Monday, April 2, 2012

A Lack Of Knowledge Can Be A Dangerous Thing

There's an old saying that goes "beware of he who knows not that he knows not." Recently, I found myself in a predicament to which that adage is applicable, and thought I'd share the experience as an object lesson.

One of my clients issued a proposed, standard AIA Owner/Contractor agreement for signature. Nothing fancy, just the standard form of agreement. The Owner, who happened to be an attorney, delegated the negotiation of the agreement to her father, also an attorney. Neither father nor daughter were experienced in construction law. During the negotiations, I explained repeatedly a number of basic construction law concepts to the attorney-father such as the definition of substantial completion as well as how mechanic's liens work. It appeared that my verbal construction law primer was successful. Remember ... appearances can be deceiving. As time went on, the negotiations devolved into what seemed to be a pathetic exercise in futility.

To illustrate the absurdity of the negotiations, discussion was had ad nauseum as to whether the Owner's written approval was required in order to move an electrical outlet one inch to the right or to the left, if necessary! Sure, let's delay the Project for that while we try to track down the Owner who may have left her cell phone at home and cannot be contacted immediately. Oh, and then there was the demand that the Contractor provide its own manufacturing warranty for each and every screw, nail, piece of sheetrock and other like material which was purchased from a supply house and manufactured by a third party. Are you kidding me? I mean, really ... ARE YOU KIDDING ME?

Ultimately, it appeared that the terms of a Rider to the AIA contract had been agreed upon by the parties. Imagine my frustration when I was informed that the same issues which were resolved previously (to my mind, anyway) remained a "problem." When I asked why an attorney experienced in construction matters hadn't been retained to negotiate the contract, I was told "because my daughter wants me to do it ... I've never done this before, but the concepts are not too difficult." Oh, really? Then why did it take more hours than necessary to negotiate a basic, AIA construction contract? PUHLEEZE! My client walked away from the Project eventually, but relented when the Owner agreed to every term I proposed in the Rider to the contract.

This situation reminds me of the television commercial from a couple of years ago where a guy is trying to save some money, so he calls his surgeon to ask where he should make the initial incision for his self-performed appendectomy. Sheesh! The moral of this story is to retain experienced professionals to do the job. Just because someone has a professional license doesn't mean they are qualified to practice in a particular area. Getting the right professional from the get-go may expedite resolution of the matter and cost less in the long run. It's simply a matter of not being penny-wise and pound foolish.

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