If you’ve worked in the construction industry in Pennsylvania for any significant length of time, you’re no doubt aware of how complicated even a simple construction project can be. You’ll likely need to draw up contracts or legal documents of some sort, and you’ll certainly need to make sure you’re pulling the proper permits. Depending on the district in which your job is taking place, you may have to bring yourself up-to-date on local environmental regulations, or even organize a town hall-style meeting.
It’s more work than one person can do, and what’s more, it’s work that has to be completed error-free. Assuming you manage to find a properly trained lawyer who isn’t new to local construction or commercial real estate regulations, a Pennsylvania construction lawyer can easily earn their fee many times over.
But how do you know if the PA construction lawyer you’re considering is an expert in the field, as opposed to a jack-of-all-trades lawyer who doesn’t know the difference between change order impacts and performance bonds? We suggest you start by asking each of the questions below.
1. What can you tell me about your legal qualifications?
In a perfect world, the attorney you hire will be board certified in the areas of practice for which they’ll be helping you, so that’s something you’ll want to inquire about. Construction law can be very different from many other types of legal practices, and you’ll want to be certain that whomever you hire is regularly staying abreast of any legal changes in the industry. You can also find information about lawyers you’re thinking of hiring on the website of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.
2. What are your fees, and how will I be billed?
This is an especially important question to ask, primarily because there are a few different ways legal firms prefer to be paid. Some charge a flat hourly fee. Should you find yourself needing to be represented in a court case, you’ll find that many lawyers charge a contingency fee, which means you won’t pay unless you win your case. You’ll also want to learn about your potential legal firm’s billing cycle. Do they offer, say, a five- or 15-day grace period? What sort of fee, if any, will you be charged if you fail to make a timely payment? These can be difficult and even awkward questions for many of us to ask. Still, asking them before any work begins—and having them in writing—could very well save you untold amounts of stress (and money) down the line.
3. Are there any other potential costs I should be aware of?
If you haven’t needed legal work in the past, it can come as a rather unpleasant surprise to learn that lawyers make their money in various ways other than the standard billable hours. You may find yourself charged for seemingly basic administrative tasks, for instance. And during a court proceeding, you may be responsible for the fees of expert witnesses or court reporters. To avoid the potential of sticker shock, it’s always best to understand what you’ll ultimately be financially responsible for, prior to choosing your legal representation and signing on the dotted line.
4. What sort of malpractice insurance does your firm hold?
This may not be a crucial question to ask if the PA construction lawyer you’re hiring will simply be filing paperwork—assuming, of course, that every step of your project is being executed according to the most current letter of the law. Should you find yourself in court, however, you’ll want full certainty that neither you nor your construction company will be held responsible if your lawyer makes any major mistakes. If you’re especially worried, ask for physical proof that the lawyer’s insurance is current.
5. Which partners or associates will be working with me, and what are their qualifications?
Even if the initial boardroom or telephone conversation about your PA construction company’s needs took place with a law firm’s partner, it’s still very possible that an employee much lower on the firm’s proverbial totem pole might end up being saddled with your account. In many instances, that may be perfectly fine. Yet in other situations, it may be important to you that a firm’s specific partner or associate is doing the majority—if not all—of the heavy lifting. Before any work begins, make sure you’re clear on exactly who will be working on which aspects of your case or your account.
Yet if a partner recommends you work with a lower-level employee, don’t automatically assume the firm is trying to pull a fast one. After all, they likely known better than you which members of their team are best suited to your company’s specific needs.
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If you happen to have other questions that need to be answered, don’t hesitate to contact the offices of Benner and Wild, which has been providing legal services of the highest quality for clients in Bucks County and the surrounding region since 1995. You’ll discover a wealth of information about the firm at bennerwild.com, including details about its major fields of legal practice. You can also access a wide range of especially useful legal information on the firm’s blog, at bennerwild.com/blog.