Building your law career…
Construction law centres around contentious and non-contentious work. The former involves early dispute resolution through settlements, arbitration, third party mediation or, failing that, litigation and adjudication. Non-contentious work involves a range of different tasks, from preparation and negotiation side of building projects and assisting on the procurement of various resources and materials, to advising on environment, insurance and health and safety matters.
Projects might also include: infrastructure projects for roads, hospitals, public amenities, prisons and prisons, or industry-specific projects, such as those related to gas production and hydroelectric plant developments. On each project, construction lawyers will work in collaboration with professionals in project finance and property development to see projects through to fruition.
What is involved in Construction Law?
Construction lawyers are required to negotiate and draft agreements between interested parties, such as property companies, landowners, builders, architects, engineers, contractors and sub-contractors. They will also collaborate with other legal departments in finance and real estate, in order to complete the necessary due-diligence, conditions-precedent and funding of the project. Furthermore, construction lawyers will need to obtain necessary civil and municipal approvals and sanctions from local authorities. They might even monitor the progress of construction projects through periodic site visits and meetings with stakeholders. Finally, on completion and handover of the project, they will assist in the completion of registration and tax formalities.
Contentious practice comes into play when disputes arise at any stage of construction, or after completion. In the past, litigation was resorted to frequently to resolve disputes, given the large amounts of money and certain loopholes in existing law which made it easier to litigate endlessly. But, in recent years, legal reforms and tighter regulation within the industry have ensured that the use of litigation as a means of dispute resolution has been strictly curbed.
The rule of thumb in the construction industry today is that all agreements must have distinct provisions on alternative dispute resolution should future issues arise. Arbitration is a mandatory clause in the newer lot of contracts, and, if it becomes necessary to seek judicial intervention, then the dispute should be resolved through adjudication.
What is needed for Construction Law?
A construction lawyer should be well-equipped with skills in negotiating and drafting procedures, have excellent interpersonal skills and the ability to work in large teams that are made up of different kinds of professionals.
The personal qualities you need include: creative and lateral thought-processes, the ability to breakdown complex structures and concepts into simple facts, and strategic and analytical thinking. Moreover, some technical knowledge and expertise in related professions, such as architecture or engineering, will always be a great asset.
The rewards in this area of law are good and, if you are working for the larger firms, you can even expect six figure salaries within a few years. However, if you want to get there you will need top grades and great work experience.
Laura Arenson of Mayer Brown is currently in construction as a second seat trainee. Her first seat was Corporate and she will shortly be moving into our CDR group for her third seat.
What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?
First, and most importantly, I make myself a large cup of tea. Then I’ll begin to reply to all the emails I have received overnight that did not require a more urgent reply to have been sent from my Blackberry.
Could you give us a quick breakdown of how you spend the average day in this seat?
There is no average day. As a trainee in the Construction Department you will constantly need to be on your toes and happy to assist with any task at any time.
However, to give a snapshot of a day in the life of a trainee in the Construction Department, today I began my morning by continuing with some research on a very niche area of construction law and discussed the results of my findings with the partner on the matter. Around midday I joined an associate and partner in a meeting at a client’s office. On return, I drafted an attendance note of the meeting. Later in the afternoon I went to the Rolls Building to deliver a claim form to the Technology and Construction Court (TCC). On return to the office, I spent the rest of my day reading documents on a matter I am about to get involved with so that I have a clear understanding of all the facts and legal issues.
How much do you correspond with senior colleagues and clients on a daily basis?
I regularly work directly with partners and clients, as well as experts, witnesses, and legal counsel. For instance, I have attended hearings in court and meetings with clients, interviewed witnesses and even been invited out for dinners and other social events with clients.
What sort of responsibilities do you have as a trainee in construction law? Are you tackling hands-on project work or undertaking more general research and protocol training?
I have been fortunate enough to have been given lots of responsibilities on the matters I work on. To name just a few, I have drafted witness statements, letters of claim and other legal documents, regularly update our clients and my fellow colleagues on our progress on the matter and next steps, and assist with preparation for upcoming court hearings, arbitrations or mediations. Further, my involvement on a pro bono matter has awarded me with fantastic exposure to tasks and responsibilities that a trainee typically would not have the opportunity to deal with.
James Morris, a Senior Associate in Construction at Mayer Brown has answered the below.
In just a few words, could you explain the sort of work you do in construction law?
Construction law involves working on technically complex disputes with a large amount of detailed factual and expert evidence.
What sort of daily responsibilities does a Senior Associate have in construction law? How does it differ from a Trainee role?
It depends on the particular case in hand, but usually the Senior Associate will have a large amount of responsibility for the case and advancing the necessary actions. This means managing other more junior lawyers, trainees, paralegals, counsel, witnesses and experts to make sure the case is on track and everybody is doing what needs to be done. I regularly draft correspondence, witness statements, instructions to counsel, advice to clients, comment on expert reports, prepare for court and arbitrations hearings as well as preparing and presenting at mediations. Fortunately, trainees are not expected to take on such a large amount of responsibility to start with and it would be unrealistic to expect a trainee to fulfil a role of a fee earner who will typically have at least 4 or 5 years PQE. However, a trainee will be expected to carry out a variety of tasks (some interesting and some not so interesting), show a desire to learn and take responsibility for the tasks assigned to them.
Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day? Which aspect of construction law is dealt with most frequently by [firm]?
I work on a number of disputes on a number of very different projects. There really is no typical “project”. For example, I am currently working on cases concerning: waste facilities, a pier, a sub marine base, a hotel, a hospital and a port. All of my work is contentious and so my case load will involve some form of dispute resolution, whether that be mediation, litigation, arbitration or adjudication. The aspects of construction law that we deal with most regularly are final account disputes, delay claims and professional negligence claims.
What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?
We advise all sides of the industry, including Insurers, Engineers, Architects, Contractors, Surveyors, Project Managers and Employers.