The title "of counsel" can be attached to attorneys under a number of different circumstances, but what they all have in common is a continuing, focused relationship with their respective firms, lawyers here say.
Ted Stiles, who is an attorney of counsel with the Spokane law firm Lukins & Annis PS, says "of counsel" varies in definition from firm to firm.
At Lukins & Annis, of-counsel attorneys usually have practiced full time throughout their careers and are in the process of slowing down, says Stiles, whose areas of emphasis include municipal, antitrust, and construction law.
Ken Isserlis, a former managing principal in Lee & Isserlis PS, says he transitioned to an of-counsel position about a year ago to focus on a specialty area of law.
"I was working more hours than I had liked," he says. "I was doing a broad variety of work."
Isserlis says he now handles primarily Social Security and disability claims.
"I had done some larger, time-intensive, complex cases representing plaintiffs in a variety of employment disputes," he says. "That's the primary thing I've phased out."
Shaun Cross, CEO at Lee & Hayes PLLC, says of counsel has become a catch-all label for attorneys who have an employment relationship with a firm, but aren't associates or partners.
"Basically, they are employees for a specific purpose," Cross says. "They provide value and assistance to the firm."
Lee & Hayes, for instance, retains two of-counsel attorneys for specific situations, he says. They are Greg Wilson, who is admitted to practice law before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal and state courts in Washington and Idaho, and former U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt Jr.
"Generally, (Nethercutt) is with us one week a month," Cross says.
The advantage to Nethercutt being of counsel is it allows him to do other things that a partner or full-time associate wouldn't have time to do, Cross says, adding that Nethercutt is a member of several boards of directors, heads a nonprofit foundation, and runs a Washington, D.C.-based consulting firm.
Stiles says compensation details are confidential, but of-counsel attorneys around Spokane generally are paid according to the amount of work they choose to do. He says compensation also can vary from firm to firm or within a law firm based on overhead expenses and the attorney's participation in insurance programs and other benefits.
In yet another variation of the transition to the of-counsel position, longtime Spokane lawyer Gregg Smith recently joined Paine Hamblen LLP, one of Spokane's largest law firms, after running a solo practice specializing in banking and corporate law for more than 20 years.
Smith says he brought to the firm clients he represents, and in turn, he is able to use the firm's resources to practice law. He declines to disclose how the firm compensates him for his work.
He says one of the biggest surprises in taking the of-counsel position at Paine Hamblen is that his overhead is lower in the larger firm than it was when he was on his own.
Smith says he's not slowing down in his practice. "There's no difference in hours in my situation," he says. "The amount of hours I'm working is as full time as it could be."
Lucinda S. Whaley, an attorney with Winston & Cashatt Lawyers PS, has practiced law for 34 years and has been working in an of-counsel role for eight years.
"I was looking for a change to allow me to pursue other interests," Whaley says of the transition to of-counsel status.
Whaley, who specializes in commercial and antitrust law, says she does the same kind of legal work, but less of it, than before she switched to the of-counsel track.
"I'm more discerning about what work I take and what it involves," she says.
As an of-counsel attorney, she has the flexibility to volunteer more of her time, she says. For instance, she's a member of the Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission.
"That is a volunteer position that takes enormous time and travel commitments," she says. "If I were a full-time partner at the firm, I would not be able to take that much time away from my practice."
Attorneys have to abide by certain rules set by the American Bar Association and the Washington State Bar Association to use the of-counsel status.
Isserlis says he had to borrow a book from the Washington State Bar Association of find out some of the intricacies of what "of counsel" means and how to transition to the role. One stipulation is that an of-counsel attorney can't be an owner of the firm, he says.
Isserlis says he had to give up ownership status in Lee & Isserlis, although he declines to disclose the terms of the transaction.
"My partner and I had to hire another lawyer and accountant to try to figure out how to do it," he adds.
Stiles says that in a conventional arrangement in which an equity partner transitions to an of-counsel position, the firm buys back that attorney's ownership interest. In such cases, the of-counsel attorney usually continues to work with clients with whom he or she has pre-existing relationships, he says.
"Typically, it's up to of-counsel attorneys to decide how much they want to work," Stiles says.
Isserlis says a firm can retain the name of an of-counsel attorney if the attorney's name was part of the firm's name prior to the of-counsel transition.
"Lee & Isserlis is only a two-name firm, and everything says that," he says. "It's just easier to maintain."
Isserlis says he meets clients at the firm's office, at 1124 W. Riverside, but he no longer has an individual office there. He performs most other legal work at his home office through which he can remotely access the firm's resources electronically with a remote-desktop system.
Whaley also works from home through a remote access to the firm's electronic system. In addition, she keeps a formal office at Winston & Cashatt, which is based on the 19th floor of the Bank of America Financial Center, at 601 W. Riverside.
"I've got a great office, and I love our law firm," she says. "I try to go in on certain days of the week, and I'm there when I have to be."
Isserlis says he has had more time off to spend with his grandchildren, since he's taken the of-counsel role. He's also been able to adopt a dog, Mini, a Chihuahua mix that sleeps under his desk when he works in his home office, he says.
Stiles says the of-counsel role at Lukins & Annis is a transitional phase on the path to retirement.
"Some attorneys have definite schedules," he says. "They plan to retire and stay of-counsel for a few years before quitting entirely."
Stiles says he hasn't decided when he'll retire.
"I'll be working at least a couple more years," he says. "I enjoy very much what I'm doing, and I've got some administrative responsibilities with the firm and some responsibilities with the state bar association."
As an of-counsel attorney, Stiles says he doesn't have to spend as much time marketing and hustling business.
Isserlis says he's been of-counsel long enough to work out the initial logistical challenges.
"I'm pleased with this change and the flexibility it gives me," he says. "For most part, it's a manageable level of work that allows me to slow down and cut back without stopping."
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