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Whose Lawyer Is It Anyway?

LawyerMouseA3Who’s your building’s lawyer?  Bet you don’t know.  Maybe that’s because no one bothered to tell you.  Like big time corporations, most buildings in High Rise Society have their own general counsel, but lots of times those in power don’t tell the people they represent who it is for fear they’ll pick up the phone and call whenever they have a beef.  Although the lawyer should represent your collective interests, that doesn’t mean she’s there to answer your individual gripes, nor should you want her to because if everyone started doing that she’d be more therapist than lawyer, and you’d all be paying as the clock ticked away.

 That doesn’t mean you don’t have a right to know who your building’s counsel is, especially since you’re footing the bill, and if your leaders haven’t told you because they think you’ll abuse the privilege, that says more about them than the lawyer.

The problem is even if you know who the lawyer is, it’s not always clear who she’s representing. Say your building finds itself in a mess with unpaid bills and money missing from its accounts that it turns out someone from the management company took.  The board brings in a super lawyer to clean things up.  So far, so good. But even if the attorney wants to represent everyone, it may not really be possible because not all parties necessarily have the same interest in this situation.

question-mark1 The board wants to come out looking good, which probably means casting blame on the management company.  But owners should want to know the details of what happened, including where the board was while the building’s money was going out the back door. That puts the lawyer smack in the middle. Human nature being what it is (yes folks, lawyers are members of the species) do you think she is going to get up and announce that none of this would have occurred in the first place if the board had been more on the ball? 

Maybe I’m a cynic, but given that counsel was hired by the board, and her retention is dependent on its members staying in power, more likely she’ll follow the path of least resistance and recite those three magic words — Let’s move forward — without looking back or placing fault.  That may be in the best interests of board members, who fear removal or potential lawsuits, but is it what’s best for all the owners, who ultimately will bear the brunt of the financial fallout?

Maybe there’s a dispute between fellow owners — over damage caused by a leak or competing claims to roof space.  Is it possible for the lawyer to render unbiased advice for the benefit of the collective all of you where one of the disputants is also a director, at whose request the board called in counsel?

Or you’re selling your apartment and it turns out the lawyer you retained also represents the building.  Yes, I’ve seen it happen, more than once. Maybe you’re giving yourself a pat on the bat for having chosen some one so well connected to those admissions deciders. But what if the board doesn’t like your buyer or thinks he poses a financial risk? Do you think the lawyer’s advocacy will err on the side of rejection or acceptance given that she has a one-shot deal with you and an ongoing relationship with the board?

The point of all this is that it’s fine for your building to have so-called general counsel, and you have an absolute right to know who he or she is.  But that’s only the beginning of the inquiry.  What you really want to know is whether that person, whose fees you are likely paying a proportionate share, is really representing your collective interests.  It’s a question that doesn’t always have an easy answer, but it’s one that needs to be asked more often.

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One Response to “Whose Lawyer Is It Anyway?”

  1. Upper East Sider says:

    Our board hires a lawyer any time someone sneezes, and we’re all paying for it Is there a way to get them to make more logical use of counsel?

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