Communication between associations and legal counsel has changed dramatically as the result of email and the mobile devices upon which email is sent and received. This can have a favorable impact on the attorney-client relationship; however, it can also lead to frustrations.
Today's column is intended to provide some tips to maximize the benefit of the use of email as a means to communicate with an association's legal counsel.
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Email can be a great alternative to traditional mail or overnight delivery. However, email has evolved from a means to transmit communication (like letters and documents attached to an email) to become a medium of communication itself. In fact, email often replaces communication that would otherwise take place by phone. But since email requires skills not required in a telephone conversation, the message can be garbled.
Emails are frequently composed quickly and too often provide cryptic, incomplete information. This can be exacerbated when the email is composed on a handheld device. Clients usually seek guidance from legal counsel because there is an issue with significant consequences that needs to be addressed. It is absolutely essential that counsel be provided complete, detailed, accurate, well organized and thoughtful information in order to provide meaningful work product and guidance.
That "auto-fill" feature is more like "random-fill." So, take a moment, especially when typing on the mobile phone, to proofread email and to use spell check before hitting "send." An occasional comma and period can also help convey a thought more accurately.
If a matter is urgent or requires a dialogue, it is often best to contact the attorney by phone. The all-day-long email dialogue (and the legal fees that are generated as a result) can often be replaced with a more efficient phone conversation.
Best efforts should be employed to consolidate communications as best as possible to avoid multiple emails. And don't simply use the last email from counsel, on an unrelated topic, as platform for a new email. It can be time consuming to determine the relevancy of the email chain. If forwarding an email chain from other individuals, provide a detailed explanation of the matter, the context of the communications, and the issue that you want the attorney to address.
It is essential that the name of the association be identified (preferably in the subject line) of all emails. The name of the author of the email should be included as well. An email that only identifies the sender by a "cutesy" email address, and that does not identify the client, can delay a response while the attorney figures out from whom it was sent.
Association counsel should respond to a client as soon as possible. However, email is not "instant messaging" and lawyers are not search engines. An attorney's response to client communications often first involves some degree of investigation, analysis and deliberation. The measure of the attorney should be the quality of the response and not merely its speed.
If there is a particular deadline or time frame in which a response is required, you should advise counsel in your email. Otherwise, counsel will respond in due course. Law firms have business hours. While an attorney may work and transmit/receive email communications when the office is formally closed, this should not create an expectation that emails will be reviewed and responded to 24/7.
Email has become a very effective and popular means for board members to communicate with each other and with management. In general, counsel for the association should not be cc'd on such internal communications, unless the attorney has requested you to do so. It would be nearly impossible for association counsel to review all client emails if this protocol is not observed.
One person on the association's board, and the property manager, should be appointed to communicate with and provide instructions from the board to association counsel. Multiple emails, from various board members to the association's counsel, can create confusion and misunderstanding as to the instructions and information being conveyed. Rather, the consensus of the board on an issue requiring involvement by counsel should be funneled to the attorney through the president or property manager only.
These hints should help make email the efficient communications vehicle it can be, and avoid misunderstandings and unnecessary attorney's fees that arise from communications that are not as efficient as they could be.
• David M. Bendoff is an attorney with Kovitz Shifrin Nesbit in Buffalo Grove. Send questions for the column to him at CondoTalk@ksnlaw.com. The firm provides legal service to condominium, townhouse, homeowner associations and housing cooperatives. This column is not a substitute for consultation with legal counsel.