In the world of co-ops and condos, few people are more important than a organization's legal counsel. Some of the reasons for needing an attorney's help are obvious - how else would complicated contracts be drawn up and ever-changing laws be followed? Other advantages are less obvious. The right relationship between management and an attorney can help keep shareholders happy, building operations running smoothly, and costs under control.
There's no set of universal rules that boards follow when hiring an attorney, but according to Irwin Cohen of A. Michael Tyler Realty in Manhattan, "Most of the time, attorneys are hired by referral - either through the managing agent, an accountant, or someone who is known to the board. Counsel can also be found through a professional organization such as the Council of New York Cooperatives and Condominiums (CNYC), depending on the nature of the requirements of the attorney." (Editor's note: Also visit The Cooperator's Official Directory of Co-op & Condo Services listing at www.cooperator.com.)
Good referrals aside, a board has to be aware of its specific needs and whether or not an attorney fits them. Factors that need to be considered are size of the community, its location, and the type of situations that might lead to advice from a legal counsel.
"They need to ask what the general need for an attorney is in most cases," Cohen says. "Is it strictly shareholder-related? Is it combinations of shareholder and contractual problems, such as major construction projects? Those are elements the board and the managing agent have to address when selecting attorneys."
"They have to begin with experience and reputation," says Marcie Waterman Murray of the Manhattan law firm of Deutsch Tane Waterman & Wurtzel. "There certainly needs to be a minimal level of experience from the attorney. The requirements for a 1,000-unit development may be different from a six-unit condo. The attorney should have experience in the board's spectrum and should be able to say, "˜Yes, I've done this before and here are some clients for referrals.'"