Setting the Right Expectations for your Owner Client– Craft your Scope of Work well (law note)

belt & suspendersRegular readers of this blog know that you absolutely should have a written contract, and not rely on “gentlemen’s agreements.”  But what is the most important part of your agreement to provide professional services?  The dispute resolution provision? Payment terms? Change Order requirements?  All of those are important.  I’d argue, however, that the Scope of Work provision is, if not the most important term, one of the key terms.  Face it– once you  have a good set of standard contract terms, they rarely need to be drastically rewritten for each individual project.  But each and every time you start a new project, whether for a long-time client or a new owner, you are defining the Scope of Work.

This is where paying attention up front can save you headaches down the road.  I often refer to the belt & suspenders approach— you want to both be very clear in describing the scope of work, and equally clear in describing exclusions to your services.  That way, everyone knows what is expected up front, and you can hopefully avoid litigation pitfalls down the road.

Bill Beardslee of Davis Martin Powell has coined a nice mnemonic for Scope that is very apt:








Your turn. Do you carefully craft your Scope of Work for each new Project?  You should.  If you need help in crafting your Scopes of Work, drop me a line. 



What is not in your construction contract can be just as important as what is in the contract

excludedEver wonder why lawyers like to write contracts that seem to go on, and on, and on? By nature, lawyers are doomsayers. We try to minimize risk, and sometimes that takes the form of a contract that “only a lawyer could love”.

We will cover important contract terms in future blog posts, but for now, did you know that what is not in your construction contract is just as important as what is in there? Many times the heart of a construction dispute stems from confusion or mistaken assumptions about what, exactly, was agreed upon.

In addition to having a very detailed “Scope of Services,” in which you specify exactly what you will be doing on a project, you should also develop a standard “Exclusions from Services” list, and that list should be a part of every contract.

Such an exclusion list should include:
— anything you were specifically asked not to perform
— anything the owner indicated was to be provided by others
— anything which involves specific contractor coordination (unless
you are providing this service)
— a listing of anything above and beyond normal conditions (for
example, “attendance at more than X meetings a month”)
— a general “catch all” statement that anything not specifically
specified in the Scope of Services is not covered

Of course, what specific things should be listed in your Exclusions list depends on what field of construction you are in. Design professionals need to focus on coordination issues, duties with respect to other design professionals on a large project, duties relating to oversight of contractor work, and related issues. Contractors should focus on their responsibility to work with and/or around other trades as well as related work that the owner does not intend to pay for which can result in scope creep.

While it might seem like wearing belts and suspenders at the same time to write out a Scope of Services and also include an Exclusion from Services list, the minimal extra effort in developing such an Exclusion list will pay you back in volumes should a dispute on the project ever arise.

Photo (c) Markus Spiske.

Failure to Coordinate in Design-Bid-Build case costly mistake

In a recent Business Court decision, an architecture firm was hit with a $2.3+ million judgment stemming from the design and construction of the kitchen exhaust and HVAC ductwork systems in the Charlotte Bobcats Arena.

The project was a “fast track” project, and the architecture firm claimed they were only contracted to provide diagrammatical drawings of the arena’s ductwork system. Subcontractors on the project sued for their cost to perform extra work to remedy alleged design deficiencies. Post-trial relief is currently being sought by the architectural firm (including a motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict, a new trial, or a new trial on the damages issue).

Whether or not such post-trial motions are granted, however, the case raises the very real issue as to architectural responsibility versus contractor coordination responsibility, especially in fast-track projects. This case highlights the risks to architects in failing to make their responsibilities and contractual limitations explicitly clear to both owners and contractors. The case also highlights the need to explicitly review shop drawings for coordination issues that might be present.

The case is Hunt Construction Group Inc. et al. v. City of Charlotte, North Carolina, and Ellerbe Becket Inc., case number 08-11915, in the Mecklenburg County Superior Court.