Lawyers retain each other for quick advice

Lawyers at large firms often talk about how nice it is to walk down the hall and have a quick chat with one of their colleagues about a case.

If you are a corporate lawyer, you can get a snapshot from one your firm’s employment lawyers about an employment law question, or ask someone in your litigation department to quickly assess whether litigation is a viable option.

Lawyers at smaller firms, or practising solo, presumably, don’t have that option unless they want to refer their client directly to a specialist. But sometimes a file just needs a quick look, and if you don’t have any lawyers in your office with the expertise you want, you may be out of luck.

Jacqueline King has been addressing that need by providing what she calls “private pre-trial” work. King is a litigator at Shibley Righton LLP, a mid-sized firm in Toronto and Windsor, Ontario. She has been retained by a number of lawyers at smaller firms, or firms that don’t have her specialized expertise, to take a quick look at their pleadings, affidavit or brief of law, often before a pre-trial, and spend a few hours with the file. She isn’t retained by the client directly, but is instead retained by the lawyer  to provide a second opinion on the case.

Much like what a judge would do at a pre-trial, King doesn’t spend days researching every angle and pouring over all the facts in great detail. She will spend a few hours with another lawyer’s work, and see if he or she has missed anything.

It just gives someone a second look. Frankly, it is not as helpful for the big firms because they can walk down the hall and ask one of their 432 partners.

Darryl Glover, who has a general practice in Toronto and Ajax with one other lawyer, has retained King in this way. He hadn’t heard of other lawyers doing this before but it worked well for him:

It is nothing heavily creative or innovative, it is just getting a second opinion, it is just fairly unique to our industry in that people don’t tend to do that that much outside of their firm.

Glover thinks this is likely to become more common as lawyers at smaller firms or practising solo are increasingly interacting electronically with other lawyers to get informal opinions on a file:

I think all of that lends [itself] to somebody saying ‘instead of just [getting an informal] chat room opinion…why don’t I actually take a step further and have [another lawyer] review what I have and get an opinion on it?’

Lawyers at large firms may also be interested in whether this becomes a trend – since giving a quick opinion to your colleague down the hall may not add to your billings, but doing it for the small firm practitioner down the street just may.

King estimates this kind of work now makes up to 20 to 30 per cent of her workload.

As Glover notes:

I think it would be nice if there was actually a facility where there was an availability of people who were interested and willing to do this type of work.

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