Construction Lawyers Should Be Problem Solvers

Shasta Dam under construction, California

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No one wants to call a construction attorney. Those of us that practice construction law and advise contractors, subcontractors and suppliers in the construction industry know this. We are associated with problems. We are seen as necessary evils when folks in construction feel the need to call us. I get it and frankly don’t have an issue with being associated with problems. If this seems counter intuitive or like I’m giving in to the negative stereotypes of attorneys, I’m not. Just read on to see why I don’t find this to be true.

Mechanic’s liens, bond claims, in fact any construction claim is a symptom of a problem with your project (usually a problem that has to do with payment). When you as a construction company have a claim it is because someone else that is a party to your construction contract or that is working at your construction project has not performed. These issues present problems that, while they are well “problematic,” have a solution. That solution will likely be far from ideal and may take time and energy to reach, but it is there whether through arbitration, litigation or my favorite form of ADR, mediation. Unfortunately, the Murphy’s Law driven nature of commercial construction means that you cannot be in the construction business for long without running into a problem.

As a construction attorney I love problems. Not in the way that you’d think, namely that problems are what keep me in business in the form of fees for the recording of liens or filing of lawsuits. I love problems because I love to help my clients solve them. Hopefully this means that I help them anticipate these problems and come up with business practices and risk management strategies to minimize their number and impact on the bottom line.

It is true that litigation is not a money maker for anyone but us lawyers. The time taken away from your business and the money paid to lawyers and experts is a drain on your profitability. This is in my mind where the thought that we attorneys are a drain rather than a help to construction originates. When clients think lawyer, they think litigation and payment issues. What I hope is that at some point what the thought process will be is that when a construction lawyer is thought of, he or she is thought of as a problem solver and risk manager.

I would much rather get involved early to discuss potential contractual pitfalls, issues with change orders that occur on the fly, and the myriad other issues that I’ve seen on other occasions so that those in the construction industry can stick to building courthouses instead of spending time inside them. I’ve said on many occasions, both here at Construction Law Musings and elsewhere, that I take the “counselor” part of “attorney and counselor at law” seriously. My goal is to be a partner with my construction clients to anticipate issues and use my expertise in this area to help construction companies in Virginia grow their business in a profitable fashion.

So, in the end, I do like problems when they are anticipated and managed properly, but I like solving them more.

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