MICHAEL CLIFTON, PARTNER, CLIFTON KOK LLP: A Law Firm Where Doing Good Matters As Much As Doing Wel
Condominiums are not the same as other types of property.
Whether you own a unit or an interest in a Common Elements Condominium, or are a condominium director, manager or developer, it can be challenging to keep up with and interpret the intricacies of the law and documents. A condominium subject matter expert can be of significant help in protecting your rights, shedding light on your responsibilities, and helping you accomplish your goals.
“Even more than just legal understanding, however, effective development and management of condominiums relies a great deal on knowing, and appreciating, how people live and work together well,” says Michael Clifton. Michael is a founding partner at Clifton Kok LLP, a Waterloo Region law firm that just celebrated its tenth anniversary and focuses its practice primarily on condominium law related issues.
The lawyers at Clifton Kok LLP collectively have decades of experience dealing with Ontario condominiums. Michael believes a significant contribution to the firm’s success in this field arises from their commitment to providing not just legally accurate but ethically sound and reasonable advice and instruction to their clients. This is not surprising since Michael and the other founding partner, Mark Kok, are both graduates of university philosophy programs and characterize themselves as religiously devout.
Michael is one of the few lawyers in Ontario who has been appointed as an Administrator of a condominium under the Condominium Act, 1998 and as an expert witness on condominium management matters in the Ontario Superior Court of Justice. He has also participated in several expert panels assisting Ontario government staff in developing recent changes to the Condominium Act, 1998.
Although he spends the majority of his work time as head of the firm’s condominium management law practice, working with condominium boards and managers, Michael’s experience also has the added depth, breadth, and balance that come from working with condominium developers, owners, and purchasers.
His practice effectively covers all key condominium stakeholder groups– developers that want to make a profit while creating a good product; purchasers that want a safe, affordable and aesthetically pleasing place in which to live; and boards and managers that want their condominium corporations to operate legally and effectively. “I strive to ensure my advice and my documents balance the needs, wants and desires of all stakeholder groups. This results in a better condominium product for everyone,” he says.
“Initially, I wanted to be a human rights lawyer,” Michael tells me. Before entering law school at the University of Toronto, he earned an honours B.A. and M.A. in philosophy from the University of Waterloo, and studied art, literature and history. He also has years of service in lay-ministry for his church. Unfortunately, just like apprentices of old, pursuing human rights law typically involves taking on low-paying or unpaid internships at the start. “With hefty student loans and a growing family, I simply couldn’t afford it.” His daughter was born on his first day of law school, when his son was just two years old. After graduating from U of T three years later, Michael says, with a regret-tinged smile, “I needed to get a ‘real’ job."
”The decision to develop expertise in condominium law was not immediate. Since his family is steeped in the arts, Michael first explored entertainment law (including working one summer for Atlantis Films).Then, when he articled at a leading Bay Street firm, he became primarily engaged in intellectual property law.
Once called to the bar, his first employer was a sole practitioner with a general practice including immigration and business law. Michael helped expand that practice to include real estate, and particularly enjoyed working on refugee and family-reunification applications. However, in time, he felt a need to develop expertise in a single practice area and ultimately returned to Waterloo in 2002 in response to an ad for a condominium lawyer with one of the region's leading law firms.
“As it turned out, condominium law suited me: It centres on building and sustaining communities, and helping people live together considerately and share property responsibly. It is essentially a practical application of the ethics I studied for years. As a result, enjoyment of my work doesn’t come from knowing and applying technical rules of law, but from helping people create and maintain communities and relationships that work well,” Michael says.
The vast industry-specific, free content on Clifton Kok LLP’s website (www.cklegal.ca) – most of which is written or edited by Michael – is testament to his and the firm’s commitment to support the condominium industry and its stakeholders. With an array of articles, memos, blogs, and the encyclopedic Condopædia, anyone interested in Ontario condominiums will appreciate these helpful resources.
In addition, Michael has co-authored two books on condominium law, contributes numerous articles to various trade magazines, and teaches courses and seminars for the KW Association of Realtors, the Brant Condominium Corporations Association, the Association of Condominium Managers of Ontario, and the Canadian Condominium Institute (CCI).
Michael is a former director of CCI’s Golden Horseshoe chapter, and currently serves on its National Executive Board. My impression was that Michael engages in his board work, writes and teaches, both because he enjoys it and because he views it as the obligation and opportunity of lawyers to offer this sort of service to the public.
The firm’s other founding partner, Mark Kok, heads up its business and estates law practices. Mark also handles most of the firm’s condominium development matters and condominium liens. Since his 2003 call to the bar, Mark’s practice has evolved from being a general practice to one that focuses on high-level corporate transactions and land development projects. He recently returned to estates law – his first area of keen interest – and is author of the firm’s "Estates Nutshell”( http://www.cklegal.ca/the-estates-nutshell.html ), which deals with matters relating to estate planning and administration in Ontario.
Michael says his partnership with Mark works on many levels. “As religious men and students of philosophy, we consciously and conscientiously bring our experience and training in ethical and moral reasoning to our legal practice. However, in addition to those deeply held shared values, we also have very different personalities, strengths and skills, which gives us balance and makes us a good team.”
The partners’ commitment to acting ethically also influences the ways in which the firm gets involved with the wider community. Clifton Kok LLP has supported a wide variety of local charities including the KW Food Bank, local hospitals, and Bereaved Families of Ontario. In addition, after Mark’s first wife, Laura Kok (née Lopez), a Spanish teacher, passed away, they decided to honour her memory with a modest annual scholarship for students pursuing post-graduate studies in Spanish. Since the firm started operating in 2007, one or two students each year have benefited from this scholarship.
Both Michael and Mark also contribute a great deal of their personal time to community organizations and causes. In addition to volunteer work for CCI and lay-ministry work, Michael is on the Steering Committee of Interfaith Grand River, and previously served on the boards of the Grand Philharmonic Choir and Leading Tone Arts Productions.He is the founder of Strummerfest (www.strummerfest.com), a project that celebrates indie music and charitable giving in the memory and spirit of Joe Strummer. Strummerfest has been going strong since its first festival held in downtown Kitchener in 2012, and the life-affirming cause of suicide-prevention is its primary beneficiary. Michael is proud of the fact that virtually every performer (including the punk rock cover-band, C.I.D., for which Michael is the lead singer), crew member and venue, participates on a volunteer basis, with out-of- pocket costs being covered by generous sponsorships from many Kitchener-area businesses, including Clifton Kok LLP.
Mark has also volunteered in various capacities, including board membership, with the Waterloo Region Home Builder's Association, Crime Stoppers, Bereaved Families of Ontario, and the Community Assessment Team for New Directions. Amongst other things, he currently serves as a director of Kitchener's Confederation Club and is a former member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Judicial Appointments for Ontario (South West).
With all that going on, Michael and Mark still make family their first priority. Mark has seven children – the oldest is just reaching his teenage years. His wife, Jessica, is a fire fighter and former reservist who spent one tour of duty in Afghanistan. Michael’s wife, Marhee, is a schoolteacher and a singer with the Grand Philharmonic Choir. They have been married for 28 years, and have two grown children and four grandchildren. Their son is graduating from OCADU as an illustrator,and their daughter is a busy mother to all four grandchildren. For both Michael and Mark, it is faith and family that keep them focused on the right priorities. “In the end, this is what life is about,” says Michael, adding, “It’s not the things you get, but the relationships you make, and the people you love and serve, that make living worthwhile and real happiness possible.”
Suzen Fromstein is the author of Suits and Ladders, Ten Proven Ways to Keep Your Job Safe - with a few jokes thrown in. Suits and Ladders was an Amazon Best Selling Book in the Career Guides Category
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