For female lawyers, a good start after law school is even more important. They face even more hurdles than their male counterparts, and, as the saying goes, strength is in numbers.   However, there comes a moment when you may be faced with an unprecedented situation: co-counseling with another female lawyer. According to the American Bar Association, this practice is beneficial for all parties involved: the two lawyers and the client. But before I start discussing the specific tips for co-counseling with another female attorney, let me start by explaining the term itself.  

What Is a Co-Counsel?

In complex litigation cases, a special counsel may be necessary. They may have more experience in that specific area of the law. In a case that takes place across several states, co-counseling with a licensed lawyer in the other state is mandatory. Or, you may be involved in an extremely specific situation and only a handful of attorneys have faced it before. In this case, your law firm will bring another lawyer on board, from outside the firm.

The co-counsel will act jointly with your law firm in winning the case and will have their own share of the expenses as well as of the fee. This form of collaboration is seen at all levels in the US justice system from the district court to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The Challenges of Co-Counseling

If you are facing this situation for the first time, it may be a daunting perspective. You have to work together with a person you’ve never met before and whose litigation style may be different from yours. Yet, when you meet with the clients or walk into federal courts to defend them, you must present a united front and collaborate perfectly, with no frictions and missed cues.

So, how do you do this? I believe that co-counseling with another female attorney is the best opportunity to demonstrate empathy, professionalism, competence and the spirit of solidarity between peers.

Here are some important considerations you must keep in mind:

1. Communicate at All Levels

The success of co-counseling among legal staff lies in communication. You must start by sharing all the information pertaining to the case – even the details that may appear unimportant. At the same time, the communication must include the client.

After all, you are working on their behalf and in their best interests. The client has to agree to a new addition to the legal team representing them. When you introduce another female co-counsel to a client, focus on her specific expertise that adds value to the legal services the client will receive.

2. Harmonize Your Litigation Style

When you watch a sports team playing, you wonder how each player knows exactly where they need to be and what to do. This is the result of long term practice together. When a co-counsel is brought onboard, you may not have the benefit of preparing for the case for a long time. Whether you are working on a family violence case or a wrongful death lawsuit, you do not have a lot of time – the client wants a solution as soon as possible and courts are under a lot of pressure to reduce trial time in order to speed up the backlog.

This means that you must have an open discussion with the co-counsel concerning their litigation style. While your law firm will set the main tone, each lawyer has their own personal style. If you feel that your litigation partner’s style is clashing with yours, do not be afraid to approach this issue. Your common goal is to win the case. In order to do so, differences must be smoothed over and the judge must witness a coherent litigation style from both of you.

3. Split the Workload Fairly

It goes without saying, you should discuss how you split the workload between the two of you before you actually start working. Yet, many potentially successful collaborations between female lawyers crumble because one feels they are doing more work than the other.

Nothing must be left unsaid – you should have a checklist with every single task and make very clear who will perform it. Remember that, in the end, failure to coordinate and complete all these tasks may lead to losing a case. This will have major repercussions to both your careers and strengthen the sexist opinion that women in law are not professional and able to handle difficult cases.

4. Learn from Your Co-Counsel

Co-counseling with another female attorney is a wonderful opportunity to learn how to practice law with confidence. When you are assigned to co-counsel with a more experienced female attorney, you should take advantage of the situation and try to win a mentor.

Even if you are not the only one in the coalition of attorneys working on the case, you will still have plenty of opportunities to approach your potential mentor, show her that you are worth considering as a mentee and start on your growth path.

5. Clarify All Disagreements as Soon as They Occur

What happens when you and you co-counsel reach a moot point? You may be tempted to put it aside and focus on things you agree on. As a young female attorney, it may be even second nature to refrain from disagreeing with more experienced lawyers.

But there comes a point in the case when the disagreement returns – with a vengeance. It is no longer a small detail, but something quite important: who will cross-examine a witness, how to handle a specific piece of evidence, etc.

Why is solving the disagreement when it first occurs crucial? Here is the reason: the Alabama Rules of Professional Conduct for lawyers states that one of the valid motives for withdrawing from a case is inability to work with the co-counsel. In such a situation, the client’s interests are best served if one of the lawyers withdraws from the case.

Do Not Shy Away from Co-Counseling Opportunities

After reading all these tips, you may think that co-counseling is not for you. You do not want to be facing a bankruptcy court judge or even attend a preliminary injunction hearing next to another lawyer whose litigation style does not match yours and who may or may not work well with you.

However, in many situations, you may not have a choice. Your law firm decides on bringing another female co-counsel onboard and you are assigned to work with her. I know that it is a scary perspective, especially for a junior attorney. You are facing a potential role model and may fail her. You are scrutinized by your bosses and your ability to adapt to another lawyer’s litigation style is closely examined.

My advice is to remember why you are there. You want to help people, protect their constitutional rights and see that truth and justice prevail. If your motivation to be a lawyer is as strong as mine is, you will succeed. And I know that you are motivated to succeed in co-counseling with another female attorney because you took the time to read this.

If you need more advice and mentoring, you can contact me directly. I am Sara Williams, Esq, and I have been a junior lawyer like you. Now, I have a proven track record in representing clients and helping other women attorneys find and build their career path.

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