Lessons from a Diner: Up Front Costs can Save You Money in your Engineering Practice (law note)

greekgrilled.jpgI happen to frequent a place in my hometown called Elmo’s Diner.  A lot.  As in, many of the servers know me by name.  The food is good, yes.  The selection is great.  But there is a much more important reason that I go there over and over again– the service.  Elmo’s seems to always have enough staff on hand, and they also work together to make sure your wait is never very long.

There are some other places in town that skimp on hiring waiters and waitresses.  I guess they figure, the fewer they have working at any one time, the less money they have to pay out.  Even though, of course, waiter minimum wage is much lower than regular minimum wage due to the tip factor.  But some of these other places (who shall remain unnamed) really do seem to have the mindset that they will save money by not hiring enough staff for the number of customers.

Maybe that thinking works for them- in the short run.  Do you know how much money I spend at Elmo’s Diner?  Let’s just put it this way– I really should invest in direct deposit with them!  These other places?  I forget, and go to them every now and again, thinking, it can’t be all bad, right?  And almost always, I remember why I do NOT go to them.

Now, back to construction.  Many professional service firms are like the unmentionable restaurants above– they skimp on things that “cost money”.  Notably, in two areas (1) professional liability insurance (errors & omissions coverage), and (2) getting legal assistance at the beginning of a project.  These architects & engineers are making the same short-sighted mistake, thinking they are “saving money.”  And yet, very often, in the long run they are costing themselves money– in contract disputes, legal wrangling at project end, or in paying out of pocket for large claims.

You should have E&O insurance if you are a working professional.  Period.  You should also have your contracts and proposals reviewed by a lawyer.  Preferably, before any major new undertaking.  The up front costs are small, but the impact can be huge.  Just ask anyone at Elmo’s.

Your turn.  Are there places that you frequent because of their superior service?  Do the extra costs seem to pay for themselves over time?  Share below. 

Belts, suspenders, and breakfast bars: construction contract tips (law note)

SuspendersBelts, suspenders, and breakfast bars.  Want to know what they have in common, or how they relate to your construction contracts?

Take a gander over to Construction Law Musings this morning, where I am guest-posting on the importance of being clear– very clear– in your construction contracts.

Key takeaways?

  •  clear up possible points of confusion
  •  don’t “wing it” with old contracts
  •  read your entire contract during the negotiation phase

Read the entire post at this link:  Belt & Suspenders: the preferred style for your Construction Contract.

See you there!




Give Way or Yield? The jurisdiction of your contract does matter! (Law note)

give way signHave you ever been to England?  If so, you’ve likely seen their version of our “Yield” sign– the “Give Way” sign.  It is a bit jarring to those from this side of the “big pond”.

Similarly, contracts can be worded differently– and, interpreted differently– depending on the state that you are in.  This is why it is always a good idea to have your contract or proposal vetted for the state(s) where you provide professional services.

When confronted with a “give way” sign you have the general idea of yielding, but might be confused by that whole “left side of the road” thing in some countries, where if you are turning right, you must give way to all vehicles coming towards you including those turning left.  Likewise, you might have a good understanding of your construction contract in one state, but not how it would be interpreted in another state.

As just one of many examples– the statute of repose can vary widely.  In North Carolina, it is 6 years.  In South Carolina, it is 10 years.   The jurisdiction (state) that you are in does matter– sometimes critically so.

Have you ever found yourself in trouble because of a difference of state laws from what you are most familiar with?  Share in the comments section below.



Learn from SONY: Don’t use trash talk in your construction project emails!

Bears hibernating

A hibernating bear and her cubs

Lessons in construction administration come from everywhere — including the SONY scandal.

In case you are a bear hibernating in a cave (in which case, go back to sleep!), you’ve heard about the SONY hacking that was apparently, but not definitively, done by North Korea due to their displeasure over the movie The Interview.  And, you may have found it amusing to read of the inner bickering at SONY, at lease until the threat of a national incident and the (at least temporary) yanking of the movie from its planned Christmas release.

Lost in all of the discussion about taste, censorship, security, and First Amendment rights, however, was a simple lesson for each of us.  Never put anything in writing that you wouldn’t want to see on the TMZ report, the Wall Street Journal, or the New York Times.  For example, don’t call one of the biggest stars in your studio (Angelina Jolie) a “minimally talented spoiled brat.”

I’ve written about this before, but this is a fine time to remind you that someday, someone will read your emails.  And that someone will not be privy to your internal jokes, quirky sense of humor, or understand that you just had a bad day.  If you have to have those awkward conversations– have them in person, or at least on the phone.  Don’t play around with written communications.  Every email, text, tweet, Facebook post, letter, note, or diary entry can be discoverable in a lawsuit.

We’ve all done it.  Sent inappropriate emails.  Vents.  Laments.  Stop.  Endeavor to be boring rather than funny in all of your online accounts.  You may be only laughing on the inside, but you’ll still have a job, respect, and knowledge that there are no hidden documents waiting to shame you at the stroke of a hacker’s keyboard.  And, tell your employees to do the same.

Do you have an example of getting an inadvertent email or text?  Something that could have been embarrassing if it leaked beyond your firm?  Share in the comments below.

Photo courtesy Wikimedia.







Don’t Let Construction Problems Become Construction Disputes (guest post)

Chris HillTo start our week off right, today we have another important article from guest blogger Christopher G. Hill, LEED AP.  Chris is a Virginia Supreme Court certified mediator, construction lawyer and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC.  He authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals.  His practice concentrates on mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.  [His blog was also one of the first construction law blogs I found and followed, even if he is a Duke alum!]  Take it away, Chris!

First and foremost, thanks to Melissa for inviting me back to post here at her great blog.  She continues to invite me back despite my being a Blue Devil (and I try not to hold her Tar Heel status against her).

So much of discussion relating to construction law and construction lawyers centers on the litigation of disputes.  This discussion comes in many forms from avoidance of such litigation through the early intervention of good counsel prior to getting into a project to what sort of resolution mechanism to use. Another branch of this discussion is essentially the right way to pursue your claim (or as some may read it start the dispute ball rolling).  Sometimes a payment bond claim is the best method while others a straight up contractual suit is the best way to go.

Of course, all of this discussion presumes that there will be disputes.  While I agree to some degree that in the Murphy’s Law riddled world of commercial construction, problems will arise.  These problems need not rise to the level of a dispute that requires outside (read court or arbitrator) intervention.  A few tips that are easy to write, but admittedly hard to practice at times can hopefully keep problems from blossoming into disputes.  I’ve listed a three big ones here:

  1. Use “in house counsel.” Yes, I know that most of you engineers, architects, commercial general contractors and subcontractors out there aren’t big enough to either want or need a full time attorney on the payroll. What I mean by this is that when problems occur (or preferably before doing so), give your friendly local construction lawyer a call. As I learned from my dad, an ounce of prevention and all that. That 10 minute phone call may help avoid many hours of time and bills from your attorney later down the road.
  2. Build Relationships. This seems like more of a marketing tip, but it is also a risk prevention strategy. I have seen many a potential dispute get resolved with minimal or no intervention on my part simply because the general and subcontractor had a good working relationship. With the right team oriented approach and communication many a jobsite problem can be resolved in the pre-dispute stage. If the two companies don’t know each other, this is less likely to occur.
  3. Communicate Up Front. I know, I beat this drum a lot. Why? Because it’s a big deal. Setting the right expectations through proper communication and negotiation on the front end will set the terms of the “deal” and give all involved a guide for how to deal with problems as they occur.

Following these three tips will help you avoid construction disputes and the hefty attorney fees that come with the prosecution of those disputes.

Can you think of other tips that we can add to the list?  Let Melissa and me know.

Thanks Chris! As always, you hit the nail on the head (pun intended). For those that don’t already follow Chris’ blog (and why don’t you???), do check it out and show him some blog love. You’ll learn a lot, and be glad you did.

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