How to stay out of court: Alex Barthet from The Lien Zone

Episode 9

Alex Barthet, a construction lawyer from The Lien Zone, joins us on The Building Code from Miami, Florida. What are we chatting about today? Simply put, how to avoid issues on your construction projects that would lead to court.

Alex joined his father’s firm 20 years ago and focuses on representing contractors, architects, engineers, self-contractors, and developers in construction related disputes, especially contract issues. With a team of 12 lawyers, there is no doubt they’re busy. With a skyline dotted with tower cranes, it doesn’t seem to be slowing down either!

So, what is Alex’s main goal when helping customers with their cases? To help people get paid. According to Alex, “… doing work and not getting paid is an epidemic down here.” And what’s the number one reason for not getting paid? Poor documentation. Second reason would be ending up with a bad contractor or owner that you signed up with, and although it’s unfortunate, it happens more often than we’d imagine. From not getting paid at all or only getting partial payment, there are plenty of Alex’s clients that are in a bad situation, all because of contract issues.

What can a contractor do to mitigate not being paid at the end of the job? Not fall under “nice guy syndrome,” as Alex calls it. It’s time to stop being afraid to rock the boat during a project, especially when it comes to change orders. No matter what part of the project we’re talking about though, Alex gives this advice: documentation is key. Using programs like Buildertrend can make a big difference. Sure, Alex has still had customers that use project management software, but their cases have definitely turned out better than cases without documentation.

One example that might make you cringe? A client of Alex’s had his entire case on his phone (this was a million-dollar case, by the way). “Don’t worry, I’ve got all the instructions via text message and I’ve saved everything in pictures on my phone,” his client assured him. When Alex met with his client and started scrolling through his phone to show me everything, he realized that it was all deleted automatically off his phone after 6 months. With everything deleted off his phone, there was nothing left of this case. It’s obvious that this is no way to be running a small, medium or large-sized construction company.

When it comes to staying out of trouble, Alex’s advice is to start with reviewing the plans and specifications very carefully, and managing the expectations of whoever you’re hiring. Don’t just focus on what’s in your scope, but spend time putting in exclusions or exceptions in your scope of work. It’s time to stop worrying about offending someone or losing a job, and it’s time to start putting yourself and your business first. At the very least, it’ll start a conversation before a project starts, rather than a tougher conversation at the end.

And if you want more advice from Alex and his team, check out their podcast!

“Though we have a lawyer on this episode, the conversation is for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. Please contact an attorney in your jurisdiction for advice on any particular issue or problem.”

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