Wednesday, September 23, 2009

How to pick the right attorney for your community

After sitting through two days of a managing partner conference in the Thompson Reuters building in NYC and listening to attorneys from around the country talk about their firms, I started thinking about what associations should look for when selecting the best attorney for their community.

Is it the person with the Harvard law degree and the firm with offices in Rio, Berlin and Tokyo? Is it the battle-scarred litigator whose expertise lies in class action lawsuits? Is it a sole practitioner, a big firm, a boutique firm or something in between? Is it a homegrown Florida firm or an out-of-state firm with satellite offices in the Sunshine State?

At the end of the day, I think a community's best bet is to pick a lawyer and a firm with whom they feel most comfortable that their needs will be addressed expeditiously, thoroughly and accurately. Many firms dabble in community association law but might not specialize in it. For some it's an add-on, for others it's an afterthought and for a precious few it is their preferred clientele.

I often tell my team of association attorneys that three things kill a relationship with a community association client: lack of responsiveness, overbilling and lack of clarity in work product. If a client can't get in touch with you, doesn't understand you when you answer their questions or feels as if you have billed much more than you should have, you will have an unhappy client on your hands and eventually that client will leave. Another kiss of death is the lawyer who tells his or her client what they want to hear rather than what they need to hear. A community association attorney, like any other attorney, is duty bound to advise his or her client what they can and cannot legally do.

Why then, do so many lawyers get this wrong? Believe it or not, lawyers are people too and they make mistakes. It is not reasonable to expect anyone to be perfect. It is reasonable to expect your lawyer to be honest, diligent and passionate about representing your community. Experience and expertise with the common interest ownership statutes and caselaw is a necessity; having personal experience sitting on a board is also a bonus. A concise and coherent writing and speaking style provides immeasurable benefit because the greatest advice is meaningless if you can't comprehend it.

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