Owners, Contractors, Architects, and Lawyers- Teammates in Green Building

Christopher G. HillChristopher G. Hill is lawyer and owner of the Richmond, VA firm, The Law Office of Christopher G. Hill, PC, a LEED AP.  Mr. Hill has been nominated and elected by his peers to Virginia’s Legal Elite in the Construction Law category on multiple occasions as well as to Virginia Super Lawyers Rising Stars for 2011. He specializes in mechanic’s liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.  Mr. Hill authors the Construction Law Musings blog where he discusses legal and policy issues relevant to construction professionals.  Additionally, Mr. Hill is active in the Associated General Contractors of Virginia and a member of the Board of Governors for the Construction Law and Public Contracts Section of the Virginia State Bar.

First of all, thanks to Charles for inviting me to guest post at his blog.  (aside:  This request came long ago and I have been remiss in not getting to this sooner, but life as a solo construction attorney sometimes gets a bit busy).

Now, for the topic of the day:  cooperation from the beginning of a project.  As the title of this post suggests, a team approach at the beginning of a project will go a long way toward heading off potential issues on any project, but in particular a “green” one.  Not only does the LEED System (a leading sustainable building rating system) give a point and almost require a team approach, but it just makes sense.  While I have posted relating to the purely contractual reasons for assuring expectations are set correctly at the beginning of a project,  a team approach also assures that the practical aspects of the project are ironed out and those expectations are properly set.

As a construction attorney I spend a lot of my time dealing with situations where expectations were not met for various reasons (from poor documentation of change orders to unforeseen issues with routing of HVAC equipment).  On a “regular” project these types of issues can be a major burden to a project, financially and otherwise; on a “green” project failing to set expectations can lead to total disaster.  Tax credits, LEED Certification, and even basic contractual damages can be enormous and result in long term litigation and possibly unsafe buildings.  As an advocate for sustainable building, I sincerely want the great trend toward green building and a more sustainable building stock to continue.  However for this to work out, the usual semi-adversarial stance among building professionals and the top down structure needs to be revised.

In my opinion, many issues that have arisen in sustainable building could have and should have been avoided.  With new computer modeling tools (BIM and the like) and a commitment to get together at the beginning of the construction job to discuss the owner’s expectations and how they can be met (or not) in the real world scenario, we can create an environment where fewer surprises (and thus fewer claims) will occur.  While “Murphy was an optimist” and bumps will inevitably arise in the road, these will be more easily dealt with should they not reach the core of the parties’ expectations for the finished product.  And yes, this may cause less litigation related work for we attorneys, but in my mind the best work by attorneys is done on the counseling side keeping these issues at bay while working with clients.

In short (if it isn’t too late for that), a team approach early in the construction process will make a project run more smoothly and keep us headed in a sustainable direction.

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