Construction Lawyer – What Does He or She Do?

The construction industry is no stranger to legal “punch ups” and the person you want to see when that happens is your expert construction lawyer. But what exactly do they do?

Skills of the expert construction lawyer

A construction lawyer is a trained and experienced legal professional who understands the issues you face in the construction industry.

Whether you are an employer of construction skills, a head contractor, subcontractor, supplier or consultant to the industry, your experienced construction lawyer can help you with most of your legal challenges, or at least highlight to you any legal issues that you should be aware of that are outside their scope of expertise and direct you to a colleague who can help you.

Quality construction lawyers are generally experts in two main areas when it comes to construction matters:

1. “front end” work, which includes:

  • contract drafting and negotiation
  • general advice on structuring your business entities for asset protection
  • advice on suitable business documents and contract administration systems and procedures for minimizing your exposure to legal claims… and more

2. “back end” work, which includes:

  • advice regarding options for resolving disputes
  • general advice regarding issues that may arise during contract works execution
  • litigation expertise
  • expertise in assisting with applying alternative dispute resolution methods negotiating resolutions to disputes and seeking alternative solutions for commercial parties so they can proceed with a project without delay… and more

When should you engage a construction lawyer?

Well I’m sure you know the answer to this question already but so few construction professionals heed this advice. You should speak to your expert lawyer at the earliest possible time.

Why? Because when you get them to assist you in the early phase of your project or business you can avoid many more potential problems. Too often I see people draft their own inadequate contracts or sign up to draconian contracts prepared by other parties which include personal guarantees, and then when things move into a dispute phase they are already up the proverbial creek without a means of propulsion… if you know what I mean.

If you wait until you have already run aground (entered into a dispute) to try and change the course of your ship (your business and livelihood), it may well be too late. You see, the cost of engaging a construction lawyer at the start of your project will be about 10% of the cost of just one dispute (in the life of your project) going to court. So consider the math when next time the opportunity presents itself.

The cost of learning from your own mistakes over years of construction industry experience can be a costly one and, in some cases, more than you may have to pay for it. Even then, if you happen to know all the laws at a particular point in time (which is most unlikely), the laws are constantly changing and you’ll never be sure if you know when and how they have changed. The construction lawyer’s job, however, is to know what is about to change before it happens and they will share that invaluable advice with you to prepare you for that change.

The good construction companies with bigger budgets do tend to diligently seek out expert construction legal advice but even they skip this step on some projects… and on further occasion, they live to regret it. If you’re a small to medium sized operator in the construction industry, you cannot afford to take that risk, particularly on larger projects that tie up much of your cash flow.

Not Quite Legal in All 50 States

Go browsing on the Web for construction contracts and you’ll see braggadocio about some boilerplate contract being “legal in all 50 states.”
 
Claims like this show up on Web sites run by savvy people with good credentials but who should know better. Every state has the right to set unique requirements for construction contracts. And nearly all have. It’s simply foolish to claim any construction contract is “legal in all 50 states.”
 
You can take this to the bank: There’s no home improvement contract that’s legal in all 50 states. I’ll go one step further: There’s no contract for residential construction that’s legal in all 50 states. You won’t even find a contract for commercial construction that’s legal in most states. That’s not the way it works.
 
Construction contract law varies from state to state the same way income tax law varies from state to state. Imagine the reaction if you tried to file a New York or Texas income tax return with the Montana Department of Revenue. You’d probably be breaking the law in two states.
 
It’s the same with construction contracts. Nearly all states require specific disclosures, set unique limits or void certain types of clauses in construction contracts. No two states are alike. And most states impose heavy penalties for doing construction work under a contract that doesn’t meet state code. Fines up to $1,000 are common, as is the threat of jail time.
 
Even if you aren’t concerned about fines and jail time, consider the impact if you get into a dispute before collecting final payment. The attorney for your client won’t be impressed with your “legal in all 50 states” contract. More likely, you’ll discover that the contract is either partially or totally unenforceable under state law. Game over! You lose. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest exit. You’re not going to collect another dime on that contract. If opposing counsel is charitable, you’ll escape discipline from the state board. Persist and you’ll get an invitation to do the perp walk at a state hearing.
 
When you see the claim, “legal in all 50 states,” I recommend thinking “probably not legal in any state.” The latter is far more likely than the former.
 
So how do you judge if some boilerplate contract is legal? If you’re paying the $10 to $150 that most vendors change for a download, you’ve got the right to know: Is it really legal in my state?
 
I can recommend a Web site. It’s free. Construction-Contract.net has a good selection of state-specific home improvement, residential and commercial construction contracts. Even better, the site lists laws in each state that set minimums for construction contracts. Before buying any boilerplate contract or contract package, compare what the law requires in your state with what the vendor is offering. If the vendor’s contract comes up short, save your money.

Get Started on Your Construction Venture With a Construction Lawyer

Are you going to start a construction business? Smart. As we are all well aware now, the construction industry will never get out of style. People are developing buildings and sites everywhere-and almost after one construction is finished, another starts right away. Other projects are even simultaneously developed by multi-national constructions companies. Well, it’s not a bad thing if you decide to ride the trend and get some of that profit for yourself. First, you need to arm yourself with the needed preparations to make sure your construction venture stays afloat. The most important consideration in keeping your business intact? Get a construction lawyer.

Legal work is always present in any construction project. That is one reason to get a construction lawyer. However, the preparatory stages of your business venture need a great deal of help from a construction lawyer-starting papers, legal permits, construction permits, business permits, and the like. If you go out there without a lawyer within an arm’s reach, you will really have a bad time. Yes, you can process those things on your own (or your people perhaps), but leaving the strenuous job to a construction lawyer will smoothen things out for you, will makes things run twice as fast.

A new venture is always exciting, especially if it’s as complicated as construction. There are other businesses that are more risky than construction. But this one is equally difficult, with the processes, projects, and everything. I’m sure it’s not rocket science. However, do yourself a favor and leave that job to someone who actually know the ins and outs around the legal system, someone who is actually trained and experienced in the process of construction and legal whatnot. Someone who is a competent construction lawyer. It will give you so much more free space to work on more important things like marketing and getting clients for your new construction business.

You see, a construction lawyer can help you in more ways than one. If you don’t realize that until now, then let’s discuss the benefits further. Engaging in a business will get you in a lot of jams-a dissatisfied customer, a thieving subordinate, a cheating partner, a dispute against a rival construction company, misunderstanding from a supplier. The problem can be anything and everything. How are you going to solve such mess? Yes, that is what I’m talking about. The best person who can pull you out of such situations is a clever and competent construction lawyer.

So, to sum it all up, get your own construction lawyer before all the other plans for your construction business venture. I know that you are very excited right now, and I’m super excited for you too. But patience, my friend. First things first. Let’s prioritize the things that will give us more advantage. Getting a construction lawyer early on will definitely lead you to a smoother starting process. Congratulations! Now you have a partner that will guide you not only with construction dealings, but with the legal matters of your business as well.