Wednesday, April 13, 2016

You’re Holding Me Up: My Week Spent Back on a Jobsite

“Who’s this guy?”

That’s the look I got from some folks and it’s a look I knew all too well. I flashed it many times as an onsite project engineer and project manager.  On one particular jobsite I was on, we would joke about the starched white shirt/pressed jeans guys who would be posted up in the trailer conference room occasionally for matters that were above our pay grade.  For the first time a few weeks ago, I was one of those guys as I spent my first prolonged period of time on a large jobsite since becoming an attorney. 

I was sent to the South to a large industrial project that was just reaching critical mass of construction operations with over 700 tradesmen onsite and multiple shifts running 7 days a week.  As I walked onsite and into the trailer complex, the intensity and buzz of the site was palpable, and it surprised me how much I missed that aspect of construction.  My role for the week was to simply begin compiling facts in order to status certain contracts for the owner.  I did this through collecting documents and interviews with the owner’s supervisory field staff.  At first, I had some difficulty in my new role as a passive observer rather than a proactive participant in the actual building operations. I found myself at times having to suppress the construction manager remnants of my brain when process and future operational concerns were being discussed.  I reminded myself that I was no longer a field guy and in my current capacity, I needed  to dial it back to stick to the task at hand of information gathering, not getting into fervent discussions of panel attachment details and efficient trade sequencing.

Through the contract document review I conducted prior to arriving onsite, I knew the contractual relationships and who might be in trouble.  The office I was placed in was located next to the large general conference room where marathon coordination meetings were taking place and I worked with the door open in order to better understand the project.  Knowing who was in the crosshairs, there were times when I winced at things said from an owner standpoint, and at other times when subcontractors were speaking I wanted to yell out the door, ‘SOMEONE WRITE THAT DOWN! WE’LL NEED THAT LATER!”

By the end of the week, I had slipped back into the comfortable rhythm of a jobsite, something that is missing in an office environment.  There are times of the day that have certain feels to them; the sacrosanct coffee break, the quiet, almost peaceful lull of lunch, and wrap up time in the late afternoon as the shadows get longer.  A few days, I found myself out on the deck watching the tradesmen file out of the gate and thought wistfully of my time spent onsite and how I might want to get back into it.  Then I would snap back with the reality of the monumental task and the crushing and all-consuming pressure this team would experience over the next year in order to complete the project on time. Accordingly, I quickly remembered why I made the decision to go to law school.  I found that jobsites and their intensity are a nice place to visit, but me and my starched shirts had a plane to catch to get back to the office to start reviewing documents and begin writing.

The author, Brendan Carter, is a contributor to The Dispute Resolver and a former Student Division Liaison to the Forum on Construction Law.  He is an attorney and a Senior Consultant with Navigant’s Global Construction Practice based out of Boston, MA.  He may be contacted at 617.748.8311 or

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