Solos Connect With Contract Lawyers

Solo and small-firm practitioners stay competitive in a tough market by using co-counsel arrangements

By: Elaine Song
Connecticut Law Tribune, July 26, 1995

For solo and small firm practicioners, co-counsel arrangements can be the next best thing to working in a full service firm and having a host of specialists on the same floor. But that's not the only alternative to going it alone.

Whether it’s relying it on colleagues for referrals or contracting other attorneys when they’re too swamped to do minor chores themselves, many solos have learned that they can be part of a team of sorts, without having the headaches that come with being a part of a large outfit.

Trumbull solo Arthur C. Laske III, for one, has joint ventures with other small firm lawyers to thank for a substantial portion of his income. “Probably half of my practice is contract lawyering for other attorneys,” says Laske, who has been on his own since leaving Southport’s Marsh, Day and Calhoun in 1993.

A trial lawyer who handles just about any kind of litigation except family matters, Laske says his frequent co-counsel assignments come in about two ways. Either he'll get a call from a nonlitigator wanting him to handle a case from the get-go or he'll be asked to step in before a case goes to trial by an attorney in need of his courtroom expertise.

The latter assignments, says Laske, have been pouring in lately because of a growing resistance among some insurers to settle claims for a reasonable price. (see suffering Backlash from Whiplash-The Connecticut Law Tribune Dec 22, 1997, p1). The extent of the assigning lawyer's involvement in a matter varies. Some {attorneys} don't want to hear about the case until it's over, Laske says. But others will stay closely involved and sit in during the trial. “We may split up jury selection,” he says. Or he'll handle opening arguments and his co-counsel will take over on closing remarks.

A lot of attorneys look at it as a learning experience, one that comes without the risk of being the lead attorney at trial, Laske says. When it comes time to his getting paid, the amount depends on the other attorney's involvement. If they remained actively involved in the case through trial, Laske says they are likely to earn more than he does. But if they bow out way before the case gets to trial, it's Laske who may get the lion's share of the proceeds, he says. But there are no generalizations, he notes, when it comes to splitting up fees.