What is Construction Law?

Construction law is the combination of all of the areas of law that apply to construction work. The process of building is complex. Builders have to follow a large number of rules and regulations. There are many things that they need to know and do before they ever pour the first bit of cement or clear the first tree. People in the construction industry have to work with private entities and government representatives in order to conduct business. They must also have effective methods for dispute resolution.

Areas of construction law

The practice of construction law involves many different things. A construction lawyer must be well versed in a large variety of different types of law. On any given day, a construction lawyer might work on the following practice areas and topics:

Contract law

Professionals in the construction industry often enter into contracts. When things go wrong, the language in these contracts often ends up being very important. It’s critical for construction lawyers to help their clients carefully draft and review the contracts that they enter into. Many standard form contracts in the construction industry come from the American Institute of Architects. Construction lawyers can use these blueprints as a guide to tailor to their client’s needs with an eye on state laws that may specifically impact their client’s plans and best interests.

Planning and approvals

Those in the construction industry often need to get government approval for their work. Whether they need a standard approval of building plans or they’re working for a use variance, construction lawyers need to help their clients approach the right government agencies. They start by researching what approvals are necessary and what they need to do in order to help their clients get the approvals that they need. Approaching government officials for approvals often requires tact as well as the right documentation. Lawyers have the chance to use their people skills as they work to help their clients get the right official permissions to begin work.

Employment law

Employment law is a critical part of construction law. Business owners depend on workers to do the bulk of their work. That means hiring, firing and management. Owners must know how to hire people legally and how to follow state and federal laws when it comes to paying employees fairly, withholding taxes and other considerations. They often turn to their lawyers for help complying with this complex area of law.

Worker’s compensation

One area that’s similar to general employment law is worker’s compensation. Most construction companies need to provide worker’s compensation insurance for their employees. They often look to help from their lawyers to know how to purchase the right insurance, notify employees of their right to make a claim and comply with their obligations when claims occur.

Torts

In construction law, accidents happen. When people get hurt on the job, construction owners need to know how to address it. They may have to defend themselves from lawsuits, and they may have to resolve torts outside of court. A tort can be a financial strain on a business’ operation, and it can be a distraction from business as usual. Tort lawyers can help minimize the damage to allow their clients to get back to work.

Property law

Property law is a critical area of construction law because it helps building companies purchase and manage properties with confidence. If there are disputes about the ownership of a property, liens or other questions, lawyers help their clients resolve them in order to prevent large problems later on. Zoning questions and nuisances are other areas of law that construction lawyers must help their clients address in order to make sure that they’re in compliance with the law. When they buy property, constructions companies need to carefully draft the contract of sale and thoroughly review the deed.

Another related area of construction law is oil and gas law. In some cases, the oil and gas rights on a property are critically important. Not only are they potentially valuable to the person who owns the land, but they might also pose a nuisance or interruption for those who want to build on the land.

Dispute resolution

Attorneys who represent construction companies often find themselves working on a significant amount of dispute resolution. Despite trying to manage construction contracts and planning as carefully as possible, problems and disputes occasionally arise. Attorneys often become skilled at managing dispute resolution procedures for their clients.

Dispute resolution may be as simple as approaching the other parties to a dispute and trying to reach a resolution. For example, if a project gets behind, you might serve as the person to handle the negotiations for how to get it back on track. Serving as a lawyer in this kind of capacity may not involve any kind of formal court procedures or filings.

The process of managing disputes becomes more formal when litigation is involved. You may represent your client in a formal mediation. That might involve taking the client to a formal mediation session with the other parties involved and a trained mediator. A construction attorney that handles a mediation has to learn what makes mediation effective and prepare the client for how to make the most of the dispute resolution process. They must also help the client weigh the pros and cons of agreeing to an alternative resolution or taking the case through trial.

Occupational safety

Construction work can be dangerous. Employers and contractors have to make sure that they comply with Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements. In addition to wanting to keep workers safe, OSHA violations can bringing significant penalties and interfere with work. Employers have to carefully follow OSHA requirements and keep up with changes to the rules.

Litigation

There are times when it might be in the client’s best interests to take the case to court. When a case goes to trial, construction attorneys must know the applicable rules of civil procedure and the rules of evidence. They must know how to file motions and make objections. Construction lawyers must be skilled litigators in order to advocate for their clients in a formal setting.

Who practices construction law?

Construction lawyers focus on getting results for their clients. They’re practical lawyers. They are not particularly concerned with setting precedent or hashing out novel legal issues. Instead, they want to work efficiently so that their clients can do business. Construction lawyers tend to focus on the task at hand with their primary goal being a satisfied client.

Construction lawyers are litigators. They’re comfortable with conflict. They might have the task of trying to resolve conflicts. When they need to, construction lawyers must be confident in court. Construction lawyers are diversely skilled lawyers who focus on helping their clients solve problems and conduct business.

Why become a construction lawyer?

A focus on construction law is a great way to have a well-rounded, thriving legal practice. Construction lawyers have the opportunity and the obligation to learn a great deal about many different types of law. They might research regulations one day, appear in front of a government body the next day and litigate a dispute the next. A focus on construction law is a great way for a lawyer to have a diverse practice that never becomes routine.

In addition to the diversity of work for construction clients, a lawyer with a focus on construction law is well equipped to help a diverse range of clients. Because they know how to research, draft and litigate, their skills are applicable to a wide client base. That can mean a wide marketing appeal. With many skills at their fingertips, construction lawyers can appeal generally to a wide range of clients. For attorneys who are just starting out or building a practice, this appeal can help them find new clients and build their portfolio of happy clients.

Finally, construction law is a great area of practice for attorneys who are looking for repeat business. Construction professionals typically work on several projects at any one time. They often begin new projects. A construction client is a client that you may have for 20 years or longer. Client turnover in the field is often low, because construction professionals need lawyers to handle their ongoing needs. Often, construction law is a great focus for a thriving large firm or for a solo practitioner.