Friday, September 18, 2020

COVID-19 Leadership Series: The Seven Month Itch: Pandemic Fatigue and the AEC Work Force

Free Webinar: September 22, 2020 at 4pm ET



Labor and employment challenges for all stakeholders in the construction and design industry continues. Our panel will discuss the latest developments in government responses, updates on Paycheck Protection Program along with job-site safety, retention, and working from home, among other topics.

Speakers:
Erin Ebeler Rolf, Attorney, Woods Aitken LLP, Lincoln, Nebraska
Oded Sten, Chief Commercial Officer, The Conti Group, Edison, New Jersey
Jodi Taylor, Associate General Counsel, Brasfield & Gorrie LLC, Atlanta, Georgia

In order to serve and provide resources to our Forum members, the greater ABA, and the general public, the ABA Forum on Construction Law and strategic partners have developed a multi-part webinar series exploring how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting construction and design and identifying options for response and risk management/mitigation. In these free, non-CLE webinars, industry leaders and attendees will have the opportunity to exchange information, learn from one another, raise questions, and offer options for addressing the deepening effects of the crisis.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

CLE Webinar: Become the Master of Your Master Construction Subcontract Agreements

September 24th, 2020 | 1-2:30 PM ET
CLE 1.5
 
Construction attorneys and their clients are increasingly using master agreements, especially at the subcontract level, to become more efficient in their contract negotiations.

This webinar will explain the advantages and potential traps you should look for in this new development. You will learn the contractual tools necessary to create master prime agreements and master subcontract agreements. You will learn how to structure and organize terms in the master agreement as well as a project order so that project specifics and master terms complement each other and avoid conflicts between the contract documents. An emphasis will be placed on best practice in negotiating subcontract terms. The recently published ConsensusDocs standard master subcontract agreement and project work order will help illustrate how an industry standard master contract can assist construction attorneys and their clients focus on risk allocation advantages and avoid potential pitfalls.


Panelists
Brian Perlberg - ConsensusDocs | Arlington, VA
Kevin F Peartree - Ernstrom & Dreste, LLP | Rochester, NY
Kristen Lynn Wendler - Independent Contractor | Syracuse, NY

Co-Sponsor: ConsensusDocs

Click Here to Register NOW


Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Best Practices for Remote Mediation

Despite the ongoing pandemic, attorneys require effective methods for resolving construction disputes. 2020 has proven that legal conflicts are the natural result of the unprecedented uncertainty a global pandemic can produce. Parties need to resolve conflicts to continue business operations, pay employees, and protect property. Litigators have increasingly utilized virtual meeting software to achieve these goals.

Mediation can be a great opportunity for litigators to resolve construction disputes without the time and expense of going to trial. Given the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, mediations are increasingly being held virtually using technology like Zoom. While many of the same best practices apply, certain aspects of the virtual mediation process are a brave new world. Construction lawyers should be prepared to embrace the new challenges and opportunities offered by the “new normal” of remote mediations.

Like a traditional mediation, successful attorneys invest their time to select the best mediator, prepare clients for the process, and manage expectations. Although these fundamentals continue to apply regardless of the format, this article will focus on steps particular to virtual mediations.

Preparation and Communication

A pre-mediation call remains critical to a productive mediation. Clients, regardless of their level of sophistication, should hear an explanation of the mediation process. This call should both manage a client’s expectations and answer remaining questions about how mediation differs from litigation.

Next, discuss the special characteristics of a virtual mediation. The mediation may include a pre-mediation session with the mediator. One obstacle lawyers report with Zoom mediations is establishing trust and good communication with the mediator. A virtual pre-mediation conference with the mediator may be helpful to help get this process started.

The client may require reassurance that private communication remains available in the context of a virtual meditation. Review expectations about confidentiality and security, such as whether the Zoom mediation should be password protected, and additional security measures, such as utilizing the most current version of Zoom and controlling access to the participants’ locations. Multifactor authentication may be a good idea when privileged, confidential, or sensitive information is involved.

Getting Comfortable with Zoom

This is where things really start to get interesting. Attorneys should make sure to discuss the specifics of Zoom or other virtual meeting technology with clients prior to the mediation. Part of this process is simply increasing a client’s comfort level. Many lawyers have reported conducting a practice or dry-run helpful to walk the client through the process. Some clients may benefit from a friendly reminder about selection of appropriate clothing and location. The client should be in a location with a strong WiFi connection which should be tested in advance. Ideally the location will be without background noise or other potential distractions.

The parties should make sure to allocate a specific amount of time to devote to the mediation, free from distractions and interruptions. This is often challenging when participants are located in their own homes or offices with their phones and computers close at hand. Multitasking and phone pick-ups can easily distract participants from the business at hand.

Plan for confidential communications with your client during the mediation. An additional, private virtual room should be made available. Depending on the client and the case, texting, emailing, or instant messaging may be a workable backup solution.

What About Documents?

Sharing information in advance can help resolve logistical and technical issues prior to the mediation. Zoom allows sharing documents during the mediation through its “share screen” button.

Sharing documents in advance will allow the mediator and other parties the opportunity to review. When confidential documents need to be shared with the mediator only, it is a good idea to establish a standard procedure. Dropbox, Google Drive and other tools can be extremely helpful when used with appropriate precautions and safeguards. Depending on the document, having a hard copy in your hands is never a bad idea. In addition to serving as a back-up for unexpected technology issues, many of us benefit from having a physical document to reference.

The same logic applies to draft settlement agreements. Like other documents, these should be circulated in advance. This way everyone has the opportunity to digest the proposed terms. Hopefully this can help parties focus their energy on the most important disputes. Often a settlement agreement can be edited and shared during the mediation. Adding appropriate labels such as the date and time can help make sure everyone is referencing the identical, most up to date version.

Many mediators will encourage parties to share their mediation briefs with each other. This can be a context where tone becomes very important. A diplomatic tone in a mediation brief may be even more important for Zoom mediations. In virtual meetings parties do not enjoy the same opportunities for building trust and rapport relative to a traditional, in-person meeting. Take this into consideration when deciding the appropriate voice for your mediation brief.

The Day of the Mediation

If the parties have prepared, planned, and consistently communicated leading up to the date of the mediation, the day itself can run surprisingly smooth. Using new technology can always bring unwelcome surprises, but a thorough WiFi test for internet speed can help identify and eliminate many common issues like frozen screens and interrupted audio.

Before any conversation, participants should confirm who is actually in the room. This practice can help maintain confidentiality and help parties feel comfortable to speak freely.

Most virtual meeting platforms will allow the mediator to create separate “breakout rooms.” It is a good idea for the mediator to set these up first, then visit each breakout room individually to confirm everyone is where they need to be. Like traditional mediations, Zoom allows a mediator to travel between separate rooms to conduct private conversations with attorneys and their clients.

Signing the Agreement

If the mediation was productive and the parties are ready to sign an agreement, now what? Electronic signatures can be applied using “DocuSign” and other similar programs. If completing a written settlement agreement is not possible, parties can tentatively agree that all material terms are resolved. Memorialize this agreement in a term sheet.

Even if only a limited or partial agreement is reached, a term sheet can still be created and signed. A good mediator should remind everyone that, notwithstanding this positive development, such a limited, tentative agreement will be unenforceable. Make sure to schedule a second mediation date to keep things moving towards settlement.

Conclusion

Out of necessity, the COVID-19 pandemic has given birth to a flourishing market for virtual meeting technology. The legal uses of Zoom and other platforms will continue to evolve and improve in the future. For now, litigators have already developed enough best practices to settle many disputes remotely. Fortunately, many of the same tips apply. Communication, planning, patience, and preparation continue to be crucial for a successful mediation both on and offline.

Author Patrick McKnight is an associate in the Litigation Department at Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg LLP in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Patrick also serves on the Klehr Harrison Coronavirus Task Force. He can be reached at pmcknight@klehr.com.

Monday, September 14, 2020

COVID-19 Leadership Roundtable Series: If There's a Silver Lining, Where's the Playbook?

September 15th, 2020 | 4-5PM ET
A Special Forum Crisis Series
Join the discussion!

Contrarian investors and companies find opportunities in good times and bad. More than half a year into the COVID-19 crisis what sectors of the economy are prospering in spite or because of the pandemic?  How will these developing trends shape the future of the construction economy and determine?  Join our Panel to gain insights into how COVID-19 is shaping our economy.

Ken Simonson
Chief Economist
The Associated General Contractors of America

Michael J. Vardaro
Managing Partner
Zetlin & De Chiara LLP

Frank Giunta - Moderator
Partner and President, Americas
HKA Global

Click Here to Register NOW


Free, Non-CLE Webinar

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Join the Forum's D&I Brunch on September 17 at 1pm ET

The Keynote Speaker will be Jimmie L. McMillian, Senior Corporate Counsel of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Mr. McMillian will discuss his journey from the South Side of Chicago, to Partner at an Am Law 100 firm (which was the subject of New York Times Article), and then to the Speedway. Along the way he learned about the importance of mentorship, the challenges facing black lawyers, and the need to advocate for social justice issues that were important to him. Mr. McMillian will also provide some fascinating facts about his role as senior counsel, and the challenges of hosting the single largest day sporting event in the world (with this year hopefully being the only exception to that distinction).

Click Here to Register NOW


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Is Arbitration on the Briefs Right for your Client?

As clients increasingly demand options for timely, efficient dispute resolution, attorneys need to stay apprised of all available alternatives. Private arbitration was developed with efficiency in mind and has become wildly popular in the construction industry, providing parties a means to avoid delays caused by backlog in state and federal court dockets as well as evidentiary and procedural formalities. The American Arbitration Association’s Fast Track Procedures within the Construction Rules further trim the usual arbitration procedures, pushing parties through a streamlined pleading and discovery process. However, even the AAA Fast Track Procedures require significant time and resources, primarily those invested in conducting a hearing before an arbitrator.

Submitting a case for decision on briefs alone, without presenting in-person evidence or argument to the adjudicating body, is common in appellate litigation. It is also frequently used in trial court-level litigation, sometimes without the parties’ consent. Parties agreeing to arbitration on briefs alone, however, is exceedingly rare. Yet, when employed in the appropriate situation, agreeing to submit a dispute to an arbitrator on briefs alone can be a useful tool for quick and efficient dispute resolution and a highly satisfied client. On major construction projects, the commitment to arbitrate certain matters is often made before a dispute arises. So, when is arbitration on the briefs the right choice for your client’s project? And, what can you do to ensure a successful resolution? Let’s explore.

Arbitration on the briefs has two primary benefits. First, it can be highly cost-effective. Eliminating the costs associated with witness and hearing preparation and presentation can significantly reduce the overall price tag of arbitration. Second, arbitration on the briefs provides for speedy dispute resolution without sacrificing equity or expertise. Again, jettisoning a hearing can expedite a final resolution on the merits by weeks, if not months; certain disputes may even be submitted for a decision on the briefs without a traditional discovery process, which all practitioners know can be extremely time-consuming. Furthermore, the arbitration agreement allows the parties to dictate the timeline for decision, eliminating uncertainty and facilitating easy mid-project or mid-term dispute resolution.

Foregoing a hearing is not without its downsides. Without a hearing, an arbitrator may miss or misunderstand certain complex factual issues, and the parties have limited opportunity for clarification. Thus, astute construction attorneys will recognize that arbitration on the briefs is not one-size fits all. Predicting the nature of disputes likely to arise on your project and the evidence necessary to resolving those disputes is critical in 1) deciding whether arbitration on the briefs is appropriate for your client’s project and 2) drafting the terms of such an arrangement. When considering an agreement to arbitration on the briefs, keep in mind the following tips for success.

Identifying the Issues Subject to Arbitration. Not all disputes lend themselves to resolution on written arguments alone. For the same reasons decisions without a hearing are regularly issued in an appellate court setting, an arbitrator’s decision on the briefs is most successful when the dispute is straightforward and turns on a few narrow questions if not a single, objective issue. Lay witness and/or subjective evidence-heavy fact patterns and other, more complex disputes may be difficult for an arbitrator to grasp on paper alone and key details may be lost without an opportunity for the arbitrator to ask questions. Conveying witness credibility and evidentiary context may also be difficult. Accordingly, disputes involving competing expert testimony are not well-suited to resolution by this method. By contrast, a foreseeable, single-issue quarrel that requires either interpretation or application of a contract clause to a limited factual scenario is easily decided with limited party input. For example, in an agreement based primarily on unit prices, disputes over adjustments to unit prices may be well-suited to arbitration on the briefs. Adjustments to unit pricing are often necessitated by either 1) market fluctuations or 2) significant changes to the quantity of units subject to the agreement. Hence, few subjective factual issues will compound a dispute over the equity of an adjustment to an agreed unit price. Design ambiguity controversies and cost-only change order disputes may also lend themselves to resolution through arbitration on the briefs, particularly when employed mid-project to mitigate damages resulting from postponing a final resolution.

Careful Clause Drafting. Once you have identified the types of disputes amenable to arbitration on the briefs, your arbitration clause should carefully identify and describe those disputes to be subjected to arbitration. In addition, the language should plainly outline the particularities of the arbitration process itself. Each condition applied to the process should promote swift and cost-effective adjudication. Contemplate the following terms when developing an agreement to arbitrate without a hearing:

Arbitrator Selection. Before agreeing to arbitration on the briefs, consider the qualifications an arbitrator needs to provide a speedy and fair resolution. Ideally, an arbitrator should be able to jump into a dispute with minimal education on the intricacies of the particular dispute. In pricing disputes, an arbitrator with an accounting or financial background might be valuable. Alternatively, in a design ambiguity scenario, an arbitrator with architectural or design expertise will require less explanation to understand the parties’ respective positions and reach an equitable decision. To avoid wasting the expediency provided by arbitration on the briefs, the parties should also delineate explicit terms as to how a candidate pool will be developed and how the arbitrator will be selected in the event the parties cannot agree.

Specific Timeframes. As discussed above, a timely resolution of your dispute is a principal benefit of arbitration on briefs alone. Thus, the parties should settle on hard and fast deadlines for brief submission and the arbitrator’s decision. If needed, a limited timeframe for seeking clarification or enforcement of the arbitrator’s decision should also be employed.

Evidentiary Limitations. Your arbitration agreement should place strict limitations on the type and volume of evidence each party is permitted to submit in conjunction with its brief. Disputes that may be decided on objective, empirical, and/or documented evidence will find the most success in arbitration without a hearing. This is not to say that no fact witness testimony should be admitted; a successful arbitration on the briefs provision will permit submission of an affidavit or similar sworn statement to verify documentary evidence and provide necessary project details to put the dispute in context. Still, the primary source of evidence submitted to the arbitrator should be documentary, not testimonial. Taking it a step further, restricting evidence included in the briefs to evidence exchanged prior to submitting the case to arbitration may facilitate the arbitrator’s decision making process, and may even promote interparty resolution without arbitration. Similarly, you might also consider a page limitation on the briefs; a limited writing will force each party to concisely state its position, and it will assist the arbitrator in identifying the key issues she must consider in making her decision.

Decision Implementation and Cost Allocation. Finally, consider how an arbitrator’s decision should be effectuated. Should the decision or award be applied retroactively? If so, at what point should its application begin? Take our example of a unit price disagreement. Should the arbitrator’s decision apply only to future units? Or, if the pricing decision applies retroactively, should it apply to all units from the time the adjustment was requested forward? Or from the time the dispute was submitted to arbitration? The answers to these questions depend on the projected disputes and your client’s anticipated position. Another important term to consider in an arbitration on the briefs agreement is an attorney fee-shifting provision. In keeping with the cost-efficiency goal of opting for arbitration on the briefs, an agreement that the prevailing party will recover its attorney’s fees will aid in ensuring only truly unresolvable disputes reach the arbitration phase and dis-incentivize over-lawyering.

Arbitration on the briefs is an interesting dispute resolution procedure to consider for your clients’ future projects and disputes. While it may not benefit all clients or all projects, under the right circumstances, proposing this procedure can yield dividends for your client and allow you to appear strategically savvy and cost-minded.

Author Megan K. George is an attorney in the Lexington, Kentucky office of Stites & Harbison PLLC.  She counsels clients on a diverse array of construction matters and routinely drafts, negotiates and reviews contracts for clients. She also frequently handles complex construction litigation and arbitration, advising clients in all stages of dispute resolution.

Friday, September 4, 2020

New Division 1 Opportunities Video -- by D1 Steering Committee Member Katie Kohm

Happy Labor Day Weekend Division 1 Members!  

I am happy to announce that Division 1 (Litigation & Dispute Resolution) Steering Committee Member, Katie Kohm, created a video about ways to get involved with D1!  

Please check out the video and contact me (rtdunn@pierceatwood.com) or Katie (kkohm@pierceatwood.com) if you have any questions or want to learn more about getting involved with Division 1!





I hope you all have a safe and relaxing Labor Day Weekend!