Choosing a Commercial Real Estate Law Firm

Consider that you wouldn’t purchase a commercial property before thoroughly researching it, your search for commercial real estate law firm should be one of careful scrutiny.

After all, the manner in which your commercial real estate transaction or matter is executed can substantially impact your company’s bottom line for many years to come. The right or wrong choice of firm can also affect your sanity, as you will be working closely with the firm’s attorneys on matters that tend to get emotional.

Look for a law firm for which commercial real estate is a specialty.  You’ll want to go with a firm that handles similar transactions or matters on a regular basis, for companies that are not unlike yours in size and industry type. If you’re purchasing, for instance, a multifamily building for investment purposes, an office building for your company’s use or an industrial retail property, the law firm should be an expert in those specific categories, as well as the geographic area in which the property is located.

Keep in mind that if you’re buying a small building and the law firm typically handles much larger transactions, your deal may not get the attention you expect. Similarly, if the firm’s transactions tend toward very small retail properties and you’re looking to purchase a shopping mall, your project may be beyond the firm’s ability to provide expert counsel.

A commercial real estate law firm with a depth of expertise in the area you require can advise you on whether a purchase makes sense for your business. For instance, the firm may help you discover that the income from an investment property would not be enough to make the investment viable, considering the purchase price, taxes, where the market is heading and potential problems with the property. Perhaps there is environmental contamination on the property that would require a costly cleanup. A good firm can advise you on whether you should negotiate a lower price or perhaps walk away from the project.

If you’re purchasing a property and want to convert it from, say, industrial to office space, look for a firm with expertise in land use and zoning matters. Before you go through the lengthy and costly process of getting approvals, a knowledgeable firm can advise you on whether the project makes sense.

Transactions are not the only type of real estate matter requiring an attorney’s advice. For instance, if you own property and are engaged in or anticipate a dispute with a tenant, you’ll want to seek a firm with expertise representing landlords in similar matters.

Compile a list of firms specializing in the commercial real estate matter that you need. As personal referrals are a great way to find professionals, ask your commercial real estate broker, accountant and other professionals with whom you have dealings for a recommendation. If you have friends at other companies that have been involved in similar transactions, ask them which law firm worked with them. Find out if they were satisfied with the firm and attorney’s level of service and expertise. Did the attorney return phone calls and explain complicated legal concepts in plain English? Did the firm’s fees fall within the client’s expectations?

In your first discussion with an attorney, you can inquire about how much the firm charges and how it bills. You can also get an idea of what it would be like to work with the firm. Ask which attorney or attorneys would be assigned to handle your matter, and be sure to speak with those individuals. Find out about their expertise in handling similar matters. The firm may have its attorney’s bios posted on its website.

Google all the attorney’s and the firm’s name to discover articles that have been written about them, or to see if they have authored any articles on commercial real estate topics.

Before signing on the dotted line, check that the attorney is in good standing with the New York State Bar Association.

 Written by and courtesy of Bernadette Starzee and the Long Island Business News. Starzee can be reached at starzee@optonline.com

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