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Case Study

Overview

For this paper, I will shadow and conduct interviews with one of my former professors as

he conducts his side job performing in the legal capacity as a lawyer of counsel. In this position,

he interacts with other members in a law firm. I am going to outline the methods in which they

communicate with each other and the way they revise documents for their clients. The firm is set

up with three partners with offices in three different states and practicing attorneys licensed in

nine states, meaning the firm is able to conduct business in the nine states where it has licensed

attorneys. For the purpose of this writing, I am limiting the subject matter to only include my

professors contact with the firm. More specifically, I am limiting the scope to just the

communication that is involved between him and one of the partners of the firm. My professor

works directly with mainly one of the partners of the firm. In parts of this writing, I will refer to

the partner he works with in different terms. These terms include: the principal, primary lawyer,

and lawyer one.

It is important to note that my professor works as an independent contractor for this firm.

Because of this status, he is not an employee of the firm. My professor works in a supporting

role providing research, revision, and formation assistance in conjunction with the principal. The

majority of the work that is done by the principal is done for business purposes, although there

are different areas of practice performed by the firm. In the majority of what the firm does, there

are two or more parties that are working together to come up with some sort of business

agreement; a contract concerning the sale of assets and property, employment issues, etc. This

firm represents one side of the agreement and must communicate with their client and the other

side in order to bring the other to a binding agreement. While I will not go into further detail on
this matter, it is important to give some context as to what the firm does so that my professors

role in the overall process makes sense.

On other infrequent occasions, the firm works on behalf of their clients during pre-

litigation or to help their client pursue litigation. In situations where the firms client is being

sued, the firm must then either try to mediate an agreement with the opposing party before their

client goes into default, or draft an answer to the lawsuit.

When one party wants to sue another party, they must file a document with the court.

The party that is being sued then has a period of time in which they are required to respond, or

answer, to the lawsuit. If the party being sued does not issue an answer, they are in default,

meaning they automatically lose the lawsuit. In these situations, the firm has a strict deadline to

either resolve the issue or file an answer with the court. Because my professor does not deal

with the trial portion within the firm, I will not be discussing that part of the communication

process. However, my professor can still be involved in these situations when the principal

wishes to include him. When he is included, his role is in the structure and formation of the

document that is most appropriate for the issue.

Parties and Their Roles

For many cases, especially when reference is needed, there are at least two lawyers and

one administrative assistant working on it. This section will outline the roles of the individuals

and with whom they communicate information.

Lawyer one is the principal writer and drafter of the document. For the purpose of this

paper, the document refers to the contract that is being drafted during the process. To start the

process, the principal lawyer must have communication with the client. The clients position

must be known and incorporated into the document. In most cases, the principal is the only
person in this process that has contact with the client. Because the principal lawyer is generally

the only one in contact with the client, in addition to his primary role in the firm, it is he who

makes the final decisions as to which adjustments and revisions make it to the final draft. Once

the principal has created the document, he shares it with the administrative assistant and lawyer

two.

The administrative assistant works in a support role in this process. The administrative

assistant looks over the draft that the principal sends for mechanical issues such as spelling,

grammar, formatting suggestions, and the overall flow of the document. The administrative

assistant also ensures that the numbering of paragraphs is correct. This can easily become an

overlooked issue in further drafts because of the addition or omission of paragraphs in the

document. It is important that the document as a whole does not include duplicated paragraph

numbers. If there are duplicated numbering, the document can become legally confusing if there

is a question. The assistant is meant to catch those types of errors that the principal may not have

noticed due to the fact that he wrote the document and is possibly too close to the document in

order to catch such oversights. Once the administrative assistant has completed the review of the

draft, a new copy is sent to lawyer two.

At this point, lawyer two has already started doing legal research about the topic at hand.

The second lawyer points to things that could use possible revision along with adding questions

as to whether or not terms should be defined in the context of the document. All of these

revisions are communicated to the principal as suggestions. The second lawyer will only suggest

revisions for the primary lawyer to make. At no point will lawyer two send a revised version to

the principal where such revision appears to be in the final form. This is due to the fact that the

goal is for the document to flow and work as one unit. Lawyer two will rarely send suggestions
to the administrative assistant unless the suggestions are simple topographical errors. If drafts

were sent between lawyer two and the administrative assistant, the principal could mistakenly

believe the revisions are his words.

Another reason the principal is the only one to confirm revisions is because he is the one

who would have to defend the document if it were ever questioned by either party or the court in

the future. Because he could possibly have to defend the document, he needs to be the only one

writing it. If he is the sole writer, in theory, he understands the document better than anyone else

and has the best chance of defending the document if needed.

On some occasions, there is a third lawyer that is part of the process. This happens when

the third lawyer has an area of expertise in the area of the document that is being created. For

example, if the situation involved clients in the medical field, a lawyer that specializes in medical

laws and regulations might be brought in to ensure the effect if any of these regulations on the

document. The third lawyer plays a very similar role as the second lawyer. The principal brings

in the third lawyer to work on the case, and the third lawyer sends revision suggestions back to

the principal. Just like lawyer two and the administrative assistant, at no point will the third

lawyer directly change the content of the document.

To better comprehend the different roles, I have included a communication flow chart.

The different arrows demonstrate the different paths of communication. The principal
Principal

Lawyer Two
Administrative Lawyer Three
Assistant
communicates back and forth with all the parties involved. The administrative assistant sends

one way communication to the lawyers other than the principal.


Methods of Communication

As I mentioned in the beginning, this firm works in many different states. Because of

this, it would be logistically impractical to hold face to face meetings every time there was a new

project. The principal, administrative assistant, and lawyer two all live in different states

hundreds of miles away from one another. Thanks to technology, all these members are able to

communicate with one another with little to no breakdown.

Communication between all the parties involved is done primarily through email. The

principal emails documents, along with a basic overview of the issues, to both the administrative

assistant and lawyer two. Both of them then send suggestions back to the principal. Because

this is all done over email, it is very important that the writing used is strait forward and to the

point. Any extra wording could change the intended meaning which could confuse or slow down

the process.

Most times in order to be concise, suggestions will be in the form of bullet points. These

points will contain information such as which sentence in which paragraph it is talking about

then state what the possible issue is. This manner of communication speeds up the process

On some occasions, phone calls are made between the parties. This happens when

lawyer two needs to better understand the context of the project. This type of communication

does not happen on a regular basis. The only reason they stray from the normal communication

patters is because thoughts can be quickly transferred in a more efficient manner over the phone

than over email.

As an outsider looking in, this mix of communication seems a little hectic. However, this

system works very well for them. Because they have worked with each other so long, they know

what works and what doesnt. They have learned to work together to create a mix of
communication that leads them to be very efficient. A new member in this community would

have to first show competency in the specific area of law. After this, the new member would

likely be able to communicate effectively, but not as effectively as established members. It takes

time and familiarity with the different parties to get to the level of efficiency achieved here.

Duration of the Process

Based on the nature of work, the time frame for completing projects tends to be on

somewhat of a set schedule. Because of this, effective communication is key. Without it,

deadlines would pass and eventually it would have an adverse effect on the project. The

longevity of the firm is determinant on this clear communication system, so it is essential that the

communication processes that they employ works well and allows them to meet their deadlines.

The process will generally take one to three weeks with ongoing communication

throughout the process. The duration depends on the type of project and the specific deadlines

required. When dealing with a client, the client tends to have a time frame that they would like

things to be accomplished. Because the end goal is to please the client, it is important to

complete tasks in a timely manner.

In order to keep clients satisfied, effective communication and timely work is essential.

Because my professor and the partner he works with know and understand each other so well,

they accomplish tasks in the most efficient way that works really well for them. Their combined

experience and knowledge of one another help them work well together. It would be very

difficult for an outsider to communicate as effectively within the time constraints.

Joining the Community

Becoming part of this type of specialized community is not as simple as filling out an

online job application. My professor had a personal friendship with one of the partners of the
firm. This relationship eventually led to him working in his of counsel role in the firm. The

other lawyers in the firm also had some sort of previous professional relationship with one of the

partners in the firm. The different lawyers of the firm made connections with the partners while

attending law school or during other points in their professional careers.

Based on these qualifications, it may seem like a far out idea that any outsider would be

permitted to join. This is true for the specific role that my professor has. There are however

more roles within the firm that one could achieve that could eventually lead to an of counsel

position. This is because just like any place where there are workers, occasionally a position

comes available. This position would be posted somewhere where a potential candidate would

see it. Once someone has created a professional relationship with one of the partners, it would

be possible for them to achieve an of counsel position. This type of professional relationship is

best achieved by first getting a law degree, then work in some capacity for one of the partners of

the firm.

Obviously, my professors role is a rather specific one. If someone really wanted this

specific position, they would have to have to first know that this sort of position exists, next they

would have to find an opening that they were qualified to apply for, and then eventually, they

would have to have made good professional relationship with one of the partners. Only then

would one of the partners consider a person for this sort of position. This is still contingent on

whether the partner believes the person would be a good fit and bring experience and expertise to

the firm.

Conclusion

In order for a community to function, effective communication must be present. All the

roles must be known and understood so that work is not redundant and stays efficient. There
must also be an accepted method of communication by all parties involved. On top of all this, all

the members must act within a time constraint.

In this community there are many roles. The roles that I focused on were the principal,

the second lawyer (my professor), and the administrative assistant. Each of these roles work in

conjunction to complete the task at hand. The principal communicates with the client and

communicates this information to the second lawyer and the administrative assistant in the form

of a document that they are both expected to read over and send back their suggestions of

revision.

This entire process is done remotely. The only person that has personal contact with

anyone is the principal with the client. All other communication is done over email with the

exception of an occasional phone call to better understand the topic. Because of a lack of

personal communication, there are plenty of opportunities for some sort of miscommunication to

occur. This does not happen often because of the level of familiarity all the parties involved

have with one another.

The time constraint is another key factor to success. If there was ineffective

communication, the firm would not meet time deadlines. This would result in a loss of business

and an eventual failure of the business if it happened often. Thankfully for the firm, there is very

effective communication and deadlines are consistently met.