Dee James and Nicolas Noyer trained as QSs before boosting their CVs with legal qualifications. They tell Buildig why...

Dee James trained as a QS at Davis Langdon and worked for Gardiner & Theobald before retraining as a solicitor with Finers Stephens Innocent and qualifying in 2006.

Dee James

I have always been interested in law and had been lucky in having a lot of exposure to the legal side of construction from the time I started my career at Davis Langdon & Everest (as was), as a graduate, to leaving Gardiner & Theobald, as a senior associate. My experience includes drafting, negotiating and implementing construction contracts, associated agreements and professionals’ appointments, evaluating claims and dispute resolution consultancy. Transferring from construction to law was a natural progression.

I studied for the Postgraduate Diploma in Law and the Legal Practice Course (LPC) part-time, two nights a week, at the College of Law in London. Each course was of two years duration. Having completed the LPC I undertook a training contract with Finers Stephens Innocent (FSI) where I qualified into commercial litigation specialising in construction in 2006.

For my first seat FSI intentionally placed me in non-contentious property working on large development deals, and PFI projects, which was close to my surveying experience, to afford the smoothest transition. Other seats were in property litigation, company commercial and commercial litigation. General commercial skills are definitely transferable. Having first-hand industry experience assists in understanding the clients’ business issues, affords an appreciation of construction contracts and understanding potential pitfalls. Understanding the roles and responsibilities of construction professionals is invaluable. Being able to ‘speak the same language’ as clients, witnesses and experts helps in building rapport and eliciting and analysing information.

My advice to anyone considering changing from construction to law is to prepare both financially and psychologically, as much as possible, and speak to people who have made the transition. Studying for the courses part-time involves lectures, generally two nights a week, private study and writing assignments, which is time-consuming.

Personally, the pressure on the courses increased concurrently with pressure and responsibility at work. The competition for training contracts, and subsequent jobs, is fierce and financially the salary drop from construction to a trainee could be significant. I am not sure anything can really prepare someone for the ‘culture shock’ in the drop in position and responsibility when changing from a senior position in construction to a trainee solicitor, although the level of responsibility and type of work varies between the training seats and between firms.

All that said, I am pleased I made the change and enjoy work combining construction and law.

Nicolas Noyer trained as a QS before boosting his CV with some legal qualifications. He now works as a senior consultant specialising in disputes and dispute avoidance for construction claims and project management specialist Hill International.

Nicolas Noyer

When I started on a construction site as a trainee QS in 1996, little did we know how the Construction Act would revolutionise the profession. Claims and payments that were traditionally swept under the site cabin carpet by the project QSs were now served up along with the threat of a new procedure called adjudication. And with it came the scary thought of legal enforcements. By the time the first enforcement cases reached the courts in 2000, it became apparent that, if I were to survive, I would have to get up to speed with the ever growing importance of the legal system on the profession. This is something that has become even more pronounced in the recession.

Having graduated with a degree in Building Economics from France and a degree in Building Management from the University of Central Lancashire, my options were pretty open but I chose to broaden my knowledge of construction and the law with a Masters of Construction Law with University College London. This sort of course is not for the faint hearted. It requires commitment and personal sacrifices, and it takes a very kind and flexible employer. This course was long distance studying, so there was no need to attend lectures (apart from two weekend seminars in Paris). All the coursework and assignments were done online which is also a reason I chose this course. You can do it at your own pace so it took me five years to complete but some of my classmates did it in two-and-a-half years.

However, you will need to have a passion for law to make it work. The cost varies depending on the course provider and the type of course you take, but it could be around £5,000. You will be giving up a lot of spare time, and taking holidays from work in order to study rather than lie on a beach somewhere. Support from your family, friends and employer are absolutely vital.

You also need to be willing to give up family events and juggle the pressures of work and clients against assignments and exam deadlines. Of course clients come first, which may necessitate you having to work late into the night and still be at your desk at 9am the next day. And finally, it sounds unimportant but learn to type! This will make your assignments and studies much faster to complete.

Having said all that, I would definitely recommend anybody in the profession to consider commencing study for a legal qualification. Although the hard work I had to put in had a profound effect on the appearance of my house and garden, within a few months my professional expertise was transformed and not only did my projects started to run a lot smoother, but I could soon hold my ground against solicitors and contractors. At the same time, my professional development was also dramatically enhanced and I found myself rapidly being promoted from QS to senior QS to commercial manager in charge of budgets worth millions of pounds.