A good article about choosing a new lawyer or reducing your fees from an existing attorney

The recession has brought changes to the business of law, including lower fees and less costly billing arrangements, say industry reportsand managing partners in firms large and small. And that can mean advantages for small-business owners, provided they know how to find a law firm that suits their needs and they know the right questions to ask.

Some entrepreneurs who have been around a while offer pointers. Juliet Huck is founder of the Huck Group, a 10-employee consulting company that is based in Los Angeles and creates graphic presentations to help participants in litigation tell their stories in court.

Ms. Huck said that she has found ways to make less costly billing arrangements — even when she hasn’t found lower fees. “A large firm might assign me a junior associate at a lower billing rate,” she said, “and that is all right because I have access to the firm’s expertise when I need it for difficult questions.”

Ms. Huck engages different lawyers for specific issues, like employment law or intellectual property protection, and finds them by referral. Because she runs a courtroom-based business, this is a relatively easy task for her, but she is careful to follow up. “I ask a lot of questions about work an attorney has done in a particular field,” she said.

Stephen Marsh, founder and chief executive of SmarshInc., agrees. “When choosing a law firm,” he said, “I would ensure that the firm has many other clients in your field, your size and much larger. You’ll also want to know the types of law they have expertise in. And if you are considering the possibility of merger and acquisition transactions in the future, make sure the firm has a significant amount of transactional experience.”

Founded in 2001 in Portland, Ore., Smarsh archives e-mail and file-transmission information to help corporations comply with financial regulations. As those regulations have increased, he said, Smarsh has grown to 70 employees and about $14 million in annual revenue.

Based on his experience, Mr. Marsh stresses two points: “Make sure the attorneys understand your business — who your customers are, what your biggest areas of risk are, and so on.” And when it comes to billing arrangements, Mr. Marsh recommends paying by the hour rather than by retainer: “I prefer the simple billable hours model. It keeps legal expenses predictable and allows us to use as much legal assistance as we need, when we need it.”

From the other side of the equation, Brian L. Davidoff, managing director of Rutter Hobbs & Davidoff, a 30-lawyer firm that is based in Los Angeles and that provides legal services to clients like Smarsh Inc., offers similar advice. When small businesses are choosing a firm, he said, he encourages them to ask around.

“It is best to use a referral from your accountant or other business owners,” said Mr. Davidoff. “Another way is to use an attorney network, such as Primerus, which is a network for small law firms that are highly rated by Martindale-Hubbell, an organization that rates attorneys.”

But keep in mind, Mr. Davidoff stressed, that while the quality of the firm is important, you are really hiring an individual lawyer. “Make sure that the chemistry works,” he said. “Ask about the attorney’s experience and the law firm’s prior cases in that area of law. Ask for an estimate of what the costs are likely to be.”

Establishing that chemistry can be tricky. Both new and ancient trends are at work in relations between small businesses and the legal profession, said Sanford I. Millar, a Los Angeles tax lawyer. One issue, he said, is a traditional distrust of lawyers shared by many entrepreneurs: “They see the lawyer as saying no to daring business moves. The truth is, lawyers are there to advise on what has been possible and not been possible in law. No business owner wants to be ignorant on that score.”

Case in point: Marc Madnick, who founded Final Draft, a software service for screenwriters in 1991, was referred to a law firm by his accountant. Mr. Madnick, a native New Yorker who had moved west to pursue screenwriting, was wary.

In the East, he said, many business people assume lawyers are out to get them. Mr. Madnick said that he and Joel Weinstein, the Rutter Hobbs lawyer on the Final Draft account, “discuss beforehand what a legal proceeding is likely to cost. Will it be $2,000 or $5,000? So we set a limit.”

Final Draft, he said, is now a company with 40 employees and close to $10 million in sales. In one instance, Mr. Madnick recalled, “Joel advised me not to proceed with an acquisition. It was good advice and saved the firm a lot of money.”

Last August, in a further sign of how the market is evolving, Concord Law School of Kaplan University, began offering an online degree program in small-business practice. The initial courses focus on commercial real estate and employee benefits.

Over the two-year degree course, said M. Ellen Murphy, director of the program, “we will teach about succession issues in family businesses and about taxation and protecting intellectual property.” The goal, Ms. Murphy said, is to help lawyers offer small businesses the services they really need at a price they can afford.

Law firms can also reduce their fees by reducing the overhead costs that they pass on to small-business clients. For example, Steven M. Weinberg, head of the Weinberg Legal Group, a small firm in Malibu, Calif., that represents Ms. Huck’s company among others, is now forming a “virtual” law firm to be named Trusted Legal Counsel. His idea is that a network of independent lawyers can be called on for specific questions on taxation or patent protection and so on.

“We can offer low overhead through flat rates and project fees that are less expensive,” Mr. Weinberg said, “and experienced lawyers are available as larger firms downsize in the recession.”

Mr. Weinberg said he heard about the idea for Trusted Legal Counsel from a client of his firm, Marcia Wieder, who in 1990 founded Dream University, a San Francisco-based company that offers career counseling, trains speakers and conducts motivational events for corporations.

“My first encounter with legal services was in protecting my brand, the name Dream University,” Ms. Wieder said. She found that another company calling itself University of Dreams had started up. So she hired Weinberg Legal Group, she said, “because it was obvious that an authoritative voice needed to contact the user. And it worked. The other company changed its name.”

Dream University, meanwhile, has trained 1,000 motivational coaches, has $1.5 million in revenue but still has only two full-time employees along with Ms. Wieder. That decentralized structure helped give her the idea for Trusted Legal Counsel, she said. “I needed access to a trusted source and only to pay for it when I use it, like weekends and so forth. I use my attorney also to brainstorm ideas.”



Important new Florida condo rules

BANKS TO PAY MORE? NOTFlorida Statute 718.116 has been amended to increase the liability of abank from 6 months to 12 months of unpaid assessments or 1% of the original mortgage whichever is less,when they foreclose and take title to a condominium unit. This is the most disappointing amendment of all. Despite all the hoopla – the bank’s liability to the association did not double -because the 1% cap still remains in place. In the overwhelming majority of cases, the bank will stillonly pay the association 1% of the mortgage andtheir liability to the association has not changed atall. A true doubling of the bank’s liability would have increased their cap to 2% of the mortgage.Next to nothing was gained here and worse yet,the less expensive the condominium unit is, the less likely it is that the bank’s liability increased to the association at all.

SUSPENSION OF USE RIGHTS In a condominium, if a unit owner is delinquent for more than 90 days paying a monetary obligation due tothe association, the association may now suspend the right of a unit owner or unit’s occupant, licensee or invitee to use common elements, common facilities or any other association property until the monetary obligationis paid.

EDUCATING BOARD MEMBERS In a condominium, a newly elected Board member can either sign an affidavit attesting that he or she has read the governing documents and Fla. Stat.718 or take an approved division course. Call ore-mail us if you are interested in our free DBPR approved seminar.

BOARD ELIGIBILITY The statute has now been amended to provide that in a condominium, a person who is delinquent in the payment of any fee, any fine, orpayment of any special or regular assessment inexcess of ninety (90) days is not eligible for board membership. Furthermore, any director or officer more than 90 days delinquent in the payment ofany monetary obligation due to the association isdeemed to have abandoned the office. The association may also suspend the voting rights of a member due to non payment of any monetary obligation due to the association which is more than 90 days delinquent.

EVICTING TENANTS For both condominiums and HOAs, the law now allows the association to demand that the tenant pay their rent directly to the association, instead of paying it to their landlord, if their landlord becomesdelinquent in paying any monetary obligation to the association. If the tenant fails to comply, the tenant can be evicted by the association.

all information is from


The new board is the old board.

On December 1 we had elections for our board and 5 new canidates were running with four incumbants. None of the new people won so the four incumbrants will serve again but they will rotate positions so we have a new president and a new vice president,Michael Roefaro and Jenny Jones respectively.

I wish them luck. I hope we can all work together. My suggestion would be to have a round table meeting where everyone good speak on an equal footing and have the new board listen and maybe learn as we have some very smart people in the people and also people that have legitimate problems  and some solutions and maybe if we all sat done we could start anew.

I think this board will be more open and friendly.

Many of the new people running were really not interested in serving. They never really campaigned and a few had some hidden skeletons in their closets and the incumbents found them out and publicized them. Their resumes very simple and most people did not know enough about their feelings towards the building. I offered to interview all of them and write about them but either they did not return my calls or did not want to be interviewed.

This blog is a wonderful vehicle to get news out and it is not just for complaints but could be educational and a forum for us to talk to each other.


Renters disguised as Guests- A Letter

Att: Michael Roefaro-President
Martha Lee-Secretary
Frank Lagalante-Building Manager
Sarah Watkins-Assistant Building Manager

December 3, 2010
Concerning Apt 903:
First, let me congratulate you on your new board positions. Perhaps this could be the first issue you address in your new term.
I bought my apartment in January 2010. During my move in I spoke to two people in #903 that said they were the owners but it has turned out that they were the decorators. They had just totally redone this apartment. I was very impressed as it was done beautifully and very luxuriously.
I started to notice on the terrace different sets of people on the terrace. Even though they spent a fortune redoing the apt they never had terrace furniture. The first group, which were three foreign men pulled out the kitchen chairs onto the terrace,in their wifebeaters and smoked. My terrace, since I am in the corner, directly faces the terrace of #903.
The next group of people was also men but two this time and totally different looking. I have not been in Florida since the end of May and returned on November 17th. .When I arrived I saw the 903 apt occupied by a German couple. They came around the first of the month and left at the end (November 30). They kept putting laundry on the banister and their storage door was constantly left open in the hall way.Both of these problems were reported to Frank.
On Dec 2 I was in the office when the owner of the apt #903 was paying his maintenance bill , I introduced myself and he said his name was Kyle Kahriman, and he did not live in the building but used it for his” guests”. And that more were coming for the holidays. I then came upstairs and met a maid that was cleaning his apt and she called the people that just left “tenants”.
I would like to report that this apartment is being rented out and these people are not his friends. I
do not want to live next to a hotel room. The last “guests” had a parking space near me also and not in guest parking.
This owner is abusing your lenient guest policy. I thought I was buying into a building where I would know who my neighbors were and that they would not be changing weekly or monthly.
This is entirely unacceptable to me and should be addressed. I hope you will rectify this situation and make my habitability of my unit less stressful.
V Ross

Current: Outcome

M Roefaro- answered immediately and said this was intolerable and he would try to work on a result. Ann McKay,also a board member feels the same way.

Frank Lagalante-I asked him to call the owner of #903 and he said even though he agrees with my position  he has no grounds to call the owner….”he might hang up on me”