Now here is a challenge for me! To condense a 3-year degree course about construction law or a crash course in construction law, plus goodness knows how many years of construction experience, into a Crash Course! I’ll start with a bit of encouragement to aspirants. If you fancy going for it, it this is the highest paid field of Legal Practice!
The reason is that, like Medical Law, it requires technical expertise in two fields: Medicine and Law : Construction and Law. Okay, to us “bl;**dy builders” there’s nothing technical about construction – we do it all the time! All us PM’s do is swan around wearing a suit and tie and looking important! But imagine how complicated and confusing – and dangerous – a big construction site would be to a young Law graduate straight out of Uni!. It is bad enough when we get them with their Construction Management degrees! For that reason most Construction Lawyers do it my way – Get the experience on site first, then get a Law Degree.
So what is Construction Law about? Well, it is mainly focussed on making sure that all the Terms and Conditions of the various Forms of Contract are complied with. That is a requirement of not only the main contractor and the sub-contractors, but also the Client and their Consultants! Yep! The client can be bitten, too! Interpretation of the Contract can be complex and several Clauses on each side of it can be argued against each other.
Beyond the Contractual issues, though, there is also a responsibility to make sure that all legal obligations have been met, again something that can be violated by any of the Parties to a Contract. These include Health, Safety and the Environment; Planning Laws and Building Control: Public Safety; Employment Law; uncertified or unsuitable plant; use of unskilled or uncertified labour and anything else the legal mind can come up with!
With regard to the matters mentioned in the two last paragraphs, we have all read in the Press about major Claims being made in the Courts. Usually these are for the £-millions, but occasional we have them for the £-billions! What we don’t hear that much about is the many more cases that go to Tribunals and the other lower stages before, no resolution and agreement having been made, they end up in Courts! Whatever way it is done and whatever the outcome, it usually means someone has to pay up and a company often goes bankrupt!
So that, in a few words, is what Construction Law is about – protecting the financial interest of those involved in a contract, but also protecting the public and the national interests from violation by construction projects.
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There is another, very rare and subtle twist to being a Construction Lawyer, though; one pursued by very few people. Turn into a Lawyer, and then go back to Project Management! The down-side is that the money isn’t nearly as good but it does have some advantages! It takes us back to the industry we love and we are far better at being a PM than we were! When it comes to contractual arguments and Claims being prepared, we can just tell the QS’s to stop being naughty; to be sensible! Even the Statutory Authorities take you far more seriously and don’t try being a jobsworth on you!
The QS’s don’t want to start arguing with a Construction Lawyer at that stage in the game, so any claims submitted are usually justifiable. With those justifiable ones Clients are usually happy to pay out for any extra costs incurred! Everything gets settled fairly and amicably! That leaves clients who want the same contractors back for their next job and subbies and main contractors happy to work with each other again! Clever or what?