28/02/2006 - 21:00

Double degree helps build understanding

28/02/2006 - 21:00

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Some well-qualified Perth lawyers working in the field of construction law are using their understanding of architecture to better communicate with their clients on the issues that may arise on projects.

Some well-qualified Perth lawyers working in the field of construction law are using their understanding of architecture to better communicate with their clients on the issues that may arise on projects.

In addition to their law degrees, the lawyers are qualified architects.

One of the group is Paul Willington, who worked as an architect in Melbourne for more than a decade before moving to Perth and opening a specialised legal practice.

Mr Wellington is also a qualified arbitrator under the Construction Contracts Act, introduced last year to provide security of payment to subcontractors and allowing for the quick resolution of disputes through adjudication.

“Roughly 20 disputes have been adjudicated under the act since it came into force last year,” Mr Wellington said. “It is a very powerful act, and if what has happened under similar legislation in NSW is a guide, it will change the construction industry as people use the act to prompt a change in behaviour to get payment.

“Right now, subcontractors aren’t always aware of the act and how it works, but will increasingly use it.”

Mr Wellington said aligning his architecture background with his law degree allowed him to better understand the construction process, with the perception of architects as just a person at the drawing board a thing of the past.

“Architects are consulting and doing all sorts of things; there are a lot of niche areas like acoustics, and occupational health and safety that architects are specialising in, as well as doing very broad things,” he said.

“The nature of the construction industry is dependant on getting a raft of people together, and architects are a part of that, and complexities inevitably arise from having so many parties involved.”

And it is on these complexities that Mr Wellington has built his practice.

“I don’t think the courts are the best means to resolve disputes,” he said.

“With negotiation and mediation you retain some control of the process, but when you hand over to an arbitrator or the courts, things are then outside your control and one party usually ends up with everything.

“In boom times, people aren’t so concerned about entering disputes, and are more willing to negotiate, but when the industry slows, attention can divert to matters other than construction and companies want to get back losses in times of slow down.”

Mr Wellington said it was important for the construction industry to realise that a good contract was the first defence against disputes, and that a lot of people lost opportunities because they didn’t know their contract.

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