The dispute


problemsThings don’t always go the way they should on construction projects, both residential and in the industrial, commercial and institutional environment. This isn’t surprising. Even the simplest project has many elements, ranging from sub-trades (and individual workers’ own work quality), to materials, to code and design standards, and more. ?Add to this volatile mix, money, and you have an environment where conflicts are bound to arise, and they do. If I were to advise a young prospective lawyer which specialty has the most consistent ongoing opportunity, I would say “construction law” — and you can see that in the courthouse filings.

Obviously, disputes that are unresolved and lead to litigation are the extreme opposite of the “great client experience”. In addition to the financial cost, the different sides (there are usually more than two) to the dispute also need to contend with the time and emotional costs. The dispute doesn’t help your brand, either.

Of course, right and wrong, justice and fairness, and economic expediency all factor into disputes. So, as well, does luck and third-party developments/events. You can be caught in messes for which you have no responsibility, and for which you have no simple solution.

Some “rules of the road” apply for disputes.

Who has the money, wins, most of the time

This is both in terms of the principle of possession — if you have held back funds, or have specific collateral which you control, you obviously are in a better negotiating position — and in your overall resources, because disputes can be costly and prolonged.

Integrity matters, really

We are fortunate to live in a society where the justice system is not corrupt. This means, if you can survive the storms and have the resources to overcome delaying tactics and tricks, you can usually prevail if you are truly in the right. Of course, you should really be in the right, and not just think you are.

Usually it is better to settle than to fight — but there are times when principle or deterrence requires firm resolve

In my one truly expensive bit of litigation, I fended off a competitor who used under-handed techniques to interfere in a valid contract. I fought back, realizing at the back of my mind I would face litigation. It happened. The competitors hired the best lawyers in town and I hired a very good lawyer to defend my business. (There was of course another, third party, involved.) ?In the end, the judge cleared my business and awarded costs — though the conflict still cost $20,000 out-of-pocket.)

Often you are faced with a situation where something isn’t quite right, the cost of repairing the problem is significant but not onerous, and the client isn’t buying your offer of an explanation or offer of a quick-patch. Of course, if you have the money, you can wait for the client to take legal action — or accept that you will have a nasty bit of bad marketing word of mouth to overcome. Or you could elect to take your lumps and make it right. From a marketing perspective, I would go with the latter answer. Yes, there can be customers from hell”– but dragging things out may only make things worse for your business reputation and finances.

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