Free US Law Dictionary BETA
Of counsel is often the title of an attorney who is employed by a law firm or an organization, but is not an associate or a partner. According to ABA Formal Opinion 90-357 the term "of counsel" is to describe "a close, regular, personal relationship."
American Bar Association Formal Opinion 90-357 provides four acceptable definitions of the term:
A part-time practitioner who practices law in association with a firm, but on a basis different from that of the mainstream lawyers in the firm. Such part-time practitioners are sometimes lawyers who have decided to change from a full-time practice, either with that firm or with another, to a part-time one, or sometimes lawyers who have changed careers entirely, as for example former judges or government officials.
A retired partner of the firm who, although not actively practicing law, nonetheless remains associated with the firm and available for occasional consultation.
A lawyer who is, in effect, a probationary partner-to-be: usually a lawyer brought into the firm laterally with the expectation of becoming partner after a relatively short period of time.
A permanent status in between those of partner and associate, having the quality of tenure, or something close to it, and lacking that of an expectation of likely promotion to full partner status.
The title of "of counsel" carries with it particular ethical responsibilities. For instance, for the purposes of a conflict of interest, a legal relationship sufficient to permit the title of "of counsel" is also able to create conflicts.
Some firms also use the term to refer to attorneys hired on a temporary basis to assist with a particular case. However, because "of counsel" describes "a close, regular, personal relationship," temporary lawyers used by law firms to engage in document reviews for a specific project or for limited duration are not "of counsel."
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