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05 August 2019

Should you engage a construction lawyer?

The fact that you're reading this suggests that the answer could be yes. But before making a decision either way, there are a number of factors you need to consider, including cost.

First question: do you need a lawyer?

There's a difference between needing a lawyer and being willing and able to pay for one. There are lots of people who could really do with legal advice, but who are unwilling or unable to pay for it. (This article assumes that you are able, but possibly undecided as to whether you are willing.)

To work out whether you need a lawyer, you should ask yourself this: in an ideal world, and putting aside the question of cost, could a construction lawyer help?

To answer this question, you first need to understand what it is that construction lawyers do. If you're unsure, you might find either of the following articles helpful:

It is only once you understand what construction lawyers do, that you should start focusing your attention on cost.

Next question: Regardless of whether you need a lawyer, are you willing to pay for one?

Let's start by stating the obvious: Lawyers are expensive. 

But knowing that lawyers are expensive won't help you in answering this question.

For any given issue, you really need to know two things:

  1. What will it cost to engage a lawyer?
  2. What could it cost if I don't engage a lawyer?

In some cases, the answers to these questions might be easy.

For example, if someone commences spurious court action against you for a significant amount of money, you would expect the cost of engaging a lawyer to be less than the cost of losing the case. In this instance, you would engage a lawyer.

But there will be situations where the answer is less clear-cut. For example, where you are thinking about engaging a lawyer to review a contract, to advise on a project issue that might (but might not) evolve into a dispute, deliver some training, advise on your standard form documents or help implement or review your systems. (In this article here, Turtons' principal, Greg Henry talks about mandatory and discretionary legal spend, and how to get the best value for money.)

And there will also be plenty of situations where the only way you will be able to answer the two questions above will be by speaking to a lawyer. And no, this conundrum is not unique to the legal profession. The same problem arises in relation to any type of service, particularly where preventative checks or maintenance is concerned. (Think about the potential cost of not speaking with a doctor, engineer, mechanic, plumber, etc.)

You will face a lot of situations in life where the potential cost of not engaging a professional significantly outweighs the cost of their service.

People engage lawyers when they feel the cost of the service is less than the value of the risk associated with the alternative. 

People who don't engage lawyers do so because:

  • they are confident that the cost of the service will outweigh the potential risk of the alternative;
  • they genuinely cannot afford it; or
  • in the overwhelming majority of cases, they have just not considered the issues. That is, they have not properly thought about, or received advice on, what could happen if something goes wrong. 

You will find articles online that explain the cost of certain types of legal services. For example, we have published an article about what lawyers will charge to review a construction contract here.  But you're unlikely to get a reliable indication of cost from any lawyer until you have explained to them your particular circumstances. 

If you form the view that you should speak to a lawyer, even if that is just to make some initial enquiries about costs and risks, you then need to decide which lawyer (or law firm) you are going to talk to.

Final question: If you are willing to engage a lawyer, which lawyer (or law firm) should you choose?

Finding the right lawyer is all about finding a good fit.

That is, to find the right lawyer for you, you need to find a lawyer who has the right type of knowledge, who has an appropriate depth and spread of expertise, who has capacity to do your work when you need it and who is a good fit for your organisation. (I explain more about the importance of fit here.)

Most of the time, this exercise becomes a process of elimination. And you may be surprised to discover that, despite the large number of lawyers in Australia, it won't take you long to boil down your choices.

I can help with this process by giving you some general information about our firm, Turtons. This information that might rule us in, but equally it might also rule us out. For example:

  • We act on matters across Australia, and on international matters with an Australian connection. We're based in Sydney.
  • We have specialised knowledge in the construction and technology sectors.  
  • We typically do not act on projects worth less than $5 million. We do not advise on domestic contracts (eg home building issues).
  • We are a small firm. We are able to deal with most of the queries we receive ourselves. But there are occasions where we need to refer our clients to others (and we have extensive networks that allow us to do this). 
  • People who like working with us are people who are looking to develop a long term relationship with a trusted advisor, who like working with the same individuals on different matters, and who are looking for clear, practical, commercial advice. 

You will find a lot more information about us on this website.

If any of this information rules us out, this means that you've already begun the process of narrowing your options and you are hopefully a step closer to finding your solution.

Conversely, if you think you might be looking for a lawyer and you feel that we might be a fit, we'd love to hear from you. 

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About the Author

Morgan McIntosh | Associate

Morgan is a commercial lawyer whose practice is mainly focused on transactional matters in the construction space.

morgan.mcintosh@turtons.com | (02) 9229 2901

About Turtons

Turtons is a commercial law firm in Sydney with specialist expertise in privately owned construction and technology businesses.

Morgan McIntosh | Associate


Morgan McIntosh | Associate


Morgan is a commercial lawyer whose practice is mainly focused on transactional matters in the construction space.

morgan.mcintosh@turtons.com | (02) 9229 2901

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