As discussed in “5 Questions to Ask Before Becoming a Construction Lawyer,” construction law is the practice of law dealing with design and construction-related issues on public and private projects, ranging from homes to skyscrapers, railroads to airports, and everything in between. Despite the complexity of the industry, the legal practice, somewhat surprisingly, builds upon basic principles that we learn in law school: contracts, property, torts, and administrative law. Using those skills, construction lawyers generally carry out a cradle-to-grave practice that includes advising clients from project inception (with contract negotiation) through the building stages (project counseling) and project closeout (which often involves dispute resolution processes). The practice gives construction lawyers the unique opportunity to develop transactional and litigation skills, likely because the construction process has created unique customs, practices, and even vocabulary, leading courts and legislatures to develop legal principles consistent with the industry’s realities.
The uniqueness of construction law further bolsters the importance of camaraderie amongst the industry lawyers, and the ABA’s Forum on Construction Law is the perfect vehicle for that.
What is the Forum on Construction Law?
We’re glad you asked! The ABA’s Forum on Construction Law (the Forum) is the largest organization of construction lawyers in the United States and abroad. More than 6,000 members come from all practice settings: large firms, small firms, solo practitioners, government lawyers, and corporate in-house counsel. Members represent all segments of the construction industry: owners, design professionals, general contractors, construction managers, subcontractors, suppliers, insurers, and sureties. The Forum’s mission is to serve the construction industry through education and leadership, with the motto “Building the Best Construction Lawyers!” The Forum sponsors several seminars each year on different topics and publishes a scholarly journal on construction law topics four times each year, a newsletter three times each year, and several treatises on construction law topics.
Sounds really cool, but do I have to be a construction lawyer?
No. Law students are provided with a free membership to the Forum and heavily discounted registration fees to annual meetings and the like. And if you’re wondering if you need to have any experience in construction, the answer is also no. While many construction lawyers have experience in the field as engineers or majored in construction-related topics in undergrad, such knowledge is by no means a prerequisite to entry. Most construction lawyers were placed on a case and stuck with it.
Ok, I’m in. How can I get involved in the Forum?
There are many fun and easy ways to start getting involved in the Forum. For example, all law students are welcome to attend Forum meetings. This year, the Fall Meeting was in Seattle. We had the privilege of networking with accomplished industry professionals and the Forum leadership atop the Columbia Center—of all places—which overlooks Seattle’s breathtaking cityscape. Attendees gained unparalleled insight into the secrets to success as construction lawyers and had the opportunity to develop enduring relationships. Tyler says it best: “most importantly, at the Seattle meeting I discovered that the Forum is ‘my people’ . . . and that construction law is my future.”
Indeed, experiences with the Forum often ignite true passions for the practice of construction law. For example, we both regularly write about and coordinate events on construction issues. For example, in just a few weeks, the law review at Tyler’s law school will host a “Construction Law Symposium,” at which many of the Forum leaders who attended the Seattle meeting will be both panelists and attendees. The Forum is home to many law students like us, and we are excited to welcome more law students. Here are some of the best ways to start getting involved:
You can write an article for Division 1’s The Dispute Resolver. Reach out to someone on the Editorial Board (Catherine Delorey at firstname.lastname@example.org or Lexie Pereira at email@example.com) and share your ideas for an article. If you can’t think of a topic, we’ll be happy to brainstorm with you—just reach out! For inspiration, you can check out a recent post on The Interplay of Arbitration Agreements and Flow-Down Provisions called Flow-Down Showdown.
Join a Division.
Divisions, or smaller groups of the Forum specializing in different construction areas, are the lifeblood of the Forum and a great way to get involved. We suggest joining the monthly calls as a first step. Learn about the Forum’s 14 Divisions, and contact the listed chair to get involved—Tyler and Lexie are both members of the YLD group. Additionally, Tyler is a member of D13—Government Contracts and Lexie is a member of D1—Litigation and Dispute Resolution.
Enter the Annual Law Student Writing Competition.
To enter, you need to write an article or essay on any topical issue of interest to the construction industry. It can even be a paper you have already submitted for academic credit. Your entry can be as long as a law review article or as short as a thousand words. The submission deadline is typically mid-July each year. Details will be released on the Forum’s webpage once the competition goes live. Tyler won the competition in 2021, despite having little to no experience with construction law beforehand—reach out to him (firstname.lastname@example.org) for advice!
Connect with Fellow Law Students.
ABA Communities is a place to network and a way to gain exclusive member access to the ABA Member Directory.
Attend a Meeting.
The Forum on Construction Law holds events a few times a year, and regularly presents virtual programs as well. Check out the slate of upcoming meetings and programs, as well as some other important dates on the ABA Forum on Construction Law website.
Construction law is both an exciting and challenging practice of law, which makes it all the more important to stay connected with others who have a similar interest—and the Forum is a great place to start! Reach out with any questions.