December 05, 2018

Getting to Know the Forum: Fall Meeting Recap through the Eyes of Young Lawyers

By Aaron R. Klein, Stites & Harbison PLLC, Louisville, KY, YLD, and Laura J. Sova, Woods & Aitken, LLP, Denver, CO, YLD

This article is designed to provide you with two unique perspectives of young lawyers at the fall meeting. The first from a first-time attendee and a YLD Ambassador at the Fall Meeting. The second from a session coordinator (a.k.a “cat herder”) for a set of speakers at the Fall Meeting.

I.   Aaron Klein: the YLD Ambassador 

I first learned of the event during the Young Lawyers Division (YLD) monthly teleconferences. As a young lawyer building my construction practice, the YLD has been an invaluable source of connection and opportunity for me. Thanks to the support and encouragement provided by YLD President, Tamara Lindsey, I was given the opportunity to participate in the Fall Meeting as a YLD Ambassador.

The YLD Ambassador role was introduced at the Montreal Fall Meeting and provided a unique opportunity for myself and two other young lawyers, Kelly Bundy of Herschler Fleischer in Richmond, Virginia, and Kevin Garrison of Baker Donelson in Birmingham, Alabama, to meaningfully participate at the Fall Meeting. As Ambassadors, we were tasked with providing a friendly source of information for fellow young lawyers and first time attendees. You likely noticed us walking around with our flashing pens and goofy grins. Jokes aside, the Ambassador role provided easy incentive for me to interact with first time attendees and Forum veterans alike. Admittedly, we may have scared a few people off, but overall I felt that we successfully provided a safe landing place for young attorneys making their way through the Meeting. Kelly Bundy, who is also a Forum Diversity Fellow, said the following about her experience:

The ABA Construction Law Forum provides a unique opportunity to network with and learn from other, elite professionals across the country. The Forum’s Diversity Fellowship and YLD create clear pathways to writing, speaking networking and leadership opportunities.   At this year’s Fall Meeting in Montreal, Canada, newly-appointed YLD “Ambassadors” provided a point of contact for new attendees, welcoming new, young lawyers to the Forum and sharing all of the benefits that the Forum has to offer.

Kelly’s comment is directly on point with the mission of the YLD and the mandate for the Ambassador program. I directly benefited in the Ambassador role, as it provided an easy way for me to connect with other young lawyers and senior Forum members.

Following, the Wednesday night welcome reception, the YLD and Division 13 hosted a dinner at Bier Markt. I know what many of you are thinking, “with a name like Bier Markt, how could those young lawyers not have fun.” It is true - the food and drink were delicious, and yes, they did have a poutine buffet. However, the event was much more than that. We filled the upstairs section of the restaurant with a lively group of attorneys and industry professionals. Great conversation occurred and new friendships were formed. After finishing my duties checking in participants, I was able to meet and engage in conversation with new faces representing a broad range of backgrounds. As a “newbie”, I was not expecting to meet many non-attorney construction professionals. To my surprise, I met dozens at the event and truly enjoyed the perspectives they shared. I also met a few of those notorious “construction lawyers”. In fact, I immediately hit it off with a fellow young lawyer, Matt Peng – despite him identifying as a Lakers fan. Matt is an associate with Gordon Reese in San Francisco, California. Matt was attending his second Forum Meeting and I asked him to describe his experience. Matt provided the following:

A wise man once told me: Great relationships are built one construction conference at a time. The Montreal conference was just that. I met many like-minded young lawyers that I hope to build lasting friendships with and I very much appreciate and value the candid discussions that I had with some of the best construction lawyers in the country.

Matt’s statement echoes a sentiment you will hear from most Forum members, the Forum is all about relationships. I have heard this from countless Forum members and, I’ll admit, I thought it sounded a little strange at first. However, during the Fall Meeting, this sentiment came into clear view.

 

Photo taken on October 3, 2018 at the "YLD and Division 13 Welcome Dinner"

This is not to say that the Fall Meeting was merely a social event in disguise. The Forum undoubtedly serves its members as a top-rate professional excellence organization and the Forum’s quality was on full display at the Fall Meeting. However, at its core, the Forum is truly about the relationships formed amongst its members. In three days, I unexpectedly formed relationships and friendships that will likely continue throughout my career, my professional network grew ten-fold, and my substantive knowledge was expanded.

II.  Laura Sova: The “Cat Herder”

I signed up to be a session coordinator (a.k.a. “cat herder”) for a set of speakers for the Montreal Fall Meeting after being gently nudged to participate in the Forum by a zealous partner in my law firm, Erin Ebeler Rolf. I didn’t realize when I threw my name into the ring that the Fall Meeting was out of the country and that I’d be working with some heavy-hitting attorneys in the construction industry. I was in for a treat all around. Over the course of the past several months leading up to the Fall Meeting, I talked with my four panelists (Susanna Fodor, Adrian Bastianelli, George Meyer, and Jose Pienknagura) and moderator (Jenny Fletcher) and exchanged emails.

As a “cat herder,” I showed up to Montreal two days early. This wasn’t overachieving; there just are not any good flights from Denver to Montreal that got me to the Sheraton in time for our final rehearsal. After staying up late Tuesday night to watch the Rockies play 13 innings against the Cubs to win the NL Wild Card, I slept in Wednesday morning and met my plenary session panelists later in the day for our last rehearsal.

My panelists were like old friends. They jib-jabbed and playfully poked fun at one another. Even though they all might not have known each other well before agreeing to this speaking engagement, their rapport with one another was on point. They each had so much to share and were overflowing with knowledge of construction law. The intention of the last rehearsal was to run through the PowerPoint slides to see if they were accurate, but my panelists were stuck on the first slide for 45 minutes because they each had anecdotes and insights to share. They genuinely seemed excited to derail the whole purpose of the rehearsal to have an intellectual conversation with each other. After we realized we’d only gotten through a single slide, Susanna Fodor said, “We need a whole week!” And it was true; they could’ve regaled us with tricks of the trade on numerous topics for more than a week. I just grinned in the corner, knowing I had hit the “cat herder” jackpot.

Because I was a “cat herder,” I had the privilege of attending the Speaker’s Dinner Wednesday night. Program Co-Chairs, Nick Siegfried and Richard Wong, entertained us all with their version of “Jeopardy,” where all attendees had to guess which interesting factoid belonged to which speaker or coordinator. For example, Adrian Bastianelli confessed he might be a male stripper (whether that’s a fact is up in the air) and I can parallel park a school bus.

Networking is not my forte, so admittedly the Speaker’s Dinner was intimidating. Thankfully, everyone I spoke to was very welcoming, and I got to meet many great attorneys. For instance, I learned that Arlan Lewis has teenage twins who are about to start driving—so watch out! And, I learned that Keith Bergeron “rides in a crewe,” which (sadly) is not a motorcycle gang but is a group of regulars that ride in a themed float each year during Mardi Gras (still very cool).

III. Meeting Highlights

The 2018 ABA Forum on Construction Law Fall Meeting, “It’s Lonely at the Top: Building a Successful Team with the Owner,” was a triumph. Here’s a few of our favorite takeaways from the amazing education sessions the Meeting offered:

  • Program Co-Chair, Richard Wong, opening the ceremonies by playing, on the piano, the United States of America’s and Canada’s national anthems, showcasing the converging of the US and Canadian legal construction industries.
  • Plenary Session 1 explained that the “Design-Build-Operate-Transfer” delivery method is often used on P3 projects to generate revenue from project operations and for owners who desire to keep the project “off the balance sheet.”
  • Workshop B, “Controlled Insurance Programs: Opportunities and Problems”, taught most of us that we know very little about the world of CCIP and OCIP. The speakers did a wonderful job laying out the basics and providing a knowledge base for attendees to build upon. 
  • Plenary Session 3 explained that Star Wars involved the largest galactic construction project in movie history. The speakers aptly described the construction of the Death Star as a “good case study on project management techniques” after showing Darth Vadar threatening to kill all his minions if the Death Star wasn’t completed on time. 
  • Plenary Session 4, “The Art of Living Together”, treated us to speakers representing all aspects of the construction industry with over 150 years of experience. There were quite a few high points in this session, including Adrian Bastianelli’s description of “budget hell” versus “budget heaven” and Jose Pienknagura calling the industry surety bond forms “crap” and advising all lawyers to change them.
  • Plenary Session 5 was “A Conversation with Former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Beverley McLachlin” and her colleague, former Justice Marshall Rothstein, also of the Canadian Supreme Court. During this session, you could see why Chief Justice McLachlin is highly revered amongst Canadian lawyers and the Canadian population—she’s bright, reasonable, charismatic, and witty. She gave her perspectives on various Canadian judicial and legal topics, including the Canadian appointment process, Canada’s required retirement for justices as opposed to lifetime appointments, using foreign jurisprudence in her opinions, strict constructionism of the Canadian constitution, and unanimous versus consensus opinions. Since retiring, she has become a fiction novelist, publishing a novel about the law. She truly demonstrated the poise and judicial temperament we all hope to see in an impartial bench.
  • The final session, Plenary Session 6, “Tackling Crime and Corruption in the Construction Industry,” handled the ethics portion of the Fall Meeting. Now, I know you might be thinking, “Oh man, ethics . . . . Snooze,” but this session was anything but that. The speakers discussed the rampant crime ring in the public construction industry in Quebec and why the construction industry is so susceptible to abuse. The topics presented had movie deal written all over it: politicians, mayors, engineers, contractors, and lawyers all scheming together to get rich on the public construction industry. Some of these crime rings were even infiltrated by the mafia and the Hells’ Angels. We learned all about the “Fabulous 14,” who engaged in bid rigging, where contractors would take turns fabricating the lowest bid by mimicking a conversation about golf. Here’s the example given: the contractor who was poised to receive the lowest (albeit still overly-priced bid) would say to his cohorts that he was teeing off on the 4th hole with a party of 9. This meant that he would be bidding the job at $4.9 million, so that every other contractor knew to bid more than that to ensure their buddy got the job at $4.9 million. After the Quebec crime ring was busted, the number of contractors placing bids on public jobs more than tripled in certain sectors and the price of public contracts decreased by 30%. This plenary’s paper is likely worth the read if you missed this session.        

 

Photo taken during Plenary 3 - "A Wrinkle in Time: Recovery Plans, Change Orders, Liquidated Damages and the Owner's Implied Obligations. Who is responsible when the schedule slips?"

IV.  Conclusion

All in all, we encourage every young construction attorney to get involved with the YLD and to attend a Forum Meeting.  We also encourage partners to push their associates outside of their billing dungeons to the next Forum Meeting. Whether you are a Cat Herder, an Ambassador, or a regular attendee, we guarantee that it will be worth your investment.