Re: real estate attorneys
From: Pablo Halpern (
Date: Fri, 22 Apr 94 10:11 CDT
Stephanie Fassnacht asks how selected/should select a real estate

I was peripherally involved with the selection of three lawyers for New
View.  The first lawyer seemed a little unresponsive (slow), and that drove us
to find the second lawyer.  We hired the second and third lawyers
simultaneously.  One is a big-firm Boston lawyer well known for real estate
experience, the other is a small-time lawyer that specializes in
community issues.  The former is our "main" lawyer and does all of the
legal paper work.  The latter has the role of a consultant.

I am no expert on the process of selecting lawyers, so I will keep my
advice brief and concentrate on our experience.  My advice:

1. Delegate the job of finding an attorney to a committee.
2. Figure out what your needs are.  Any lawyer should, at least:
   * Have multi-unit real estate experience.
   * Be able to work with a consensus-based group.
   * Understand and support the cohousing concept.
3. Get referals from as many people as possible.
4. Narrow the list by phone.  A pre-determined set of questions helps
   here.  Ask about cost, experience, etc.  Get and follow up on
5. Interview the finalists in person.

Our experiences with all of our lawyers has been mixed.  Our first
lawyer could probably have been our only lawyer, but we thought we could
do better.  One problem we had with him was that his experience was
largely with litigation, which is something we didn't need at the time
(and hopefully never will).

Our Boston, big-firm attorney is certainly very good from the
perspective of knowing real estate law and being able to write up
documents for very complicated land deals.  Your group needs to decide
whether your land deals require a big-time lawyer like ours.  He is
expensive, although we get a discount because we are non-profit.  He
also works well with the group, on a personality level, and he seems to
believe in cohousing.

The big problem we have had with our current attorney is that he is
often too aggressive.  Like it or not, in any land deal, your attorney
will end up on the front-line of negotiation.  This is because the
lawyers are the ones that bicker over the techinicalities of the deal.
Our lawyer caused us problems in two ways: 1) he was so zealous in
attempting to protect our interests that our negotiating partners were
unable to accept the first draft of any document and would become
suspicious.  2) His negotiating style was seen as too agressive by the
people we were dealing with, most of whom were simple semi-rural land
owners with "small-town" lawyers.  His aggressiveness caused them to get
intimidated and back away, fearing that they would get duped.

The lessons of our negiating experience are hard to qualify.  On the one
hand, if we had a local lawyer who knew the town involved, we might (or
might not, who knows?) have gotton further with some key deals.  On the
other hand, the deal which got us our main piece of land was very
complicated and might not have happened had our lawyer not been so well
versed in these things.  All I can say is, if you decide to go with an
aggresive lawyer, try to keep his/her role well defined in each
negotiation you participate in.  If you are ready to make a consession
to a seller, for instance, MAKE SURE YOUR LAWYER KNOWS THAT!  Also, see if
you can negotiate the general outlines of a deal without your lawyer,
just using your lawyer to draw up the final aggreement.  Don't expect
too much from this  process, though, the first written agreement is not
always the final one and as soon as a back-and-forth starts, the lawyers
are inextricably involved.

Good luck.


Pablo Halpern              (508) 435-5274         phalpern [at]

New View Neighborhood Development, Acton, MA

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