What To Look for In Local Counsel for U.S. District Court, Central & Southern Districts of California

You’re an out-of-state attorney with a client whose case is either currently pending in, or will soon be filed in, the Central or Southern District of California. You are not admitted to practice in this District. You will need, by Local Rule, to associate with local counsel, at a minimum to sponsor your pro hac vice admission. So what do you look for in shopping for local counsel?

First, a quick note on the federal districts in Southern California: Many assume that any federal cases filed in the greater Los Angeles area would be in the Southern District of California. This is a natural assumption since Los Angeles is in “Southern California.” But the greater LA area is within the Central District. The Southern District covers largely San Diego County.

Back to the question, what are you looking for in local counsel?

• Familiarity with federal courts procedures. In our experience, the majority of civil litigators practicing in Southern California are state court litigators. They might have occasional forays into federal court (some don’t at all), but they are often uncomfortable, especially on procedural matters, in federal court. You want a firm who spends significant time in federal court—ideally 50% or more of their time.

In California state courts, familiarity with the California Code of Civil Procedure and the California Rules of Court is about 90% of the “ballgame.” Local rules are not nearly as important.

In federal courts in Southern California, a litigator must navigate four different sets of procedural rules—the latter 3 of which have greater breadth and prominence than their equivalents in state-court practice: (1) FRCP, (2) Local Rules, (3) each judge’s Standing Order, and (4) our local iteration of the ECF filing system. In federal courts—at least in Southern California—the Local Rules modify and supplement the FRCP in much more substantial ways than in state court; and each Judge’s Standing Order further modifies both of the above in tricky ways that are rarely seen in state court. Don’t believe us? Wait until you experience the utter ordeal of pushing through to a final ruling on a motion to compel discovery responses under Local Rule 37 in the Central District of California—as just one example. In sum, it takes years of experience with the interplay of these 4 sets of rules to adequately navigate federal courts in Southern California.

• Familiarity with the judges in the District. When we speak of “familiarity,” we don’t mean on a social level. That is rarely possible in an area with about 57 District Court federal judges (not even counting magistrate judges) living among roughly 24 million residents. No, we mean the professional proclivities and temperaments of the judges. This knowledge can totally alter strategic decisions such as which motions to file and how to frame them and how to navigate trial. Local counsel should be familiar with the judges in the District.

• Customizable service levels. We find that out-of-District lawyers enter into local counsel arrangements with varying expectations for legal services: everything from mere sponsorship of pro hac vice applications and occasional quick-checks of local rule compliance, to full delegation of drafting pleadings and court appearances. Local counsel should be amenable, within reason, to most proposals.

• Experience with the law & issues of your particular case. Since federal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction, they handle a more narrow array of cases than state courts. Lanza & Smith’s emphasis on federal practice means we can handle most business litigation, civil RICO, ERISA, “soft IP,” commercial and other business tort and contract actions in federal court.

• The “phone test”.  Arguably, you can never truly gain a sense of whether you want to work with someone in a tense or sophisticated litigation setting until you’ve spoken on the phone or Zoom. Five minutes of verbal conversation can often tell you more than 100 posts like this. Please call us if you need local counsel in Southern California, especially federal courts.  

Brodie Smith and Anthony Lanza, litigation and trial attorneys licensed in California, have developed a focused practice area in federal business litigation and civil RICO. They can be contacted at (949) 221-0490.

The information in this blog post does not constitute legal advice, nor create and attorney-client relationship. Laws constantly change, and this information may become outdated; moreover, the information here is only a general overview and may omit some aspects of the law. It is provided for discussion purposes only; not to be relied upon by the reader in making any real-world decisions.

©2023 Lanza & Smith PLC. All rights reserved.


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