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When is ‘of counsel’ not of counsel?

Without question the most confusing development in the lateral hire market over the last 5 years has been the growth in use of the title ‘of counsel’.
Use of the OC title in solicitors firms stems from the arrival and increased importance of US firms in London. In the US the title was used historically as an alternative to Partnership. The UK law firms, though initially cautious, have now almost universally taken to the title like a duck to water.
The only problem being that ducks in a pond seldom swim in formation.
Some firms decided to use the title OC as it was originally intended to replace the more traditional ‘Consultant’ title for those emeritus partners who still want to work for a firm, albeit on a less rigid basis.
Some firms decided that, rather than using OC as a post-partnership title, they would use it as a pre-partnership title or a transitional role. Thus there are firms where OC means ‘on the partnership track’ as well as a salary increase and a nifty title.
Even more courageous firms decided to use OC as a complete alternative to Partner. This alternative structure is frequently based around fee-earning and business development, while cutting out time consuming management duties.
Not to be outdone by their British cousins the London offices of several US firms have now evolved their use of the OC title.
We keep records of what the OC title means at each firm, touching base with firms who newly introduce the title as well as those who are adapting the way they currently use it.