by Robert Meisner
Most condo associations recognize the need for competent legal counsel to assist the Association and its Board of Directors in operating its affairs. For those who have doubts about the need for legal counsel, one should only check with the insurance companies that underwrite directors and officers liability insurance in terms of the claims which are being filed, increasingly, against directors and officers of condo associations and the Association itself. Suffice it to say that running the condo association is like running a business. It needs those experts necessary to facilitate the orderly and efficient operation of the organization. Competent legal counsel knowledgeable in condo law and other disciplines attendant with the operation of a corporation is indispensable.
How then do you find a good condominium attorney? Recommendations are always a good source for finding the right attorney but many times the source of the recommendation may not be totally objective. An attorney for the Association must be competent, experienced and independent in representing the interests of the Association. The attorney must have knowledge about condominium law, experience in representing condo associations, be it in collections, by-law enforcement, or problems with developers. A condominium attorney must also be knowledgeable regarding employment and civil rights issues, environmental issues and other problems attendant with the condominium complex. As previously indicated, independence is crucial. An attorney who represents management companies may well be in a conflict in representing a condo association managed by that management company. An attorney who is financially beholden to any service provider may also find himself/herself in a conflict when it comes to representing the best interests of the Association.
As it is also important to recognize that experience is the best teacher, be sure that the Association attorney that you hire has the facilities and capabilities to represent your interests. While the attorney may boast of how many associations he/she represents, if that person does not have adequate personnel to timely respond to the needs of your Association, you will not get the service that you deserve. It is good to sometimes visit the office of the attorney to see what types of facilities are available to assist the attorney and his/her staff in representing your Association. The more you know about the attorney before you hire that attorney, the better it will be for you making a wise decision. Also, keep in mind that hourly rates quoted can be deceiving. Some attorneys may quote a lower hourly rate but charge a minimum increment of a quarter hour, whereas other attorneys may have a higher hourly rate but bill in tenths of a hour. Some attorneys may charge flat fees for certain services having legal assistants working at reduced hourly rates.
Also, experience, reputation and recognition in the community are also factors in hiring an attorney. For example, an attorney who is well known as an expert in condo law may well receive better treatment from a judge in terms of recouping the attorney fees and costs incurred by the client rather than an attorney that does not have that same degree of recognition in the legal community. Similarly, an attorney who is well known for aggressively and successfully pursuing construction defect litigation may have a better opportunity to obtain a favorable result more quickly than a less costly attorney who does not have the same reputation in the minds of the potential opposition.
All of these are factors that should be considered in retaining a knowledgeable and experienced attorney for your Association.