Choosing a lawyer for a commercial property transaction?

Many commercial property transactions falter as a result of the common fallacy that all lawyers are roughly equal. Far from it. As in any profession there are specialists and the not so competent in a specialist field. It’s a smart idea to seek some advice or comments from experienced investors before engaging a lawyer if you’re new to the business.

It’s a reasonable assumption that if parties have signed-up to a contract, one side wants to sell and the other wants to purchase. A reasonable assumption. And yet there are many solicitors, who the moment they receive a copy of a contract act as though they have a duty to their client to find reasons to void the transaction. It is very common to hear seasoned investors talk of the time they shouldn’t have listened to their lawyer, but did and missed a great opportunity. I’ve experienced many such examples over almost 30 years. If a retired farmer from Winton is reading this he’ll be nodding his head and sighing.

Specialist property lawyers have a nose for right and wrong, they know what to look for and where to look. When they find problems they proffer solutions, assuming they exist. They work from a presumption their client has sound reasons for wanting to buy or sell and it’s their role to intelligently negotiate the roadblocks. In Wellington David Butler (Gillespie Young Watson) Paul Dentice (Macalister Mazengarb) Murray Harden (Morrison Kent) Richard Chesney (Foot & Co) and Terry Nowland (Nowland Gordon Associates) are outstanding practitioners who fit this mould. Crucially they have expert knowledge of most legislation that impacts property. They know instinctively when a required seemingly insignificant clause is missing from a contract or is incorrectly worded. If their advice is to “pull stumps” it won’t have been arrived at lightly. Take it. It’s rare that lawyers of this calibre are unable to negotiate acceptable compromises.

You will be charged for your lawyer’s time regardless of whether your aspiration for ownership of a particular asset is achieved or not. It’s not a bad idea to ensure the lawyer you select to work with you (emphasis on ‘with’) appreciates that what on occasions may appear as fatal flaws can be converted to unintended bonuses through skilful negotiation.

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