Respect key to success of co-counsel arrangement


In certain matters, clients may benefit from a co-counsel setting where lawyers tackle different aspects of the case — but the success of these arrangements depends on mutual respect and compromise, Toronto lawyers Armand ConantBill Northcote and Joel Berkovitz tell Lawyers Weekly.

As an example, Conant, partner and head of the condominium law group at Shibley Righton LLP, points to a complicated condominium matter where it was clear that drawing in a small team of colleagues in a co-counsel setting to tackle different aspects of the job would be beneficial to the client.

“We needed their skill sets,” Conant says of the decision to bring in Northcote, chair of Shibley Righton’s business law practice group, and Berkovitz, an associate with the firm 

who practises business and condominium law.

“Bill and I would go to the strategy meetings with Joel and talk about how it would all work,” explains Conant. “Joel would then work on multiple agreements, drafting and redrafting them, and then we would review them.”

Northcote says the advantages to co-counsel arrangements extend beyond the sharing of work.

“Sometimes you involve other counsel because you want somebody who brings a fresh perspective,” he says, explaining the value of multiple fields of expertise.

Berkovitz agrees: “We see this a lot, particularly when it comes to corporate counsel and tax issues, where we defer to the advice of our tax specialists just because it’s an area they have so much experience in.”

At the same time, Conant, Northcote and Berkovitz say while co-counsel arrangements can prove beneficial, they require maintenance and consideration.

The three lawyers note they have never experienced serious conflict while working with each other.

“Armand and I haven’t had any conflict because you have to bring a spirit of respect and compromise,” says Northcote.

“But Joel may have experienced conflict thinking who are these guys and why am I working late when they’re sitting at home. But that’s partly a question of what roles people fulfil.”

Berkovitz notes that the stability of the co-counsel relationship indeed depends on each party recognizing their role and their place.

“As a junior you’re expected to be adaptable to your seniors rather than your seniors are expected to adaptable to you,” he explains.

“It’s a matter of you learning their working style, what they’re looking for and how they want to work with you. Do they want you to come back with questions all the time or do they want you to try to find a solution and only come back if necessary? Once you have that all down, then the working relationship is generally pretty smooth.”

Conant adds that senior co-counsel also need to respect junior team members.

“Joel might raise something he saw in another deal, where somebody did a slight twist on a transaction, and it might help on this point too. This kind of interaction, think-tanking and brainstorming is excellent.”

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