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Choosing Counsel and Toxicology Co-Counsel
Choosing the right counsel for your court case can be incredibly stressful. If any aspect of your case involves substances – like drugs, alcohol, prescription medications, environmental or workplace chemicals, poisons, and so forth – you’ll also need a toxicology co-counsel to weigh in.
What is Legal Counsel and Co-Counsel?
Broadly speaking, “counsel” simply refers to your lawyer or attorney. They are considered your counsel, as they provide “advice and guidance concerning a legal matter and in cases with two (2) or more lawyers, the lead attorney is often referred as “counsel’.” 1 However, “co-counsel” often refers to an assisting attorney who is not the lead lawyer in the case, but contributes their knowledge and advice on a particular matter.
Similarly, co-counsel refers to “two or more unaffiliated lawyers representing the same party in the same matter.” 2 Furthermore, co-counsel may include experts who are not lawyers, but whose particular knowledge and experience enables them to advise and even testify as expert witnesses.
More often than not, your lead counsel is the lawyer assigned to your case by your law firm. Some firms work with predetermined co-counsellors – lawyers or experts with whom they have a good working relationship and a reliable track record. However, depending on your case, you may be able to select co-counsel from a range of independent experts and legal contractors.
Choosing Your Counsel and Co-Counsel
Your lawyer should be an expert in the area of law that pertains to your case. So, for example, if you are having a dispute with your neighbor regarding property boundaries, you’d need to find a real estate lawyer who has in-depth knowledge of property law.
The same goes for co-counsel, who play an important role in bolstering the strength of your case. Experts can be anything from law enforcement professionals to academics or scientists in a specific field.
When picking your counsel and co-counsel, keep the following questions in mind:
- What are their qualifications? What makes them an expert in their discipline?
- Is their expertise directly related to my case? Can they offer advice or testimony that undermines the prosecution’s arguments?
- How much experience do they have – both as a professional, and as an expert witness on the stand?
- What is their reputation like amongst their colleagues and other professionals?
Much of this information can be discerned from talking with your counsel, and by asking for references from your potential co-counsel.
Picking a Toxicology Co-Counsel
Forensic toxicology is a diverse field. If your case requires a toxicologist co-counsel, find someone who has expertise that relates directly to your case. A toxicologist who specializes in environmental toxicology is perfect for a class-action lawsuit involving chemical exposure, but may not be fit for your DUI case.
Again, find out more about your toxicologist’s qualifications and experience. Most toxicologists have advanced graduate degrees in chemistry, toxicology, forensic science or a related field. However, some forensic experts also pursue additional degrees in law or criminology. This can make them incredibly proficient and authoritative in a court case, especially if they will be testifying.
1 West’s Encyclopedia of American Law, edition 2. 2008. http://legal-dictionary.thefreedictionary.com/counsel
2 Howard M. Erichson, Informal Aggregation: Procedural and Ethical Implications of Coordination among Counsel in Related Lawsuits, 2000. http://www.freivogelonconflicts.com/cocounselcommoninterest.html