Hiring a lawyer 

“It has something to do with the facts and the law and who the judges are. So I think lawyers sometimes exaggerate their role in winning and losing. Lawyers do have a role, and a major role, but they're not the only players in this game.
—Floyd Abrams

Once you started fighting with your board, there may come a time when you will need to retain a lawyer. Spend a little time talking to a couple and pick the one you feel the most comfortable with.

Hire a lawyer that has considerable experience in condominium law. Sure they are expensive but it will prove to be far more expensive if you try to save money and hunt for a bargain.

Lobby lawyers
If you think that hiring an experienced condo lawyer is expensive, quarreling with your board without a lawyer or even worse, listening to a lobby lawyer will be far, far more expensive.

A lobby lawyer can be found sitting in many condo lobbies. These self-appointed legal experts offer free advice to any and all listeners. Following their advice can be expensive as usually all that you are getting is uninformed personal opinions.

When I was battling with my board, I was introduced to an owner of a small property management company who suggested that I organize a condo fee strike. He said that if our group of owners put their monthly fees into a trust account, we would force the board into showing us the condo records and hold a long overdue AGM.

If we followed his advice, we would have had a lien put on our units and that would have burdened us with heavy costs without us making any headway. Far worse, the owners would never again listen to us.

Store-front lawyers
At all costs stay away from lawyers who practice family or real estate law. They do not know the Condominium Act and they shouldn't learn it on
your dime.

I have seen letters written by a couple of these lawyers. They were embarrassing to read. The owners thought they were saving money by hiring her instead of a experienced condo lawyer but they didn't save anything because no one took their "legal" letters seriously.

They are not cheap and most do not know the Condominium Act. Use them to fight traffic tickets if you wish but not for condominium disputes.

Once you selected a lawyer, you need to write a cheque to the law firm. This is called a retainer and it is an amount that you deposit in your account. As the lawyer works on your case, he tracks his time by the tenth of an hour.

At the end of every month that he bills these hours to your account, the law office will send you a statement of how much was withdrawn from your retainer and how much remains. Once your retainer starts running dry, you will need to top it up.

I estimate that it would require an initial  $5,000-$6,000 to retain an experienced condominium lawyer. Lawyers charge an hourly fee, measured in tenths of an hour segments. This money is required for:
1. Legal advice.
2. Attending an AGM.
3. Notarize small claims affidavits.
4. Commence litigation.

In the beginning, you may just need a few hours of consultation where you explain your situation with the lawyer, explain what you would like to do and what you have done so far.

The lawyer, on the other hand, will tell you what you can do, steer you back on the right track if you are going the wrong way and will tell you what mistakes to avoid.

As your battle with the board proceeds, you may need to raise a further $10,000 to $20,000 to take a case to Superior Court. When we hired our condo lawyer, we continually added to our retainer so that our lawyer was always assured of being paid.

Keeping the costs reasonable
If you work with your lawyer, you can help keep the legal fees reasonable if you are willing to do some of the work yourself. This can be done by:
Gathering together your thoughts and materials and write an outline of your grievances with your board before you meet with your lawyer.
Type out your own affidavits as Microsoft Word files and send them to your lawyer by e-mail. The lawyer will edit and correct your documents.
Take digital photographs of issues at the condominium. If relevant, they can be included in your affidavits.
Do your own research. You can look up tax records at city hall and check business profiles on Service Ontario. Some court documents are available for viewing at the courthouse on University Avenue.
Serve the court papers yourself rather than use a server. That will save a lot of money.
Always be prepared and think out what you need to discuss before you see your lawyer so that there is less wasted time. Use e-mail when possible.

Finding a lawyer
This could prove tricky. Many condo lawyers prefer to work for the boards because the corporations provide a steady stream of billable hours while an owner is usually a one-time client.

At least one Toronto law firm will not accept an owner as a client because they have experience with some owners not paying their legal bills. (Just as there are “bad” lawyers, there are “bad” owners.)

Other firms are reluctant to work for a group of owners. They find that individuals in the group can have their own agenda and that the group often splits in the middle of litigation because they have different goals. The lawyer may have difficulty working with a group or find that they argue among themselves so much that they become too difficult to work with.

Some groups promise to retain the lawyer as the corporation’s lawyer once they seize control of the board. (It's a known practice for the new board to pass a motion at a board meeting to have the corporation pay the legal fees they occurred prior to being elected.)

The group hires a lawyer
The group has to collect a pool of money to pay for the retainer and the ongoing lawyer fees. It is extremely important that the owners understand that once they donate any money, it is nonrefundable. However, if you win costs from the corporation, that money will be distributed to the donors on a equitable basis.

The lawyer will need to know who his or her clients are so the donors will need to sign an agreement with the lawyer. That could spook some owners.

The spokesperson
Once the lawyer is hired, it is extremely important that the group appoint a single spokesperson to communicate with the lawyer and that the lawyer will deal only with that one spokesperson. This will prevent the lawyer from receiving conflicting instructions and it will insure that everyone in the the group receives the same information. It will also save a lot of time and money.

One group of owners raised $5000 to hire a lawyer. However the money ran out extremely quickly when one owner, without the knowledge of the rest of the group, kept telephoning the lawyer to ask questions and share opinions. This owner burned up the full retainer so there was no money left to pay the lawyer when they needed him to represent them in court.

The lawyer will need to meet and get to know the group and the group will be anxious to meet their lawyer. However, set a time limit for these meetings as they are included in the billable hours and some owners will want to talk for hours and hours.

Herding cats
Once the lawyer has been hired, the group of owners needs to stay united.
If the group starts pickering among themselves and no longer can agree
on its goals or direction where it wants to go, the lawyer may withdraw
from the brief.

If one owner proves to be too belligerent or demanding, the lawyer may decide not to represent that particular owner.

The group's leaders need to understand how important it is to keep the group from dividing into warring factions.

A note of caution
Make sure that your file will not be passed down to a law student or a junior lawyer who is just beginning to practice condominium law.

There have been cases where a law firm will send a junior lawyer to an AGM and the corporation's lawyer rides roughshod all over the owners while their lawyer was too inexperienced or intimidated to stand up to the bully.

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