Not every community association or HOA is going to run afoul of the law—the happy truth is that litigation and legal trouble are relatively rare occurrences. However, even the most upstanding board must navigate a labyrinth of association law in the course of serving its ownership, and the odds are that its trusty group of volunteers will include few (if any) qualified legal professionals.
So what to do in order to ensure that your association’s business remains on the up-and-up? Hiring one of the aforementioned legal eagles would be a good start, sure, but how best to ascertain which attorney or firm is the one to guide your association right and true? Turns out, choosing a legal pro isn't so different from choosing any other kind of service provider your HOA might need—even if the stakes are somewhat higher.
Trust Your Associates
Sometimes, the best advice on which professional to hire comes from those with whom you already have strong professional relationships. In the case of a condo board, a good place to start is your association manager.
“Most referrals come by way of a management company who has dealt with an attorney and/or law firm on other buildings, and are quite happy with services rendered,” says Denise DeNicola, an associate with the Philadelphia office at the law firm of Montgomery McCracken Walker & Rhoads LLP. “And an individual needs special ‘people skills’ to represent an association or HOA. An attorney who can’t make the time to show compassion and patience and have the ability to hand-hold when necessary will not succeed as a condo association attorney.”
Fortunately, the burden of meeting with qualified attorneys does not fall entirely upon the condo association. An attorney who possesses the people skills cited by DeNicola is also one adept at networking, and may well cross paths with community decision-makers at local events, trade shows, and other venues. “Most law firms with a devoted practice in community association law spend a great percentage of time making and nurturing new relationships,” notes Jennifer Loheac, a shareholder attorney with the law firm of Becker & Poliakoff in Morristown, New Jersey.