Of counsel

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People Anatomy™
A spotter’s guide to the men and women of finance.
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“Oh, whoreson Of!
Thou unnecessary preposition!”

King Edward Lear, V, viii

Of counsel
/ɒv ˈkaʊns(ə)l/ (adj.)

The Bob Cunis of the law firm: neither one thing — an indentured associate — nor the other — a partner. Someone having the chops and general ninjery to be a partner, but who the partnership cannot at some level abide, or at least bring themselves to share their lollies with.

Of counsel”.

Now it is, of course, part of the American lawmakers’ sacred oath to perplex, befuddle and stretch the laiety’s credulity to breaking point: this we know. So we should not be surprised that this is originally an American phenomenon that has begun leeching into the waters of the international practice, nor that the American Bar Association has a formal opinion on the subject of what to call people you can’t quite make up your mind how to feel about,[1] nor that that opinion is much too dreary to recount in any detail here.[2]

But the most pressing question is why.

Why “of” counsel?

Perhaps this prepositional curiosity speaks to a fundamental essence: in the same way that you might be “of fire”, or she “of water”, I am of counsel.

Or does it indicate that the subject is in some way unelemental? That there is something to be desired about the fulsomeness with which they present for duty: is their input some kind of contrivance; a fragrant proxy of proper, full-blown counsel: a hastily confected preparation of counsel; a half-hearted hint of counsel; l’aire du conseil, and this is why no-one will admit them to the partnership?

Answers on a postcard.

See also


  1. Number 90-357, of 10 May 1990 of the ABA’s Standing Committee on Ethics and Professional Responsibility, since I know you were about to ask.
  2. Click here, if you really must.