Most people don’t like to call the association attorney when times are good let alone when times are tough and money is tight. However, the old saying “penny wise and dollar foolish” holds true. There are times when you absolutely should call the association attorney prior to taking action as a board.
In addition to knowing when to call, a board must first decide who should call. Every board should decide at its organizational meeting following the election which members will be the authorized contacts with the attorney and other association vendors. This must be done to control costs, eliminate duplicative or conflicting work requests and to set the right tone for association operations. Even with an authorized contact system securely in place, those authorized contacts must understand that the only requests and queries that should be made to the attorney are those at the direction of the board and not any which concern personal issues or agendas. As added insurance against this kind of problem, an experienced association attorney will usually have a good feel for when a work request or question may not be something supported by the entire board; typically this happens in recall situations. At that point, the attorney should insist on polling the board to determine that the request was made at the board’s direction and that the work should be done.
Once the board has decided who should call, they then must decide when to call. Some boards are overly cautious and call at the drop of a hat. This often leads to membership scrutiny of unusually high legal bills down the road and, in the most egregious cases, can be the basis for director recalls. More often than not, however, the more typical problem is boards who don’t consult with legal counsel often enough. Since every board action is viewed through a prism of reasonableness, not obtaining professional advice on areas outside a volunteer board’s scope of expertise might automatically pitch the action into the unreasonable category.
Over the next few blogs, I will be discussing which situations really require a call or meeting with the association attorney.