How do you choose your lawyer?

stencil-default-14I spent my Sunday afternoon in a job interview. Yes, you read that right. No, I’m not leaving my firm. We aren’t merging or being bought out. We are open for business as usual on Monday (you can give me a call if you don’t believe me)!

So, what exactly did I do Sunday? Stephanie and I interviewed, along with two other firms, to be the lawyers for a condominium. We met with the subcommittee tasked with making a recommendation to the board and presented a proposal that outlined our services and standard rates. They asked a variety of questions and we talked about ourselves, our firm, and our practice areas. This was actually the second interview. I was unavailable to attend the first one so Stephanie went solo to it. 

For some of you, this might seem unusual. For many, the lawyer is selected based upon a recommendation from the property manager. Often, it is a lawyer that the manager has worked with in the past. In other cases, the lawyer is on a list of preferred vendors that the management company provides to its clients when asked for recommendations. In Toronto, it is actually very common to interview lawyers before hiring them. It usually starts with a list of 3 to 5 firms being considered. Proposals are made by the firms interested. Interviews are held. In some cases, references are even required. It feels just like a job interview!

Most of my clients retained me without me ever meeting the board. To be honest, it is easy for me that way. I’m not spending time driving or preparing for the meeting. Instead, I spend time serving my existing clients. But, is it the best option for the condominium?

While the interview process involves a greater deal of time, it can be very useful as it allows the board to obtain more information than would be presented with a written proposal (i.e. services and rates). The interview gives the board the opportunity to ask questions about a lawyer’s experience and knowledge. This might be especially important if the condominium faces a very serious matter, like a $10,000,000 court claim against the developer, or issues that arise infrequently, such as an expropriation of land or minor variance application by a neighbour.

In addition, the interview allows the board to assess the lawyer’s personality. Does she seem too aggressive, or not aggressive enough? Does she promote practical solutions to problems, or is court always recommended?  Does she support transparency and communication with the owners, or only giving owners information on a “need-to-know” basis? In this way, the interview can be very useful for condominiums looking to change lawyers because the current lawyer doesn’t seem like a “good fit”.

The interview process can also be useful for the lawyer. It gives us an opportunity to meet with the board before we do any work for them. This lets us understand their expectations better, which should lead to more satisfied clients.

I’m not saying interviewing is always necessary, but it might be a good option for your condominium next time you need a lawyer.