In his 2008 book titled The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, futurist Richard Susskind in no less than two places speaks of a future in which legal consumers benefit from ‘a fence at the top of the cliff, instead of an ambulance at the bottom of it.’ 

No, no this concept doesn’t relate to lawyers as “ambulance chasers” who gain at the hardship and misery of others. Instead, this is the concept that legal consumers’ understanding and initial understanding will be of greater degree as we go along. There is likely to be as much – if not more money – to be made as a ‘legal fence building company’ than one which rushes victims off to the ER. 

Throughout all my years as a boundary dispute attorney, I have thought and attempted to get people past the wasteful pomp & circumstance, posturing, and overall BS to an understanding of how things will likely pan out if people go all the way to trial. 

So, is there a way to help neighbors on both sides of the line to by-pass all that nonsense of making a legal decision and instead help neighbors to just get right to the solution to prevent a wasteful fight?

Though likely requiring the assistance of a mediator who will visit the neighbor’s property, the answer MIGHT just be yes.  

Here, I’ll introduce my concept of the Practical Boundary Line.

The Practical Boundary Line (“PBL”) is the line of separation between you and your neighbors. 

This means it is where your use of the land ends and that of your neighbors begins.

Sure, maybe you and your neighbor will have differing understandings. But, because you don’t know where your respective legal descriptions will identify lines on the ground, you can hear out your neighbors’ ideas on why they believe the PBL is where it is and you can express your understanding to them.  

If that is hard for either or both of you to do, hire a mediator to assist. A mediator will help both sides to understand the views of the other; keep digging beyond issues purely related to the positional location of the line to interests; and place a cloak of privilege over the conversation so you can have as forthright of a conversation as possible and with it the highest chance of coming to a solution. 

Regardless, once you establish the PBL mark it and move to the next stage determining how to deal with situations if – or more likely “when” – the line of record title does not run along the PBL 

Perhaps there is a zone in which you are comfortable in just allowing the survey to determine the “actual boundary line.” If so, document it and again mark the zone on the ground.

What happens if the survey is outside of that zone? Often, just going ahead and getting an easement (which legally acknowledges permanent right to use) or potentially a reversionary interest (which legally acknowledges a current, but non-permanent right to use) are fine solutions. 

Or, if line of record title and the PBL are not coincident, are you BOTH willing to negotiate in good faith to allow for a land swap?

Finally, are there outer bounds at which “all bets are off.” Here, think about a situation in which the survey determines that the line of record title runs through your own or your neighbors’ house?

Well, guess what “all bets need not be off” if you and your neighbor can sensibly agree that if this occurred that you will seek a boundary line adjustment or a friendly quiet title action.

Bottom line, if you and your neighbors talk the matter out beforehand, there is a very good chance you can maintain a positive relationship with them, to properly mark the line, and to timely achieve whatever it is that got you to thinking one morning you ought to get a survey.