Why legal advice is vital for construction firms as we build back better

Leathes Prior Solicitors building in Cathedral Close, Norwich

Leathes Prior Solicitors has welcomed senior associate John Fawcett to the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Team - Credit: Leathes Prior

Find out how John Fawcett, senior associate at Leathes Prior Solicitors, is using his expertise to help individuals and businesses in the construction sector respond to the government’s call to “build, build, build”.  

John Fawcett, Leathes Prior Solicitors senior associate specialising in the construction industry

John Fawcett, senior associate specialising in the construction industry - Credit: Leathes Prior

Established 145 years ago, Leathes Prior Solicitors is a full-service law firm that provides a comprehensive range of client legal services across East Anglia and beyond. Recently, the leading law firm welcomed senior associate John Fawcett to the Litigation and Dispute Resolution Team, whose specialism in the construction and engineering sectors couldn’t have come at a more opportune time as the country embarks on ambitious infrastructure projects to ‘build back better’ following the pandemic.  

“At Leathes Prior, we bring our rounded expertise to each and every client,” John says. “When it comes to construction, we can help with the full lifespan of legal services – everything from purchasing to planning law to contract management to dispute resolution.  

“We provide professional legal advice to developers, landowners, main and sub-contractors and other construction professionals, helping them to manage risk so that they can make the most of opportunities. After a project has been delivered, we can help individuals with their personal affairs to make sure that they are properly protected.” 

Managing risk

Potential risks can come in many forms, including disputes about the quality of workmanship, whether or not the work has met the specification, or if delays have been incurred. John says that problems can be particularly difficult to resolve wherever contractual arrangements remain ambiguous.  

“Sometimes, people don’t understand the contract they've signed or haven’t put a written contract in place at all,” he explains. “This arrangement means they don't know what they're obliged to do or what risks they’re responsible for.”  

This is where Leathes Prior Solicitors can assist local businesses in the construction sector, advising clients on positions for bringing or defending claims, risk mitigation and pragmatic settlements. 

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Understanding adjudication

“The dispute process in construction can be very aggressive and time-consuming,” John says. “For instance, parties to a construction contract often have a right to refer disputes to adjudication, where an independent adjudicator makes a decision on a dispute in at most 42 days. It involves an awful lot of work on a tight timescale. Generally, you've got seven to 10 days to put together your entire case, so getting legal advice early in the process is absolutely vital.” 

The adjudication process works on a ‘pay now, argue later’ basis, which works to keep cash flowing in an industry which operates on thin financial margins. It isn’t a final answer, but it is binding until the dispute is finally dealt with in court or by agreement. 

“Going through the court process is long and expensive,” says John. “We use mediation to help the parties involved resolve the dispute in a workable way that everybody can live with. I represent clients in mediations to help them negotiate the right settlement. It's one of the ways we help clients to preserve business relationships.” 

This relationship management aspect is particularly crucial in the construction industry, where people often know each other and personal affiliations really matter.  

“We're alive to the fact that you might come across the same companies – and certainly the same individuals – in different deals and that you might want to keep your relationships intact whilst negotiating a contract, or sometimes even when resolving a dispute.” 

Building back better

The construction sector is entering a period of intense activity with the announcement of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s aim to “build, build, build” – with a government investment of £5bn accelerating infrastructure projects and economic recovery.  

“The call to build, build, build has been heard: the construction industry is extremely busy – and that comes with huge opportunities,” John says. “But there is also a perfect storm of risks caused by increased demand, Brexit, Covid-19 and supply chain issues that need to be managed. 

“Build, build, build is great – as long as you've got the people and the materials. Anyone in the construction industry at the moment will tell you that shortages of materials and skilled labour are rife. And with material shortages and long lead times, prices go up. This is where it becomes a contractual issue that our expertise can help with.” 

Get early advice

John stresses that risk can be mitigated if good advice is sought at the outset.  

“Get legal advice before you even think you need advice,” he says. “It is far more difficult to deal with disputes and adjudications after they have ignited. 

“Early advice is universally cheaper than late advice and it will save you in the long run. So please get in touch and we would be happy to help – not just with regard to the construction sector but with whatever legal issue you need assistance with.”  

For more information, please call 01603 610911 or visit www.leathesprior.co.uk 

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