Lessons from a Post-COVID19 Construction Lawyer

Burr & Forman
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Burr & Forman

The last six months have been a whirlwind, especially for this single dad of six school children (who are no longer in school) while I work from home/office/car/jobsite/court.

During the first week of the pandemic, I wrote an ebook for contractors on how to deal with COVID-19. Over the next month, I answered countless phone call and emails, asking about safety and employment issues in the construction industry.  Weeks four through six had me revising safety policies and employment policies to deal with the impact of COVID-19 on the day-to-day operations of contractors, subcontractors and suppliers.  Over the past two months, I have reviewed more construction contracts than ever.

So, what have I learned about the construction industry, working from home and the life of a single dad?  Here are a fw lessons:

  1. The two most important attributes for success have been communication and flexibility. Of course, communication is always important in life, but it is especially important when you face challenges and changes. While working from home, this required an open dialogue with my colleagues and assistants who were able to understand my new “working hours” and assist with technology issues. As far as flexibility is concerned, change requires an ability to adapt.  The better able you are to respond to change, the more likely you will succeed. For me, once I learned that I would be working from home with six kids in a remote learning environment, I had two choices: complain or adapt.  So I turned a play room into a new home office; I set up working stations in the house; and I got a 6-person daily calendar to—what do they call it in the construction industry—identify and schedule the critical activities of numerous trades!  Communication and flexibility have helped me adjust to the post-COVID practice of law.
  2. The construction industry is resilient as ever.  I made major move from Washington, DC to Nashville, Tennessee in 2006 during the start of the housing collapse.  While it was certainly challenging for me and my family, I saw many contractors either shut doors or tighten their belts. The year of 2020 has been no different.  We saw the construction industry as a whole be classified as “essential” work, enabling projects to continue.  We saw new OSHA and safety standards be put in place, requiring the whole construction team to adjust “how” work was being performed.  Resiliency is defined as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.”  Let me say this: the construction industry has toughness!
  3. You can only manage risk if you take the time to manage the risks. What does that even mean?  It means that there is no better time than now to realize that “words matter”. It means that what you have agreed to in your existing contracts will affect how claims are handled as delays are mounting, job sites are facing new health hazards, and payment is being held up.  Some clients have not updated their new form contracts; some clients have.  Some clients don’t have an attorney review new contracts; some clients do.  If there were ever a time to invest a little time on the front end of a project with risk management, now is the time.

Let me ask you: how have you adjusted to a world pandemic and what lessons have your learned over the past six months?

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DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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