Not legal problems, just problems
Vice President and General Counsel Barry Lubow recalls a quote from Harvard law professor, David Wilkins, that describes the relationship between businesses and their attorneys. Roughly paraphrased, it goes: Businesses don’t have legal problems, they just have problem—problems—the legal part of which they’d like removed as quickly as possible.
In other words, Lubow says, business owners aren’t interested in complex legal analyses; they want practical solutions.
For Lubow, the business is engineering, architectural and surveying firm DLZ Corporation. The Columbus, Ohio-based firm, which was founded by CEO Vikram Rajadhyaksha in 1989, has grown from two people to a staff of 600, with 21 offices in seven states throughout the Midwest.
In 2016, DLZ’s Indiana subsidiary celebrated its centennial, and its Ohio subsidiary was recognized by Columbus Business First for winning four of the eight largest engineering contracts in central Ohio. To cap the year off, the entire firm was selected as Engineering News Record Midwest’s Design Firm of the Year.
Lubow believes DLZ has won these accolades by encouraging close connections between all departments and employees. The proof is in how his business compatriots have welcomed him with open arms.
“From senior management on down … our environment allows our people to focus on supporting each other and client service,” he says.
Code of ethics
Lubow oversees a three-person legal team that, in addition to doing most litigation in house, negotiates contracts and provides advice on a host of issues encompassing business, employment and regulatory compliance. The legal department also works closely with several outside consultants and legal counsel that Lubow describes as “an invaluable part of our team.”
Lubow’s team helps DLZ’s clients and employees find solutions that are quick and cost effective, but that maintain the integrity of the firm’s plans. This is especially important in a field where employees need to follow stringent guidelines to protect the licenses that let them work in Ohio.
Occasionally, a DLZ client can’t quite afford the project it is proposing and may ask the firm to design a stripped-down version that threatens its integrity or safety. Rather than tell the client what it wants to hear, the legal team will explain that there’s simply no way to create a design that is safe, sturdy and within the client’s budget.
“Some people want to pay for a Yugo,” Lubow says. “But when the project barely meets code or doesn’t meet all their needs down the road, they’ll ask why they didn’t get the Maserati.”
To keep or not to keep
The legal team is currently working to improve the firm’s document retention policy for completed projects—deciding which records to keep, how long they should be kept, either electronically or on paper, and which to destroy. Unlike high-stakes litigation or contract negotiations, document retention isn’t the flashiest part of corporate counsel’s duties, but can make or break a case.
Lubow says that DLZ routinely receives subpoenas to produce all documents it has regarding past projects, some of which can go back 20 years or more. When that happens, DLZ may be obligated to search for, review and produce every electronic file, piece of paper and email it has on the subject—which can be difficult, time-consuming and expensive. The burden can be reduced substantially with a good document retention/elimination policy, Lubow says.
Not designing widgets
After spending nearly two decades with DLZ, Lubow says one of his favorite parts of the job is learning about the technical aspects of projects.
The firm’s design workload is an encyclopedia of infrastructure: bridges, roads, roundabouts, sewers, tunnels, prisons, schools and just about anything else that looks big and complex.
Currently, construction is finishing up on a project DLZ designed—the Olentangy Scioto Interceptor Sewer Augmentation and Relief Sewer (OARS) in Columbus. Contractors bored a tunnel 20-feet in diameter, 170 feet deep and 4.5 miles long through bedrock under downtown Columbus. It took three years, but the specialized tunnel drilling machine finished chewing through the rock on September 4, 2015.
Also in 2015, DLZ finished designing the largest construction project to ever take place in the city of Akron—the Ohio Canal Interceptor Tunnel. The $185 million, 27-foot diameter tunnel, which will prevent harmful sewer runoff into the Cuyahoga River and Lake Erie, will require boring through 6,200 feet of bedrock.
In each case, Lubow and his team have needed to understand and evaluate often obscure project specifications. Sometimes that requires learning “more than I ever cared to know” about bridge tiebacks, paint inspection requirements or the nuances of soil composition and permeability.
“Sometimes you have to learn about the technical side to understand the legal implications,” Lubow says. “This isn’t widgets we’re designing here, and I like that.”
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