Ian Strathdee talks to James Hughes about setting up Mackenzie Partnership's contract consultancy
You have just started your job at construction consultant MacKenzie Partnership heading their contracts consultancy and dispute resolution arm. What does the job entail?

On the contracts side, the clients of the Mackenzie Partnership – which does work for most areas of the industry – come to me with contracts they are about to enter into to let me look at them. Alternatively, they have already signed a contract, think they've got problems and need advice. On the other side, if the client has a dispute, I advise them on how best to resolve it through litigation, arbitration, adjudication, mediation or negotiation.

You were originally a quantity surveyor for 18 years before moving into the legal side. Why did you switch?

I think I had a received idea, which I must have picked up when I was a child, that surveyors spent most of their time outdoors on construction sites – but I ended up spending my time in the office, so I think that was one of the main reasons.

But also, when Roger Knowles, the owner of my previous employer, consultant James R Knowles, offered me the chance to move into dispute resolution, I liked what I saw. Then I sat the exams and became an arbitrator and, earlier this year, I joined the MacKenzie Partnership. I still think I made the right decision.

Your job can sometimes involve acting as an expert witness in court. What is that like?

Well, to be fair, only about 5% of cases ever make it to court, most are settled out of court. But it is exciting. You have to be careful, alert and truthful – and if the judge comments on your evidence and says he preferred it to that of the other experts, it is the best you can hope for.

What is the worst part of your job?

Sometimes, disputes can go on and on. It usually gets prolonged over silly procedural arguments.

It has been helped by recent legislation but it still happens. There is one going on at the moment that I'm involved in and that has been going on for 13 years – and doesn't look like it will finish soon. But it is very rewarding to get a settlement for someone or to give a decision whereby both parties are reasonably happy.

What advice would you give to someone wanting to start a career in dispute resolution?

Either do a law degree or get trained by the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators – and make sure you work for both contractors and employees when you start. You can be anything from an architect to an engineer and it is not difficult to switch late in your career.

Personal details

Bearsden, Glasgow
Current job
Heads Mackenzie Partnership’s dispute resolution service
history Started as apprentice QS in 1965 and worked his way up to chief QS in 1982, before moving to dispute consultant James R Knowles as associate. In 1987, he was promoted to executive director of James R Knowles. He left to join MacKenzie Partnership in 2003
Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the RICS
Golf and curling