Community association law is an area of practice that has experienced considerable growth in the past few years. As a result, many unqualified lawyers are jumping on the community association bandwagon. Therefore, your board should do its homework before hiring an attorney.
An effective lawyer can be a huge asset to most associations, especially when there is a clear understanding that the lawyer is looking out for the community’s interests and not his or her own agenda. Unfortunately, many associations choose legal counsel based solely upon price. However, in the long run, having an experienced and professional attorney, who specializes in community association law, may in fact help protect your association’s financial well-being.
A good community association attorney should be knowledgeable about how community association properties operate, keep current on the latest laws, and possess a certain set of skills. This includes the ability to communicate and relate to a wide array of people. Another set of important qualities that your lawyer should possess is organization and attention to detail. The ability to follow through is also an essential characteristic that should be considered by your board.
Hiring a community association lawyer allows for the opportunity to assess the nature and scope of the overall legal needs of your community. Therefore, before hiring a new lawyer, your board should develop a well-defined scope of services to be provided by your prospective lawyer or legal team. And, although choosing the right attorney can be a time consuming process, the following guidelines should be adhered to:
- Ask for references from management companies and other similar associations. Some of the questions that should be asked of your resources pertain to: how long the lawyer and his or her firm have been actively representing community associations; does that lawyer or firm specialize in community association law; how well does he or she present themselves at board meetings and in court; do they demonstrate good communication and organizational skills; and do they work well under pressure;
- After obtaining proposals from at least three qualified attorneys, do background checks of the lawyer and his or her firm;
- Make inquiries with the Florida Bar. The Better Business Bureau can also be utilized as a screening tool;
- Interview all potential attorneys in person. Advise each candidate of the specific legal needs that your association is facing. Also, before a lawyer is hired, he or she should meet with as many Board members as possible; and
- After meeting all qualified prospects, select the one lawyer or firm that is the best fit for your community.
The bottom line is that hiring a qualified lawyer who meets the specific needs of your association will save your board time, aggravation, and money. In fact, oftentimes, hiring the right attorney will provide the blueprint for the successful operation of your community association. Therefore, it is crucial that your board does not choose its lawyer on the fly.