January 2019 – Law and Civil Engineering

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Some Words of Wisdom
by Eugene Bass

This will likely be an article that will cause you to say, “well, I know that … isn’t it obvious…” Yet, it can be helpful for someone else to state the obvious where you might step back and realize that you have not noticed something in your own business. Call them “nuggets of knowledge” “general guidelines” or “whatever” to help avoid disputes and claims.

Only do business with good, honest, well financed people and/or entities for clients. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to pick and choose only the cream of the crop. Unfortunately, experience has shown that there are bad people out there and that even the best communication and documentation will not disable their efforts to ruin an otherwise ideal project. Just try to avoid them. The same goes for consultants as well.

Be clear in the beginning as to what is expected of each party to the contract. The failure to meet expectations is a great catalyst for litigation and disputes. If all parties are fully aware of what is expected of the other, there will be fewer surprises and fewer disputes. It is not only important in the beginning but as the project continues.

Communication is the key. Do not assume that your client fully understands what you are saying as you understand it. A good rule is to “say what it is” and “say what it isn’t.” It is important that your client understand and appreciate the scope and limitations of what you will do. If you have worked with the client before and on the same type of project, you can have a reasonable expectation that your client’s understanding of your work corresponds with your own. Your client, however, may not fully understand what your work involves and may not be willing to admit it. In that case, you have the special burden of asking enough of the right questions so that you know and feel comfortable with your client’s understanding.

Be aware, especially when trying to win a job with a new client, not to lead the client to expect something that you cannot realistic deliver. Some clients may not be so willing to forgive the differences between what was represented, either directly or impliedly, in the beginning and what was delivered ac-2018t the end. While there may be any number of reasonable explanations as to why the originally represented deliverables ended up not being possible, the client may have particularly relied on the engineer’s sales pitch and anticipated a particular result from the beginning. Failure of that expectation can set up the relationship for claims against and damage to the reputation of the engineer.

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