Five ABA Tips For Choosing the Best Ohio Local Counsel

May 16, 2024

Durst Kerridge Passes the ABA’s Local Counsel Test with Flying Colors

Today, we highlight attorney Mark A. Romance’s excellent ABA article entitled “Five Tips About Local Counsel Handling Out-of-State Cases.”

Acting as Ohio local counsel comprises a substantial part of Durst Kerridge’s practice. So naturally, I had to address the ABA’s local counsel tips. Not surprisingly, the article is spot-on, as it is written by a litigation attorney with a wealth of experience litigating commercial litigation cases across the country.

Using Romance’s Five Tips as a guide, lets see how Durst Kerridge stacks up as Ohio local counsel.

1. Does Local Counsel Know the Judge?

That is always the first question a client will ask. Local counsel’s experience with a particular judge in a case is always helpful, but not necessarily the most important factor. Many jurisdictions have far too many judges for a civil lawyer to have practiced before all of them, and in many places, judges rotate on and off cases. So personal experience with a particular judge may not be the most important factor. But local counsel should know the ins and outs of the courthouse and be imbedded sufficiently in the legal community to know each judge to some extent. If local counsel has not had significant personal experience with the judge at issue, she should be able to immediately give you a report about the court generally, and about the judge’s individual preferences and reputation through connections in her firm or around town. Local counsel must spend time in the local legal community to get to know the judges and be known to them and the legal community. Whether a lawyer knows the judge well may be less important than if the judge knows the lawyer. A local counsel should be well-known enough in town so that the judge will immediately be familiar with the lawyer and her law firm either directly or by reputation. Often lawyers develop their relationships and reputations through service in local bar organizations. A local counsel’s local bar service is often a very important attribute.

Durst Kerridge knows the local Bench and Bar well, as we are deeply involved in the local legal community and regularly appear in Ohio’s state and federal courts.

We practice heavily in the state and federal courts of Southwest and Central Ohio, particularly:

  • All three Divisions of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio (Western Division – Cincinnati, Northern Division – Dayton, Eastern Division – Columbus)
  • The Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas (Cincinnati)
  • The Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas (Dayton)
  • The Butler County Court of Common Pleas Butler County (Hamilton)
  • The Clermont County Court of Common Pleas (Batavia)
  • The Warren County Court of Common Pleas (Lebanon)
  • The Franklin County Court of Common Pleas (Columbus)
  • The Supreme Court of Ohio
  • The First, Second, Tenth and Twelfth District Courts of Appeal
  • The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit

As for involvement in the local legal community, firm Partner Alex J. Durst has served as the Chair of the Cincinnati Bar Association’s Appellate Practice Group since 2018, in which capacity he works closely with Judges, Staff Attorneys, and Administrators of the First District Court of Appeals to organize CLEs, update the legal community on developments in the First District, and plan events bringing together the appellate bar and bench.

Firm Partner Paul R. Kerridge previously served as a Law Clerk for Supreme Court of Ohio Justice Patrick F. Fischer and the Honorable Judge Chad A. Readler of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit. Paul remains closely involved with Ohio’s Appellate Law Community.

Suffice to say that we are familiar with the Judges—and they know us.

2. Local Counsel Must Know Local Practice and Procedure

Fear of being “home-towned” is almost always the client’s first consideration when considering using out-of-town lawyers to handle a case. Local counsel’s job is to prevent the gaffes and embarrassment that an out-of-state lawyer might suffer through inexperience with the local practice. To be competent, local counsel must know the state (or federal) rules of civil procedure and all local rules and practices inside and out. The rules of evidence also vary from state to state, so local counsel must master those as well. And often the judge has her own individual rules. The state substantive law is also likely to be critical, making knowledge of state law on issues such as statutes of limitations and burdens of proof important. A strong local counsel has command of all the rules and procedures and will be a critical part of the out-of-town lawyer’s team.

We are laser-focused on understanding the ins-and-outs of local practice and procedure in the Ohio courts in which we practice—which is crucial to success in commercial litigation.

There is nothing worse than hiring local counsel and immediately realizing that they totally lack meaningful experience in the particular jurisdiction or before the assigned Judge.

To highlight one aspect of our deep experience in Ohio courts, we are at the forefront of practice before Hamilton County’s recently instituted Commercial Docket—having successfully litigated the first ever procedural challenge related to the Commercial Docket.

Romance puts it perfectly when he says that Ohio local counsel must know the state or federal rules of civil procedure and all local rules and practices inside and out. We are highly knowledgeable regarding the following Ohio Rules of Civil Procedure, Ohio Rules of Evidence, Ohio Rules of Appellate Procedure, and their federal counterparts

We pride ourselves on being adept at navigating complex procedural issues, including:

  • Jurisdiction/venue strategy
  • Removal jurisdiction
  • Requests for injunctive relief
  • Class action procedure
  • Motions brought under Rule 12(b) and its Ohio counterpart
  • Summary judgment requests
  • Federal abstention doctrines
  • Choice-of-law determinations
  • Discovery procedures
  • Sanctions requests
  • Other complex issues

3. Does Local Counsel Know the Courthouse?

Having a local counsel with extensive experience in the courthouse where the case will be litigated is also extremely important. Even within the same county, state or federal district, courthouse practice can differ substantially. Local counsel must have experience with filing requirements and procedures. Knowledge of the clerk’s office practices and preferences is a minimum requirement. Local counsel will be your guide if an in-person hearing is required and must be able to describe for you the practical and technological issues that are unique to that courthouse and courtroom. What is security like? Are there limitations on the use of computers and mobile phones in the courthouse? How are the courtroom tables arranged so you know how many lawyers and client representatives can sit in the courtroom and how that might relate to the view of the jury. What is the technology situation? Does the court have its own equipment for use of advanced technology, or will binders and whiteboards be needed? In many courthouses, the view of jurors is not equal for both sides. How does the court determine who has the better view of the jurors? Are there private conference rooms available outside the courtroom? Even knowing where the best bathrooms are can be a critical aspect of local practice.

Excellent point about audiovisual equipment—in every case where a hearing or trial is necessary, we place a great deal of focus of making sure we are set up in this regard.

I laughed at the comment about knowing where the best bathrooms in a courthouse are, but I love it. IN THE PRACTICE OF LAW, YOU CANNOT PLACE TOO MUCH ATTENTION TO DETAIL. Same regarding conference room availability in a courthouse.

Suffice to say, we know the courthouses, filing procedures, best practices, etc.

4. Does Local Counsel Know the Community?

While few cases go to trial, let alone a jury trial, having knowledge of what the make-up of the jury may be is extremely valuable information and can affect a client’s view of settlement. Some jurisdictions are known to be “liberal,” having a record of high-dollar jury verdicts. Other jurisdictions have the opposite reputation, having a track record of defense verdicts. Will the local jury be diverse such that the diversity of the trial team is an important factor? Knowing a community’s reputation and jury make-upis another important attribute of local counsel.

We have tried cases to juries in various jurisdictions in which we practice—large urban counties, small rural counties, Blue counties, Red counties, etc. We use that wealth of experience from the very beginning of a case when selecting the best venue, assessing removal strategy, etc.


5. Is Local Counsel a Good Partner?

Working with local counsel in an out-of-town case means finding the right balance of responsibility between firms. Is local counsel willing to take the lead on issues in a case, and comfortable taking a second chair position on others? Dividing responsibilities with local counsel can be challenging, and sometimes it is dependent on local practice. For example, many jurisdictions require local counsel to appear for every hearing and require local counsel to sign and file all documents submitted to the court. It is therefore important that local counsel be fully up to speed in a case and participate in a meaningful way. The challenge then becomes finding a way to divide responsibilities to take advantage of the strengths of main and local counsel and complying with the local requirements. Will your local counsel be a flexible and eager partner or a rigid obstacle to efficiency and success? Being a good local counsel means that you have the knowledge and expertise of the judges, the courthouse the local practices and the applicable rules. A successful local counsel is a guide to all things local and a critical part of a client’s litigation team. If you’re open to serving as local counsel, how well do you score on these criteria? If looking for local counsel, make sure to ask all the right questionsbefore making a recommendation to the client.

Put simply, if you hire us, we will prove to be the best local counsel partner in Ohio.

We love what we do, and our attorneys display an endless drive to achieve the best possible result. And we win—on the plaintiff side, the defense side, and as both appellants and appellees. Read about our results.

I always like to additionally emphasize that we are extremely organized, responsive and proactive, with robust internal case management procedures. We typically take the lead when it comes to scheduling, ensuring that the obvious and not-so-obvious deadlines are calendared immediately. We know all the places that deadlines may be “hiding” in the courts in which we practice.

Also, we love to be part of a great team. One thing I love about being local counsel is that I almost always learn something invaluable from my out-of-state co-counsel.

We welcome urgent cases, such as those involving injunctive relief or a short removal timeframe. I provide my cellphone on our Ohio Local Counsel page—(513) 293-3706—so that I can be reached immediately when necessary.

Alex J. Durst

Alex J. Durst is a civil trial attorney with over a decade of experience handling commercial and complex civil litigation matters on behalf of clients across a wide range of industries, with an emphasis on financial services litigation and high-dollar-value breach of contract claims.

Contact Durst Today

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