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What Does a Construction Lawyer Do?

Understanding when you need a construction lawyer

Construction law encompasses many legal issues related to the construction industry. Local, state, and federal laws govern different aspects of the construction process, making construction law a complex area.

Construction lawyers are experts in this area of law, typically focusing on a particular legal issue or type of client.

 “Construction law is a very general area. There are different kinds of construction lawyers who can do anything from delay claims to breach of contract. They can represent clients in all kinds of different construction disputes,” says Colorado construction litigation attorney Jeffrey Kerrane.

Kerrane’s firm represents property owners as plaintiffs, while other construction lawyers work for insurance companies, contractors, subcontractors, or design professionals.

Other construction law issues include:

  • The construction project bidding process
  • Contract negotiation
  • Construction defects
  • Building codes and planning permits
  • Environmental and safety regulations
  • Workplace injuries
  • Insurance

This article will give an overview of what construction lawyers do and when it’s necessary to seek legal advice from a construction lawyer.

Who Construction Lawyers Represent

Construction projects can range from small home improvement projects to multimillion-dollar development projects.

Depending on a construction lawyer’s specific practice area, they may represent homeowners, construction workers, or businesses on different sides of construction litigation.

If a lawyer focuses on the business side of construction issues, they will typically represent:

  • Construction companies
  • Construction managers
  • Contractors and subcontractors
  • Developers
  • Architects
  • Lenders (such as banks)
  • Insurance companies

Other construction lawyers focus on representing:

  • Homeowners and other property owners
  • Homeowners’ associations
  • Construction workers

If you have a legal issue related to a construction project, you will want to look for a construction lawyer with experience who help clients with similar problems. 

Legal Issues

Construction lawyers handle a wide range of legal problems that come up in construction. Some of the most common construction issues include:

  • Forming a contract. Construction lawyers can review a construction contract before parties sign on to make sure the contract is legally sound and doesn’t expose the client to liability. They can help parties understand contract provisions, and if problems arise in the future, the process of resolving disputes can go smoother. Lawyers can also help clients understand the requirements of government contracts.
  • Contractor disputes. Many kinds of contractor disputes can arise during a construction project. Conflicts can result in delays, frustration, and extra expenses. Disputes arise between homeowners and contractors as well as between contractors and subcontractors. Typical problems include arguments over the scope of work, timelines, costs, and payment. Lawyers can advise on how to navigate these issues effectively.  
  • Construction defect claims. Construction defect problems can arise in many situations, including building code violations, inspection oversights, structural and electrical defects, faulty roofing, plumbing, or water damage. Construction lawyers can help you understand your legal claims for recovering from defects and your best legal strategy.
  • Workplace injuries. Another big area of construction litigation involves workers and workplace accidents and injuries. Injured construction workers can pursue workers’ compensation claims or, in some cases, bring a lawsuit against their employer.

Do You Need a Construction Litigation Attorney?

In most construction disputes, lawyers are necessary either for legal advice or representation in court. This is particularly true for corporate entities, which generally cannot represent themselves and must have a lawyer.

Unlike corporations, individuals can represent themselves if they wish. Still, getting a lawyer is generally a very good idea.

When considering whether to hire a lawyer there are two important factors:

  • Deadlines
  • Severity of the problems

Deadlines

“In a lot of states, deadlines [to file a lawsuit] are really short,” says Kerrane. For example, deadlines can be “as short as 2 years from the date that the property owner discovers the damage caused by a construction defect.”

Often, working directly with a builder to resolve a defect will not stop the clock on the lawsuit filing deadline.

This means that in many cases, “the practical way to stop the deadline is through having a lawyer. So, if a deadline is coming up, that’s a big consideration.”

How Big the Problem Is

Another major factor to consider in whether to get a lawyer is how substantial the problems are, says Kerrane.

“If you’re talking about issues that are not that serious, it’s probably not worth it to go through the entire [litigation] process with a lawyer, [including] all the negative things that can come with full-blown litigation. It’s much better to try to resolve the issue directly with the builder or to [pursue] an alternative dispute resolution process.”

Small Claims Court

Though it’s generally advisable to seek help from a lawyer, individual homeowners or property owners may, in some situations, be able to pursue legal action without the assistance of a lawyer.

For example, small claims courts are designed to be a cheaper option for individuals to pursue legal action without going through a traditional civil trial. It’s generally expected or required that individuals will represent themselves in small claims court. Individuals file the required paperwork and pay a filing fee at the correct court to get started.

However, small claims courts are limited to monetary disputes and the amount they can handle. Maximums typically range from $2,000 to $25,000. With these restrictions, small claims courts are not suited for many kinds of construction litigation.

Alternative Dispute Resolution

Another option for addressing construction issues is alternative dispute resolution (ADR). There are two primary forms of ADR:

  • Arbitration
  • Mediation

In both processes, the parties in dispute select an impartial third party who hears the facts of their case.

The main difference between the methods is in arbitration, the third party makes a binding decision for the parties. In mediation, the impartial third party helps the parties in dispute resolve the issue themselves.

ADR is a method for resolving legal issues outside of typical litigation. Even though ADR doesn’t involve representation by a lawyer, lawyers often serve as the third party who hears the dispute. If you are considering ADR, it’s also important to speak with a lawyer for advice about the process.

Questions for an Attorney

Speaking with a construction law attorney is essential in most construction-related legal issues, whether you are forming a contract, pursuing a lawsuit, or just wondering what your options are.

Fortunately, many attorneys provide free consultations, allowing the attorney to hear the facts of your case and for you to determine if the attorney meets your needs.

To see whether an attorney or law firm is a good fit, ask informed questions such as:

  • What are your attorneys’ fees?
  • What billing options do you offer?
  • What is your experience with construction litigation cases?
  • What are all the legal services you offer?
  • What are my options for resolving my particular issue?
  • Is a lawsuit the best option for me to pursue?

You can visit the Super Lawyers directory and use the search box to find a lawyer based on your legal issue or location. 

Look for a construction litigation attorney in the Super Lawyers directory on matters related to construction disputes.

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