Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

The Construction Lawyer as Mediator

English: New Brunswick Gateway Project under c...
New Brunswick Gateway Project under construction (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

While there has been much discussion about whether a construction attorney’s involvement is actually a detriment to a construction project and its potentially litigious aftermath, I have spent a couple of posts here at Construction Law Musings to discuss the benefits of hiring a construction attorney early in the project, and even later in the event that a dispute arises. Without rehashing those discussions (I encourage you to check them out and weigh in), these two posts (and the other arguments made elsewhere) assume that the construction lawyer’s role was as an advocate and, more importantly, counselor for a particular client with the duty to protect that construction professional’s interest.

There is, however, a third role that I personally embrace on a regular basis: the role as mediator. Aside from the advocate’s role (one that I enjoy and see as necessary for the protection of my clients), an experienced construction attorney can also serve as a neutral mediator to assist the two sides of a construction related dispute reach a resolution short of the time, risk and expense of a trial and a judge’s decision.

I have discussed mediation (and other forms of alternative dispute resolution) extensively, but even I need a reminder of why I am a huge advocate of this dispute resolution method. I received just such a reminder last week when acting as a mediator in the Chesterfield County General District Court. These sessions consistently remind me of a major benefit of mediation: the parties get to vent and share the “non-legal” issues that may drive a dispute. While a mediated agreement almost always comes down to money (at least in construction matters), the key to a settlement often has nothing to do with money. Without the restraints of the rules of evidence and courtroom procedure, the parties can, and should, voice concerns that in a courtroom would likely be deemed irrelevant. This will let the parties control the pace of the discussion and allow them, in my opinion, to feel that their concerns have been considered in a way that the litigation process may not.

Throw in the knowledge of the construction field (and probably litigation) that a construction attorney/mediator brings to the table, and you very well may have a recipe for a resolution without the negatives voiced elsewhere. By use of this subject specific knowledge, those of us who engage in mediation both as counselor and mediator can add a level of assistance for our clients and the clients of others that should lead to more client satisfaction and a smoother process over all. In short, the construction lawyer as mediator can be yet another benefit of the legal professions assistance to the construction industry.

Do you agree? What are your thoughts on the subject? I’d love to hear your comments below.

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11 Responses to The Construction Lawyer as Mediator

  1. Well stated! I agree with the benefits of mediation, and I suppose that as a lawyer brought in on the front-end of the project, I hope that I can “mediate” differences of opinion before a significant problem erupts. Of course, I always have my client’s best interest in mind, but a cooler head or a fresh perspective can help throughout the entire project. A good construction lawyer brings valuable insight to every project.
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