Boutique Firms: Why Specialized Code Enforcement Firms are a City’s Best Friend
Written By Silver & Wright LLP
May 5, 2021

The prudent use of outside counsel enhances the effectiveness of municipal representation by providing supplemental ‘niche’ expertise and experience which may be utilized (and paid for) only as the specific need arises.

 

City Attorney Michael H. Hiller

This quote from City Attorney Michael H. Miller in a piece presented at the 1991 League of California Cities Annual Conference was written in response to the rapidly expanding field of municipal law and in support of the use of specialized law firms in necessary cases. Once a specialty in its own right, “municipal law” has since become a broader field with countless subspecialties. From labor relations, environmental law, municipal finance, workers’ compensation, and more, Miller’s arguments have only proven more true as municipal law continues to become more complex and specialists become more valuable. For example, when dealing with matters related to code enforcement, there are countless nuances and details within the law that a City must adhere to when taking legal action against a code violator. Cases involving nuisance properties, receiverships, vehicle abatement, and homelessness, are often sensitive in nature and must be handled with expert oversight, without politics or bias, and as cost-effectively as possible. In addition, the legal landscape is constantly changing, requiring vigilance in following these changes and complying with, and/or responding to, them. This is precisely why specialized law firms, such as Silver & Wright LLP, are so valuable to public agencies.

While in-house city attorneys are hired for their abilities as legal generalists, specialized firms are able to offer expert counsel who understands the minefield of their specialty area of law; in this scenario, code enforcement law, housing laws, administrative law, and litigation. These firms have an in-depth knowledge of the relevant laws and procedural rules, as well as the best approaches, those to avoid, often know the requirements of judges, and know exactly what information the agency should seek and provide to the courts in order to meet legal and judge standards, and make the process as efficient as possible. From an experience standpoint, they know more off the starting block and are likely to have handled many similar cases throughout their career, learning invaluable lessons that can only come from experience.. As an example, Silver & Wright LLP attorneys have handled hundreds of cases involving receiverships and nuisance properties over the past decade. All this experience adds up to more security and, importantly, cost savings for the public agency. Success in this arena means not only obtaining compliance with local and state laws but also doing so in a reasonable and cost-effective manner while mitigating risk to the local agency.

In addition to providing decades of experience in the code enforcement and public agency litigation realm, hiring expert outside counsel in such cases keeps costs down for the agency and tax payers. For one, it frees up in-house counsel to handle important agency matters, including those that might not have a cost-reimbursement aspect to them.. It also allows the agency the freedom to terminate the contract once the work is done or if they don’t feel like the firm is performing to their expectations, thereby also ensuring accountability from the firm. Rather than hire a full-time staff attorney to handle sporadic cases (at the expense of an additional salary + benefits) agencies can instead rely on a simple contract agreement when a case comes up. The agency’s in-house attorneys are also able to oversee the work being done to ensure that expectations are being met, resources are being used properly, and agency protocol is followed. Finally, a firm specializing in code enforcement or other speciality matters will work more quickly, be more efficient, and therefore be less expensive than an attorney who (presumably) will need to do much more of their own independent research.

An additional benefit of bringing a specialty firm on board for code enforcement litigation is that they will come in fresh and unbiased to the situation. In these sensitive cases, it is imperative that politics and personal animosities be left at the door for a successful and just outcome. Outside counsel will provide the knowledge required, and a fresh set of eyes on the situation, to reach the best resolution for the agency.

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