You’ve undoubtedly heard this mantra before: the best lawyers serve as trusted business advisors to their clients. But what does that look like in practice? Your top priority, of course, is to solve the legal dilemma of the moment. That might be a thorny transaction, a tense contract negotiation or a high-stakes lawsuit. Eventually, though, that matter will come to an end. And when it does, you’ll have to ask yourself a pivotal question: What’s the next problem I can solve for my client?
There’s rarely an obvious answer. Quite often, you’ll need to pore over the client’s business operations to spot a legal issue that deserves attention. Then you’ll have to devise a solution that you can present with confidence. No small task. But that’s the core function of a trusted business advisor.
Now for a bit of good news: you might be able to take a shortcut. If you represent a client that pays property tax—perhaps it’s a manufacturing company that owns a factory, a business that leases a warehouse or an investor with commercial real-estate holdings—you could be sitting on a golden opportunity to demonstrate your value.
Damian Bernacik and Robert Brazzell have launched a legal practice inside Colliers that can help bring down your client’s tax bill
At Colliers, two lawyers—Robert Brazzell and Damian Bernacik—have launched a unique property tax practice inside the global real-estate behemoth. “Simply put, we’re here to help your client reduce its property tax bill,” says Brazzell, a two-decade veteran of the property tax world who’s held senior positions at Deloitte and Altus Group. “If a business has never contested its property tax assessment, it’s likely over-paying.”
Your first step, then, is clear: ask your client if it’s been paying property tax without scrutinizing the assessment. If the answer is yes—or if a tax professional has reviewed the assessment but failed to achieve any savings—it’s time to call Colliers. Brazzell and Bernacik will then present you with a range of options. One will be the full-service route. “Provide us with your client’s name and phone number, and we’ll do the rest,” says Brazzell. “We’ll handle the file, make you look good and pay a referral fee for your trouble.”
You can also take an active role in the case. In Ontario, property tax assessments are appealed to the Assessment Review Board. “Lawyers can assist us at any stage of the litigation process,” says Bernacik, who practised municipal law at the City of Hamilton before joining Colliers. “They can collect the relevant information we need from the client all the way up to helping us prepare for the appeal hearing.”
The financial impact of a legal victory can be substantial. “Tax savings in the range of 10 to 15 percent are a reasonable expectation,” says Brazzell. “I’ve also seen much higher.” Bernacik adds that the overarching goal is to set clients up for long-term success. “Recently, a client received a revised property assessment that threatened its ability to stay in business,” he says. “It is deeply satisfying to help organizations in that position.”
Once you’ve partnered with the Colliers team, Brazzell and Bernacik will adopt a payment model of your client’s choice. That could be hourly billing or a fixed rate, but most clients prefer a contingency-fee arrangement. “Until we’ve proven our value, our services are on the house,” says Brazzell. “Let us prove ourselves.”