So, let me wish you a very happy new year's eve today. How come? This is the eve of all eves. It's the eve of the third millennium. All year will be new year's eve. And this year is the best time ever to sweep out the old and welcome in the new. It's no good thinking about all this once we get into the year 2000. Let's start now.
So, what shall we sweep out? Start, I beg you, with some lawyers. Some, I said. Get rid of those who stand in the way of good building.
First to go are lawyers who persuade clients to transfer all the building risks on to the shoulders of the contractor. They compile Humpty Dumpty homemade contract documents that safeguard customers from any event, anytime, anywhere – even if the cause of the loss is the customer himself.
These lawyers know nothing about good building. They comfort themselves that contractors sign up and take the risk. They're wrong. The contractor sub-lets the risks. Contractors don't take on daft risks. Yes, yes, they take on the contract, but then they get their buying departments to find subcontractors to take on the risks. The good subcontractors won't take the risks, either. So the work goes to the half-baked end of the game, to the lads who are good putter-uppers but who don't know one end of a contract document from the other.
The lawyer who coaxes the customer into using a cobbled-together main contract is a very proud idiot who knows nowt about good building. He dumps his client in the hands of folk quite incompetent to take the risks.
And let me add this, the subbie who is screwed and screwed some more does a rotten job, and the client won't even know how bad the work is until something warps, bends, smells or falls.
The lawyer who coaxes the customer into using a cobbled-together main contract is a very proud idiot
Transfer too much risk in construction and you stand in the way of good building. Get rid of those lawyers. Sweep them out, along with their homemade documentation.
Next, get rid of lawyers who get in the way of good building by telling their clients not to pay. They don't care if the money for all those alterations is due or not – these awful lawyers simply say "don't pay". The idea is to drive the contractor as near to insolvency as possible.
Trouble is, the contractor stops paying his subcontractors and suppliers and the subcontractor can't afford to press on with his other contracts. He cuts corners and probably does a rotten job elsewhere, but the lawyer who stopped the money all the way back up the line is the proud idiot playing cash-flow games. Sweep them out.
Next, get rid of lawyers who tell their clients to write oodles of contractual letters: "I hereby give you due notice under clause 22.214.171.124.3 that the smoke goes up the chimney just the same." And then the bloke on the other side, whether architect, engineer, surveyor or contractor, has to reply. And then comes the reply to the reply. It never stops. But we all know that the bloody smoke goes up the chimney. No, says the lawyer, convert it into writing. So you get confirmations of verbal instruction, requests for information and more because you must convert it all into writing. The best brains aren't building buildings; they're building Lever-arch files.
And finally, get rid of lawyers who tell their clients they have the right to make claims for this, that or the other. This has become so popular a pastime that contractors opt to price low at bid stage and use the lawyers to compile all sorts of compensation documents. Stop it. You will never, even if you go on for another thousand years, make money out of claims. What's more, you will never build well without respectable overheads and profit margins. You are there for profit and for good building.
Tony Bingham is a barrister and arbitrator specialising in construction.