What New Attorneys Should Know About Construction Law
Nicole Poltash joined Gentry Locke’s Construction group in December of 2014. She contributes to two blogs, Virginia Construction Law Update at www.VAConstructionLawUpdate.com, and Virginia OSHA Law News at www.VaOSHALawNews.com.
Attorneys often pride themselves on being objective—on being able to see both sides of the story and then adamantly argue for that side which is their client’s. Of course, there are also two sides to practicing in each area of the law. Below are some of the dual lessons I have learned since joining the legal profession as a construction lawyer at Gentry Locke.
Know Thy Client.
Clients in the construction industry, such as general contractors, are smart people. In fact, many of them are self-made businesspeople. On the one hand, this means they understand that it is usually financially smarter to settle a case, so litigation-lovers like myself will rarely see the inside of a courtroom. On the other hand, your clients are more likely to understand and heed your advice about following a particular course of legal action. Bonus: if you ever want to renovate your house, you can quickly get a solid list of references.
If your law school was like mine, courses in construction law did not exist. Although classes like contracts or secured transactions may be helpful, you will pretty much be starting from scratch. It’s also a slow process — ten months later I feel almost as inexperienced as my first day. Bottom line: becoming well versed in this practice area will take a very, very long time, but it also means that you will remain intellectually challenged. And there’s that whole job security thing.
Carve Out a Niche.
This market is both saturated and male-dominated (read: the women’s line for the restroom is always shorter than the men’s), which can be quite intimidating. For example, I am the only construction lawyer at my firm who is female and who has less than ten years of experience. To eventually build a book of business, you need to stand out. This can entail getting involved in a particular trade association or developing a gift for filing those tedious mechanic’s liens. I also highly recommend taking advantage of any mentorship opportunities at your firm.
While lawyers may be restricted to practicing law in those states in which they are licensed, the beauty of our profession is that we can explore different practice areas. If you are interested in construction law, try it! Though a tougher area to crack, it is well worth the effort.