By Katalin Tarjan • February 25, 2020•Ms. JD, Writers in Residence
My first legal job after law school was at a semi-governmental organization working in the construction industry. In short, we were either helping construction workers when their bills didn’t get paid, or home owners when they didn’t get what they paid for. Construction law is a special area of law with lots of learning opportunities.
A few years ago, just getting out of a job that promised one thing and turned out to be something completely different, I was eager to find any job that fits my qualifications and pays the bills. I didn’t know much about construction law back then, didn’t think I would particularly like it, but sent an application to see what happens. When I got the job I was completely satisfied with the whole package, I was just uncertain whether I could be good at something I am not interested in.
Turned out it was the wrong question to ask. I only thought I wasn’t interested, while there are plenty of interesting things in construction law in itself and working in this area as well. Here are a couple of things I took away from five years working there.
I am actually interested in construction law. In our profession when you start in a new job in a new legal field, it’s essentially a lot of learning. Reading and learning lots of laws, rules of the area, and so on. What I figured is that if you became a lawyer for the love of law, because you are genuinely interested in it, you will find something interesting in any legal area. Most importantly, before you decide whether you’re interested in a certain field or not, you should at least try it, and you might be surprised.
Construction engineers think differently than lawyers. So, I was mostly working together with forensic experts from the construction industry, that is construction engineers. What struck me most as a lawyer was our different approaches to interpret the law. Many times they asked me they wanted to make so and so out of the provisions, how can we do that. Many times I told them this is not how the law works. We can’t just bend it to support whatever position we want to take. Besides these differences I admit I learned a lot working with people with different mindsets.
The construction industry is full of men. I am not kidding, many times I was the only woman at the table, and those were huge tables too. It’s actually interesting, because I think there are more and more women studying construction engineering at universities, still, the construction expert field in Hungary is getting older with no aftergrowth, so it remains this weird patriarchy. That being said, I’ve met some very clever women experts in this field, whom I’ve come to respect, I just think we could do way better.
Things are not black and white. OK, this is true for most (if not all) legal areas. I mean if it wasn’t we didn’t need courts. And lawyers. I just though quite naively that what was built and what wasn’t, and even how it was built is a fact. Unlike abstract things like who’s at fault for a broken marriage, it can be seen, it can be examined, it can be decided. I was wrong. Not just the parties in the case, but even experts can argue for years looking at the very same construction. Interestingly, construction cases are some of the most difficult and longest running at court.
You have to watch out for whom you entrust with building/renovating your home. I did know this to some extent before, but during my time working in this field, I’ve seen some hair-raising stuff. From the contractor running off with your money to leaving unrepairable damages in your house, to preventing you from getting the final permits to move in to your own property unless you pay them much more than they deserve, there are innumerable stories. The bottom line is you have to be very careful and shouldn’t always go with the cheapest option when they promise more for less. And I hope it’s needless to say, always have a written contract.
Now, I’m not sure I made this specific area of law attractive to anyone, but I sure hope I sparked some interest. Again, I encourage you to try many things before you decide on your preferences. Like me, you might learn a lot of things in a field you didn’t even think you were interested in.
Do you have experiences working in construction law? What are your thoughts? Have you ever gone with a job you weren’t interested in at first and then surprised yourself? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter or LinkedIn.