Features

Arran Lal – Fluor Canada Limited, an affiliate of Fluor Corporation

Bridging business and legal expertise for international project

On special occasions where presents are given, lawyers probably ask for and receive tools of the trade—suits, dress shirts, fancy shoes and ties. Arran Lal has different items on his wish list.

“I have a muddy vehicle, hard hat, and usually filthy safety boots,” says Lal. “I work in a trailer at construction sites.”

Arran Lal | Chief Project Counsel | Fluor Canada Limited, an affiliate of Fluor Corporation | Photo Credit: Nathalie M Photography

Arran Lal | Chief Project Counsel | Fluor Canada Limited, an affiliate of Fluor Corporation | Photo Credit: Nathalie M Photography

Lal is the chief project counsel for Fluor Canada Limited, a multinational engineering and construction firm currently working on the Gordie Howe International Bridge, which will provide a new link between Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario, when it is completed. It will also become one of the five longest bridges in North America, a feat nearly 20 years in the making.

The bridge project is a public-private partnership with a multitude of stakeholders, including federal and local governments in two countries.

“I deal with complex situations in two countries at the project site that one would not normally be exposed to in-house,” Lal says. “Being a lawyer embedded at the site of a major project adds a new dimension to a lawyers’ personal growth and experience.”

Two countries, countless legal matters

While there have been hundreds of lawyers involved in the project, Lal is the lawyer charged with managing on-site, day-to-day design and construction legal matters. The contract for the project was awarded to Fluor and its partners in September 2018, and when the pandemic hit in March 2020, the construction work had to be adapted quickly even though the construction was declared essential work.

“There are dozens of stakeholders, including the municipal, state/provincial and federal governments of the U.S. and Canada, the bridge authority, departments of transportation, federal and local agencies, law enforcement, and of course the public. Not all the work being done comes without issues,” Lal says.

The $4.4 billion bridge project includes over 600 subcontractors and consultants working on both sides of the border, Lal says. New and varied issues arise daily, including supply chain and other challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, and there are agreements with suppliers for steel, concrete and other construction materials. Also, because the bridge meets in the middle of the U.S./Canadian border spanning the Detroit River, design and construction standards must meet the requirements of both the U.S. and Canada.

“Because of the myriad of legal and commercial risks associated with an international construction project of this magnitude, an on-site lawyer is a necessity to manage risk,” Lal says. “It’s crucial to have someone there with both business-minded legal expertise and extensive engineering and construction knowledge who can provide real-time practical solutions.”

Arran Lal | Chief Project Counsel | Fluor Canada Limited, an affiliate of Fluor Corporation | Photo Credit: Nathalie M Photography

Photo Credit: Nathalie M Photography

He spends a lot of time working with the project team managing engineering and construction issues, government client communications, stakeholders including the community, managing legal issues with subcontractors, handling labor and employment matters, land use and environmental issues and generally using his legal and business skills toward completing the project successfully.

“The government entities involved require a lot of information on safety, quality and hiring, and other parts of the project,” Lal says. “We’re always being audited.”

Building a better bridge

Currently, international travelers go through a tunnel using one lane in each direction or trucks must traverse the rickety, nearly 100-year-old Ambassador Bridge, that was the subject of recent blockades and protests. Both passages create delays to the international flow of goods and people, and the crossing can take more than two hours on busy days.

The Gordie Howe International Bridge, named after the hockey legend who played 25 seasons for the Detroit Red Wings and is the only player in history to play into his 50s, will have six lanes of traffic, a bicycle lane and a walking path. It will connect the two countries by linking Interstate 75, Interstate 94 and Interstate 96—all in Michigan—with Highway 401 in Ontario.

On the Canadian side, a new port of entry will be built on a 130-acre site and will be the largest Canadian port on the U.S.-Canadian border. The U.S. Port of Entry will be constructed on a 167-acre site and will be one of the largest border facilities in North America.

“It’s particularly satisfying and a source of pride to be able to use all of my business and legal expertise on such an engineering landmark,” Lal says.

But he wouldn’t have had this opportunity had he made a different choice in college.

Business background and legal skills

Lal says he took university courses that pointed toward a career in medicine. But he realized he was more interested in business. So, after graduating from the University of Toronto, Lal opened a restaurant and nightclub—it wasn’t successful, but he learned everything about business, managing people and finances, understanding cashflow and how to deal with failure.

“I was interacting with a lot of successful businesspeople and also developed respect for lawyers, especially ones with a business mind and an eye on making money,” Lal says.

A lot of his friends were lawyers or in law school, so Lal returned to England and studied maritime law at the University of Southampton. After working for a few years with the Ministry of Transportation in Ontario, Lal thought his business knowledge was incomplete, so he went back to school and earned an MBA from Schulich School of Business at York University.

Arran Lal | Chief Project Counsel | Fluor Canada Limited, an affiliate of Fluor Corporation | Photo Credit: Nathalie M Photography

Photo Credit: Nathalie M Photography

From there, Lal joined the contracts group of Bombardier Aerospace for four years working on international deals with airlines for jets, turboprops, spare parts and pilot training. He says it was rewarding work at the time, but the travel was challenging, and he sought experience in major infrastructure.

After that, he spent nearly seven years as acting business director, in-house counsel and commercial contracts manager for Atomic Energy of Canada, where he traveled the world again managing contracts for power plant refurbishments and other nuclear power-related goods and services. That included him working at construction sites in the Canadian Maritimes and Korea.

He then joined SNC-Lavalin working on even larger major engineering and construction infrastructure projects as its vice president of legal affairs for more than seven years. Lal joined Fluor in his current role in January 2019.

“Boots on the ground as a lawyer on a massive construction project like this is an opportunity that doesn’t come around for lawyers often. You can hone your legal skills at a law firm or as in-house counsel, but there is no replacement for actual on-site construction experience,” Lal says.

View this feature in the Vanguard Spring II 2023 Edition here.

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