By Darren Richards
When people ask what type of law I do, I usually start out by saying “I help people do what they WANT to do” – “and love it!” Many practice areas are quite the opposite. Some lawyers are involved in helping people do what they DON’T want to do (divorce, litigation, criminal law, etc.). I love helping investors - individuals, corporations, lenders - do real estate and commercial transactions. It’s my goal to support my clients in the best way possible and help them get to their goals safely and efficiently.
The decision to become a real estate lawyer was a fairly easy one. When I was still a law school student, I worked for student legal services helping people who couldn’t afford a lawyer. One young gal who was charged with shoplifting (Theft Under $1000) asked that I help with her sentencing hearing. I did what I thought was an admirable job (eloquently describing how she was extremely remorseful and would never do such a thing again) and got her off with virtually no punishment whatsoever. On my way out of the court she pulled me aside, advised me that earlier that day she was again arrested for the same offence and was wondering if she could enlist my help once again. I decided right then that criminal law was out.
During my articling year, my supervising principal was a family law lawyer meaning that at various times I raced to court to deal with custody emergencies and matrimonial property fights. Some stories and struggles were heart wrenching, so much so that I just couldn’t see that in my long term future either. Family law was out.
But on the positive side of that ledger, very early in my “real” practice, one of my very first investor clients was a true gentleman (and REIN superstar of his day who passed away far too young a number of years ago). He was such a joy to work with and pleasure to work for! He loved what he did, appreciated what I did, and genuinely made the people around him smile. This client, along with his dear wife and his entire family, became very good friends of mine over the years. He became, and still is, a perfect illustration of what real estate law is for me: an opportunity to invest in the lives of others, assist each other in a mutually beneficial way, and grow a web of ongoing relationships that are positive and enriching. The narrowing of my practice probably took a few years. I guess clients early in my career set the stage for me to zero-in and focus on real estate and corporate commercial law as it became more and more clear to me that those were the kind of clients I wanted to deal with each and every day.
So, on that note, I’d like to share a few observations about great clients - what makes them great, why lawyers (and really anyone in their business sphere) love to work with them, and why ultimately they get great service and thus a better chance at success. Some qualities will be technical and real estate specific. Some will be general, and applicable to more than just your business relationships. So here we go. . .
First on my list is character. A good client is honest, trustworthy, cares about people (not just money), and acts with integrity. Warren Buffet once said that when you are looking for people to hire “you look for three qualities: integrity, intelligence, and energy. And if you don’t have the first, the other two will kill you.” That would be true about clients as well. A smart, industrious person without scruples will destroy relationships (i.e. joint ventures, partnerships, business deals) faster than a lawyer can save them.
I once had a client that acquired, prior to my entrance as his lawyer, more than a hundred properties in less than two years. He was very energetic, charismatic, and…dishonest. Using what was later discovered was illegal means to gain access to loan capital, his real estate portfolio dissolved faster than it was established. Not only was the work we and many others did trying to fix his predicament unsuccessful, it was fraught with stress, risk, and conflict and all the friends and professionals who were enlisted to help were frustrated and discouraged.
Your best chance at getting the most out your legal advisor is to be honest, which is second on my list. In fact, because of solicitor-client privilege (what you tell your lawyer cannot in general be disclosed to third parties), your lawyer may be the safest person to confide in. And, without the big picture and full particulars, your lawyer cannot possibly provide sound, prudent and comprehensive legal advice. Whether it’s negotiating a holdback for a deck or a large commercial land deal, knowing the facts and fully trusting the client is invaluable to the lawyer and other professionals enlisted to help.
These two things are just the beginning of building a valuable client-lawyer team. Are you on the right track?
Darren Richards is a partner with Richards Hunter Toogood. He focuses on both residential and commercial Real Estate and Corporate/Commercial Law serving both small and medium sized owner-managed business in the Edmonton and surrounding region. Mr. Richards also acts for major banking institutions and other lenders in relation to their commercial loan facilities. Reach him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or www.rht-law.ca.