Local Counsel in North Carolina's Federal Courts
Friday, February 12, 2021

In federal court, the rules for out-of-state counsel's participation vary from district to district. 

For out-of-state counsel seeking to appear in federal court in North Carolina, the local rules require, first and foremost, the use of local counsel.

Working with local counsel needn't be a headache-inducing task, done simply to check a box and satisfy the court.  With the right local counsel, out-of-state counsel gets a valuable resource and a teammate.  And—most importantly—the client gets more efficient service and a better chance at a desired outcome.

Local rules of federal courts in North Carolina

Across North Carolina's three federal districts, the rules are fairly similar.  The key point is that, with limited exceptions, only attorneys who are admitted to (and in good standing with) the North Carolina State Bar are eligible for admission.  That said, an out-of-state attorney wishing to represent a client in federal court in North Carolina can do so under certain circumstances.  First, the out-of-state attorney must engage a local attorney who is a member of that district's bar and who will enter her appearance on the record.  Next, if the matter is before the Eastern or Middle Districts, the out-of-state attorney must enter a notice of special appearance.  Or, if the matter is before the Western District, local counsel must move for the out-of-state attorney's admission pro hac vice

Once local counsel is on board and out-of-state counsel has noticed his appearance or been admitted pro hac vice, all three districts require extensive local counsel participation.  For example, in all three districts, local counsel is required to attend all pre-trial conferences and hearings, unless excused by the court.  The Eastern and Middle Districts further require that local counsel review and sign all pleadings and papers to ensure compliance with the local rules. 

In short, the federal courts in North Carolina expect substantive involvement by local counsel—so it makes sense to partner with someone capable, experienced, and reputable.

Choosing the right local counsel

One of the primary benefits of local counsel, and part of the courts' rationale for requiring local counsel, is that local attorneys should have a thorough understanding of local rules of procedure and practice.  Teaming up with an attorney who understands local procedures and has experience with the local practices will help out-of-state counsel avoid pitfalls and will streamline efforts, saving time and money in the process. 

Additionally, out-of-state counsel (and clients) benefit from partnering with an attorney who is skilled in legal research, writing, and editing.  Since the Eastern and Middle Districts require local counsel to review and sign all filings, it's important for out-of-state counsel to have confidence in his local counsel's written advocacy.  And it's to out-of-state counsel's advantage to choose local counsel who has courtroom experience.  Local counsel's familiarity with the courtroom and courtroom procedures can set out-of-state counsel at ease and allow him to get on with the important work of representing the client.

On top of this, out-of-state counsel's clients are best served when local counsel has relationships with, and a good reputation among, other attorneys in the community.  Relationships with opposing counsel are important to resolving matters big and small: litigation will go more smoothly and is more likely to reach a quick resolution favorable to both sides when there is effective communication between opposing attorneys.  Reducing time spent on motions and, ultimately, on reaching a resolution saves clients' money.


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