Property tax appeals are a very small, niche area of the law that has many potential pitfalls and traps for inexperienced attorneys.
There are three main attributes to consider when you are looking to hire a commercial property tax attorney:
- Legal Knowledge: When you meet with or interview an attorney, they should have a command of the law and not need to defer to research. Ask specific questions about your case. In most cases, the attorney should be able to address the issues without wanting to research the law.
- Negotiation Skills: The best possible outcome in a property tax appeal case is when the attorney meets with the assessor’s office, presents your case, the assessor agrees, and you taxes are lowered. It does not happen often, but it does happen. While the above scenario happens only in a small percentage of commercial cases, a larger percentage of cases are resolved through negotiation during the process, thus avoiding the cost of going to court.
- Litigation Skills: Many cases, particularly the larger cases, will end up in court. It is crucially important to select a property tax appeals attorney that is not afraid to litigate when required and who has been successful in front of a judge. It is preferred that the attorney you hire is a good litigator and does not have to rely on another attorney in the firm or outside counsel.
Questions for a Commercial Property Tax Attorney
When meeting with a potential commercial property tax attorney it is important to assess the attorney’s demeanor and candor. Three basic vetting questions for a property tax attorney are:
1) What Percentage of Your Practice is Commercial Property Tax Appeals?
In some areas of the country, many general practice attorneys will offer property tax appeal services and may try to suggest that appealing your property taxes is really just a procedural exercise. This is not what you want to hear.
If your case is important enough to hire an attorney, then it is important enough to hire the right one. You want to hire an attorney whose primary practice is property tax appeals.
2) What Are Some of Your Biggest Successes in Property Tax Appeals?
This can be very telling because not only do you get to judge the merits of prior cases, but you can get a real sense of the type of attorney they are. This question will help you gauge your level of comfort with the attorney and decide whether they have the expertise to handle your case.
3) What is Your Negotiation Style?
An attorney’s negotiation style is highly important to the outcome of a property tax appeal.
The best negotiator is not the same thing as the most aggressive negotiator. This is because the negotiations of a property tax attorney are always with a member or body of the government. The people on the opposite side are not personally vested in the outcome, so if you have someone that walks in and makes their day unpleasant, they can simply hand the attorney the appeal form and tell them to take it to court.
Hire a property tax attorney who follows Teddy Roosevelt’s sage advice:”Walk softly and carry a big stick.” You want your lawyer to be not only persistent, but also to be pleasant while doing so. You do not want to alienate an assessor or Board of Review because you rarely get a good negotiated settlement from someone who feels abused.