- Effective Use of Local Counsel
- May 15, 2009
- Law Firm: Munsch Hardt Kopf & Harr, P.C. - Dallas Office
For many lawyers and clients, a discussion about hiring local counsel begins and ends with questions about politics and influence. The notion behind these questions is that outsiders get hometowned because the judge favors his political cronies and friends. Doing well in an unfamiliar jurisdiction requires much more than supposed influence with the judge; in fact, looking for such influence is as likely to hurt as help a case. The effective use of local counsel does not depend on local influence, but rather on local knowledge. This article will explain why local counsel is needed, what to look for in local counsel, and why trying to buy influence is usually a waste of money, and often counter-productive.
The most important role local counsel plays is providing information about the likely makeup of the jury pool. Will the venire panel consist most of folks who are conservative in outlook or more plaintiff oriented? Will they be well educated or not? Does race play a role, even if it is improper, in the way jurors view the world? These are questions that can be answered only from experience, because the demographic information available on the internet rarely includes information about local cultural backgrounds. Jurors in a poor rural county in Central Texas may be the descendents of conservative German farmers whose outlooks don’t fit the usual assumptions about how jurors in poor rural counties see the world. A county that was full of rural Democrats at the last census may be full of suburban Republicans today. Even wealthy jurors from other cultural backgrounds may have attitudes that favor plaintiffs against big business. The only way to get beyond misleading stereotypes is to hire local counsel that has plenty of jury trial experience, preferably in cases with similarly placed parties and issues.
Local counsel will also know about local events that may shape attitudes about a particular case. A county in which the largest employer just laid off half its workforce may be hard place to defend a wage and hour case. Bank fraud may be a bit easier to prove in a county where the president of the biggest bank was just indicted, even if it is a different bank. Events that don’t make the news at a state or national level may have profound effects on how local jurors view a particular case. In counties with a small population even local gossip can make a difference, particularly when it involves important individual parties or witnesses. In many places experienced local lawyers will even know individual jurors and be able to provide useful information about voir dire and jury strikes. Everybody dies famous in a small town, but only a local attorney will know why.