And yet people continue to seek legal advice and support in conflicts big and small in condo associations. Because that's what people look for: support, protection, guidance, and an advocate. Somebody with power who will articulate their interests and be on their side.
However, an attorney who only knows legal reasoning and blindly adopts the adversarial mentality may push you deeper into a who’s-right-and-who’s-wrong conflict trap, as Gary Friedman and Jack Himmelstein call it in the book Challenging Conflict: Mediation through Understanding.
A condo board that hires an attorney to help with a dispute might look for somebody who knows the law and is ready to protect the association and who also shows some ability or willingness to play one or more of the following roles, suggested by Kenneth Cloke in his widely-read and very influential book Mediating Dangerously: the Frontiers of Conflict Resolution,
a) consultant: not only draft documents everybody can understand and agree on but help craft mechanisms to prevent the level and frequency of disputes that arise in the association
b) teacher: they don’t just determine who was right and who was wrong but what the disputants did that provoked the conflict and prolonged it and what to do so that doesn’t happen again
c) informal problem solver: rather than supporting one side’s claims to righteousness in the dispute, she seeks to create informal, constructive discussions between both sides as to how the problem could have been avoided
d) systems thinker: rather than focus on one incident, she helps her clients develop an awareness of how the present system facilitated the conflict and what new systems are needed
e) mediator: many attorneys nowadays have taken formal mediation training; they have a lot of sway with clients and frequently can convince disputing parties to sit down and have a facilitated conversation
f) promoter of empathy for the other people: the attorney can help a client imagine how the other side is experiencing the conflict
g) conscience: this attorney can help his client see that their actions including any legal action will be the most powerful if they are in harmony with the client’s deepest values, principles and ethics
In many condo disputes, conscientious attorneys will tell you the law can’t help you and it doesn’t make sense for you to hire them. You can then bring in a conflict engagement specialist who will take your side and help you move your conflict forward in a wise and productive fashion.