Of Counsel Definition and Legal Meaning

On this page, you'll find the legal definition and meaning of Of Counsel, written in plain English, along with examples of how it is used.

What is Of Counsel?

It refers to the attorney or lawyer who are attached to the law firm on case-to-case basis or part time basis and who is not an associate or partner of the firm. They may be available for counselling on certain cases (of expertise) or may be a retired lawyer, whose name and reputation is attached to the firm by involving him/her in on part-time basis in certain cases as “of counsel”. They are not involved in a day to day work of law firm.

History and Definition of Of Counsel

The term "of counsel" has its roots in the English legal system where attorneys would take on a case but not officially become part of the law firm. In the United States, the term has evolved to refer to an attorney who has a close relationship with a law firm but is not a partner or associate. These attorneys may have specialized expertise that the firm can tap into on a case-by-case basis, or they may be retired attorneys whose name lends credibility to the law firm.

The American Bar Association provides guidelines for the use of the term "of counsel." According to the ABA, an attorney who is "of counsel" to a law firm is not a member of the firm but has a "close, regular, personal, and continuous relationship" with the firm. This relationship is "expected to be ongoing" rather than a temporary arrangement.

Examples of Of Counsel

  1. John Smith is an attorney who specializes in tax law. He works part-time for a law firm as "of counsel" and advises the firm's clients on tax-related issues.
  2. Jane Doe is a retired attorney who is highly respected in the legal community. She works "of counsel" to a law firm and is brought in on high-profile cases where her expertise can add value.
  3. Tom Brown is an attorney who has his own solo practice but maintains a close relationship with a law firm as "of counsel." He may be called upon to collaborate with the firm on cases that require his particular expertise.

Legal Terms Similar to Of Counsel

  1. Partner - an attorney who is a part-owner of a law firm and shares in its profits and losses.
  2. Associate - an attorney who is an employee of a law firm and may eventually become a partner.
  3. Retainer - a fee paid to an attorney to secure their availability for legal services.