If you are a new graduate in law school, you probably have no idea what a special counsel is. In most law firms, a lawyer will start out as a paralegal, solicitor, or even a special counsel. The structure of a law firm differs, but the general hierarchy goes: solicitor, associate, partner. A special counsel is between an associate and a partner, recognizing a senior lawyer based on their specific area of expertise. In some firms, a special counsel is a stepping stone to partner status, while a consultant is like a partner without the managerial responsibilities.
In a law firm, the special counsel can investigate cases that are outside the firm’s main practice. They must be lawyers with integrity, appropriate experience, and the ability to work independently. A Special Counsel needs to be impartial and knowledgeable about criminal law and Department of Justice policies. They must also be able to prioritize their work, as they might be required to dedicate all of their time to a single case.
There are many pros and cons to being a special counsel in a law firm. Being an of-counsel can be extremely prestigious, but it comes with a big price tag. As a general rule, being a partner in a law firm is much more lucrative than working as an of-counsel. Moreover, it can provide a steady source of income and relative job security.