On the Level

Construction lawyer Adam Richins isn’t afraid to roll up his sleeves for clients

Published in 2010 Mountain States Rising Stars — July 2010

It was the summer of 2001 and Adam Richins, an engineer fresh out of Columbia University, was working on developing and installing a new security screening system during the expansion of Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport. “With an airport, you have the facilities, the ticket counters and all that stuff,” he explains, “but behind the scenes, you have an elaborate system of how to get bags where and when.”

Then, in September, progress halted. “When 9/11 hit, [the airport] put a stop on everything and said that we had to completely redesign it, because they had to put all these new security measures in,” says Richins.

Those additions resulted in higher construction costs—“doubled or tripled,” he says—which led to a disagreement between the contractors and the ownership over money. The dispute left Richins thinking about his next step. “I got to work with the lawyers and see what the legal side of [the security project] involved,” he says, “and I saw there was a good space to be someone who understands the construction business but can provide legal advice, too.”

So Richins got his J.D. from the University of Washington School of Law and moved back to his hometown of Boise. There he earned a clerkship in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2006 and found a mentor in Judge Stephen Trott. “He’s an amazing guy,” Richins says of the former associate U.S. attorney general and mandolinist of the folk group The Highwaymen. “He could have made millions because he’s a brilliant, brilliant guy and one of the foremost legal experts in the nation, but he’s always been a public servant and he’s always put a lot of stock in practicing law the right way.”

Today, Richins is building a construction and energy practice in Stoel Rives’ Boise office. He’s represented Fortune 100 companies in products liability and a conspiracy case, and the city of Albuquerque in a dispute over its green building code.

The transition from engineering to the law required some sacrifices. “I’m not afraid to put my head down and do the work, but the billable hour requirement can be tough,” Richins says. “I had two kids [with wife Sara] in my first two years of practicing law and I had a three-and-a-half-month trial. For anybody who’s thinking about being a lawyer, you better enjoy being a lawyer, because it’s a lot of work. But it’s a lot of fun.”

His expertise is welcomed by clients, who are thankful to have a lawyer who can understand the problems they’re facing. “I’ve seen it from the business side,” says Richins. “I’ve sat in that exact position.

“Whenever you throw a legal answer to clients, there’s usually a business decision to be made after that,” he says. “And that’s where my background is pretty beneficial. I can say, ‘Legally, here are your options. Practically, I think this option is the best.’”

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