Construction law has two main categories: non-contentious and contentious.
Non-contentious work involves negotiating contracts and general procurement which happens before construction begins. Construction lawyers work with the people who are initiating the project, the people financing it, the architects and the companies doing the actual construction.
Construction law becomes contentious when something goes wrong. The contracts drawn up at the procurement stage set out how disputes should be dealt with. In an effort to minimise costs, they are usually resolved through adjudication or arbitration, but if a case goes to court, a specialist barrister from the construction Bar would be appointed to advocate.
What does a construction lawyer do?
Contract law features strongly in this practice area as construction lawyers are continuously engaged in negotiating and agreeing terms with all relevant parties. They continue to be involved throughout a project – making site visits and liaising with all parties to ensure everything is running within the contracts.
When things aren’t going to plan, lawyers will be involved in gathering evidence, advising on the strength or otherwise of their client’s position and advising on the appropriate course of action, as set out under the terms of the contract. This may entail instructing counsel and attending proceedings with the client.
Project lawyers work with project companies, interdisciplinary legal terms, local government and financial backers to bring large projects to a successful conclusion in both domestic and international scenarios.
What skills are required?
Due to the high level of client contact in this practice area, lawyers need to be able to build rapport with a variety of people from contractors to financial backers and other lawyers. It’s important to see things from a client’s point of view and offer commercially viable advice in terms clients can understand.
Contracts in construction law can be complex and technical so construction lawyers need to have excellent analytical skills and attention to detail, as well as a good understanding of contract law and tort.
Genuine interest in the sector and a good understanding of the technology and terminology in the market in which clients operate is important. Common sense and a practical attitude go a long way in this practice area.
The following student guides to the legal profession have useful information on working in construction law: