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Construction law: area of practice

The trainee solicitors in a law firm can be the key engine room of a construction claim, says Alexandra Anderson from RPC.
If we receive a claim that is not too complex or of low value, a trainee solicitor may run it under supervision.

Construction law solicitors work with anyone who may be involved in working in the built environment to help settle disputes or draw up the necessary contracts for work to begin on a project. Clients include developers, contractors, engineers, architects, surveyors, insurance companies and investors.

Construction lawyers work on exciting projects, such as Wembley

Transactional work involves drawing up building contracts, warranties, loan documentation for funders and land law contracts needed for construction projects to begin.

Solicitors working in dispute resolution tend to work on claims relating to alleged defects with buildings or other construction projects. These can include issues of design or project management. Since the recession, there has been a rising number of cases of alleged overvaluation, where a property has been valued as security for the purposes of a bank deciding whether to make a loan to a third party.

A lower value claim is typically handled by one associate supervised by one partner, but a big claim will be assigned a team of solicitors and more resources may be needed at certain stages. The timescale of a case is often in the hands of a claimant, with some cases taking years to reach resolution if they are taken to court.

Do construction solicitors spend most of their time in the office?

Construction solicitors spend most of their time in the office but also visit clients or meet in chambers to discuss the case with clients, experts and barristers. Working hours tend to be from about 8.30 am to 6.30 pm, although if you get into adjudication there are very tight timescales and you can work much longer hours. Some claims relate to properties or projects in foreign jurisdictions, in which case you may have to travel overseas.

Construction law is an interesting and worthwhile area in which to be working and we get involved in claims linked to really big and exciting projects, such as Wembley. You get involved in some quite significant and potentially complicated claims so it’s also intellectually stimulating.

Is construction law recession-proof?

Where parties were previously making enough money on a project that they could sort out any disputes between themselves, now their margins are much tighter so they are more likely to pursue claims to recover losses through lawyers. There have been fewer projects going up so that has reduced the number of claims, but there is now a tendency for people to sue everyone involved in a project rather than being more targeted.

What are the likely implications of the UK leaving the EU for construction law?

The construction industry is likely to be severely impacted by a ‘hard’ Brexit, with significant limits on the number of foreign workers coming to the UK, who are the life-blood of construction. Projects may go into delay, causing employers to look to third parties to cover their resulting losses. On the other hand, a hard Brexit may also affect the amount of investment in the UK construction market, which may mean there are fewer projects that can go wrong and give rise to litigation claims.

What skills do construction law solicitors need?

  • A sharp mind
  • Emotional intelligence and effective communication skills.
  • Good attention to detail.
  • Resilience and the drive to look for commercial opportunities.

A construction law trainee's workload

Trainees are an important part of the team because they can be the key engine room of a claim. If we are dealing with a lot of disclosure they are responsible for going through documents, putting them into order and listing them, while identifying anything that may be of concern. They might carry out legal research and write first drafts of instructions to experts or to counsel (barristers). They attend conferences with experts, counsel, clients and insurers to take notes of what’s happening. If we receive a claim that is not too complex or is of low value, a trainee may run it under the direct supervision of a partner.

Types of law practised

  • Contract.
  • Tort.

Alexandra Anderson is a partner in the construction and engineering department of RPC. She graduated from the University of Leicester with a law degree in 1993.

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