16 November 2018

Getting to know you: Sarah Wilson

Sarah joined Shulmans as Head of Construction in October 2018. She has over 20 years experience in the sector, advising in contentious and non-contentious matters for heavyweight projects on behalf of developers, contractors and consultants alike. Her expertise spans a range of sectors – including chemical works, energy, utilities, waste and house-building. 

Sarah has shared details of her new role and the services her team can offer as well as what brought her to the firm.

Sarah, what attracted you to join Shulmans?
It was definitely the culture – it was exactly what I had been looking for and is difficult to find in a law firm. Shulmans values everyone in the team; not only does this produce a great working environment, but a stable workforce that clients can rely upon. I think this is a great way to run a business, a great way to treat people and good for clients as well; everyone’s a winner!

What services does the Construction team offer?
We offer a cradle to grave service.

Jayne Caunce, Associate Solicitor, is a very experienced contracts lawyer. She has fantastic experience in setting up contracts for a huge variety of projects. We also have two solicitors who deal with disputes. Susannah Lee has worked on a number of multi-million pound disputes and I must say nothing seems to phase her. And last but not least, Maria Fert has built up a vast amount of experience dealing with adjudications and Court proceedings, as well as helping Jayne out.

So how do I fit in?
Well my experience is in disputes; mainly for developer, contractors, consultants and sub-contractors. As you would expect I have amassed a huge amount of experience of over 20 years. More recently, the focus has definitely shifted to adjudications and, for defects, court proceedings. I realised recently that the QCs I use to instruct are all now Judges and I think this is a sign of times (and possibly my age!) that I use Barristers less and less these days. I have also had some interesting experience in drafting and negotiating contracts. Whilst the norm still tends to be JCT, my experience is more in the industrial sector with IChemE, NEC, FIDIC and MF1 contracts.

So the best thing is that between the four of us we are a really good mix which I think makes for a great team.

So how can you help property developers?
At the start of a project, we can advise the most appropriate contract package for a particular project and how it should be procured. We can draft and negotiate the contract terms and provide associated training. We can also provide ad hoc support by reviewing contract terms and, again, provide associated training.

Throughout the life of the project issues inevitably arise and we can provide strategic advice, often behind the scenes, and ensure the contract terms are complied with. This protects our clients’ interests, in the event an issue becomes disputed later on.

Disputes are, unfortunately, a fact of life, particularly in the construction industry, where projects are highly technical and often very innovative. When a dispute does arise, we agree a strategy for dealing with it, with our client and provide straight forward advice as to prospects.  We deal with all methods of dispute resolution, including mediation, adjudication, court proceedings and arbitration.

What do you see as issues with might affect the Construction industry in 2019?
As always there are a number of issues and the solution isn’t a simple one!

I think the key issues are as follows:

  • Collaboration, the Grenfell disaster and Carillion – I think these three are important issues because the construction industry operates in a low budget and adversarial way, this is a toxic mix.
  • Payment issues – Again, this links back to Carillion. I think there is a need not only to re-evaluate how construction projects are carried out, but also to look at best value, rather than lowest price. This is not a new issue or new concept. Everyone seems to agree, but somehow it gets lost in translation in practice.
  • Skills shortage – I am hearing stories of vans pulling up on site and offering site staff more money to work on another site. This is a big problem for the construction industry, but a bigger opportunity for us as a nation to get people into jobs where they are well paid, have the satisfaction of achieving something tangible every day and being part of a team.

The construction industry gets a lot of bad press, but my experience is that people in construction are enthusiastic about what they do and want to do a good job.