Canadians aren’t really a litigious bunch. A represented argument for justice is almost always a last ditch effort on the part of an upset party. For any legal discourse to have some substance though, it is always best to have educated representation. Every Canadian is cognizant of the value of an education so it is easy to assume good legal advice will come at a cost. If a strata owner has a good, meaty issue that will benefit all owners long term, most strata lawyers will be compelled to argue a case. A win bodes well for the attorney financially and professionally due to the exposure and, if initiated with the right intent,serves the needs of the client.
I get so many letters of outrage and frustration regarding the legal entities that proliferate strata life, I felt it best to repeat my opinion about strata lawyers specifically, not lawyers in general. Oftentimes, I can be quick to generalize the profession as a whole without weighting the efforts and burdens of lawyers specializing in strata law.
I always try my best to remind readers that there are good lawyers and crappy lawyers – why anyone would think that the legal profession is different from any other I do not quite understand. I also constantly advise readers to know their own strata bylaws as well as attempting to have a layman’s understanding of the legislation, The Strata Property Act. Despite constantly blogging about the cracks in the system as a whole, I value the existence of rules and regulations to help negotiate the wonderful world of strata.
Subsequently, I value the efforts of individuals armed with a cursory knowledge of process willing to confront strata injustices with the most rudimentary attempts for economy. It’s classic “ant takes on the elephant” sort of thing. The downside of these efforts on the part of the ordinary strata owner is emotional attachment. Generally, in strataland, a legal solution is sought when a perceived injustice has been committed by a collective group of owners towards one owner or vice versa. But, perceived injustices are based upon so many factors built upon subjective bias. This is why the rendering of legal decisions is so objective — because then, it is fair and equitable for all parties to an argument or injustice. Judgments are based upon common law and precedents created by historical cases similar in nature. Each case will have similarities and differences which are carefully considered.
If lawyers are the conduit, then it’s the judge that really is the most important aspect of a strata battle. If lawyers aren’t present, a judge has to consider the law as well as the naivete and emotions of the individuals representing their own interests. This can be an extremely onerous task especially when a judge renders decisions for the best interests of the legal argument not the perceived victimization of an individual strata owner or group of strata owners.
All lawyers are paid to argue points of law. Some lawyers walk a very tight line on points of law because they are so well versed and can argue minutiae the rest of us couldn’t find easier than a needle in a haystack. It’s got nothing to do with hurt feelings, and betrayals or slights(all of which, by the way, are subjective and must be left out of the actual argument). It has everything to do with the “musts and shalls” that dictate the law.
In BC, strata owners have a large collection of lawyers that specialize in strata law. Its a good thing too because strata is actually a sordid little dynamic of unsupervised business practice and playground politics. It’s that simple. Strata lawyers receive a case in much the same way divorce attorneys might receive their cases – with acrimony and passionate indignation and a huge sense of betrayal. Negotiating the best interests of sparring partners can harden even the most compassionate of lawyers. But, in strata it’s a bad life lesson of elementary children being asked to run a company for a day without checks and balances. Strata lawyers have to spend most of their time and effort breaking up the playground fights and determining which bully of many drew first blood. After a time, it isn’t really surprising most strata lawyers have an air of ambivalence and condescension about them. When an emotional strata owner attempts to unburden himself with a tired and bored professional referee it can feel like running up against a brick wall at 70km/hr. It hurts. A lot. I know.
There are also extremely talented knowledgeable strata lawyers in BC who never waiver from their compulsion to serve justice and the law. They are priceless. You will know them because it is difficult to get an appointment. Even so they will recommend a colleague if they are unable to deal with you for time or conflict. If you do get an appointment they will take a deep breath while you are wringing your hands and shooting binders of your paper trail across the table at them. They will let you make your impassioned argument. They will empathize with you and then……a really great strata lawyer will look you in the eye and tell you whether or not your issue has legal merit and what the financial cost will be in proving it. They will shoot from the hip so quickly that you will be stunned by the candor. The best of the best run well attended seminars to teach and some even write books for navigating The Strata Property Act. The good ones value their time as well as your time. They are not therapists you can exploit for time and attention.
Except when strata lawyers exploit emotional duress to feed their own ego. Some strata lawyers can bafflegab so effortlessly you believe you have found a true champion for your cause. These professionals gather around Netflix and glean wisdom from Saul – you know, of Better Call Saul fame?! I’ve dealt with a few of them and you feel kind of grungy leaving their office. Seriously, rather like your case was a springboard for opportunity – just not yours. Rather than referee the playground bullies, these pros will be instigating more bully behaviour and charging you for the pleasure. I know these ones….they have a definite calling card. Its like being ravenously hungry, ordering Chinese take-out and then feeling ravenously hungry again as though you had not eaten at all.
So let me see…..I have experienced all types of strata lawyers while trying to live within the nasty, murky mass that is the swamp. The economy led me to the Saul types first, but I learned the MO and figured I could do a better job of research myself. This led me to attend workshops by lawyers who earned my respect with their knowledge and passion for clear, concise understanding of the law and my rights as a strata owner. I also familiarized myself with The StrataProperty Act and spent weeks combing through the Supreme Court website studying decisions made for strata cases. Armed with just a little bit more confidence I attended offices of lawyers who gave off such an air of, “Been there, Done that” that I became angry and started fending off the bullies in my swamp with paper, citing bylaws, dates, times and specific issues.I attended Council meetings despite being taunted for doing so and whenever I could, I sat on Council. I attended more workshops, took courses in Property Management so I could figure out what the profession was supposed to be about and argue with our managers at their level. I was shunned by the majority of my neighbours. I received threats, my property was vandalized, I was slandered and libeled and my children were bullied – by the adults. When I petitioned for Special General Meetings to deal with the corruption that was our strata council I hired legal representation. At that meeting, some of those playground bullies were kicked out and I was told afterwards that of all the strata theatre my lawyer witnessed, ours was unbelievable. It was a validation of sorts.
Some lawyers have carefully suggested I tone down my language in the blog when I discuss lawyers. Some of my readers have taken exception with my refusal to give up my pseudonym– questioning my integrity. Other lawyers have given me great encouragement to continue using the platform. Many more readers have thanked me for bringing their issues out into the public eye. If it weren’t for all my lawyer experiences I wouldn’t have the knowledge I have now. I share it with all of you not for recognition but to help you and encourage you to fight your fight the right way with character and integrity. To remind you that you are not alone and that if I can shed some light on your circumstance I will do my very best to accommodate you just as some of those terrific strata lawyers accommodated me. But mind….you don’t always get what you pay for so arrange to visit a lawyer you have carefully researched and investigated so you don’t get exploited or bled. An injustice within your own strata life should always be fought without emotion and with solid evidence. The law helps you faster if you know the law at least a little bit.And good lawyers will effectively argue a case with merit so a judge can render a fair and equitable decision that will benefit all strata owners. Specifically, a good strata lawyer is really all about the type of justice you seek. Do your homework.