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Empty bridge conceptSchinnerer’s Annual Large Firm Conference Highlights

Keeping our policyholders informed about emerging risks is a priority for Schinnerer. In case you missed the announcement last month, we hosted our third annual Large Firm Conference in Denver to cover trends and best practices in the design and construction industry. Among the topics discussed were project delivery, succession planning, climate change, and cyber security. The presentations lead to discussions and ideas that were far from “business as usual” thinking and challenged all attendees to rethink their firm’s current state and re-imagine their futures. Highlights from the presentations are below.

Trend #1: Project Delivery

Integrated project delivery (IPD) is on the rise. While 15 years old, it is still considered the newest project delivery method in the industry and starting to gain traction. Unique features of IPD include shared risk and reward provisions as well as dispute resolution provisions that force participants to assume full responsibility for the services they provide instead of finger pointing. Not surprisingly, IPD has had a slow adoption rate because it involves a dramatic pivot from traditional delivery methods, such as design-bid-build, design-build, construction manager at-risk, and construction manager-agent. As completed IPD projects continue to mount, the astonishingly positive results are creating a stir.

Based on the research and experience of the presenters, they estimate that more than 500 projects have used IPD in a pure form; out of those 500+ projects, there might be a handful of associated claims with the aforementioned projects and change orders are extremely rare. After 15 years, these kinds of results behoove us as an industry to take note.

Presentations (access to all website resources is limited to current Schinnerer policyholders and brokers):

Trend #2: Succession Planning Challenges

Succession planning is a pervasive challenge in the industry. One reason posited for the constant challenge is the lens through which senior firm leaders view the issue. To examine the issue holistically, our presenters took a deep dive on the challenges from the perspective of emerging professionals. To be effective, the solutions must come face-to-face with honest, generational expectations. Three generations are at play throughout firms: 1) baby boomers, 2) gen x’ers, and 3) millennials. Each group sees things differently and each possesses different value-sets based on real facts, including vastly different economies and technological abilities that set up different expectations.

There is no one solution to succession planning. Shifting mindsets and many conversations will help bridge the chasm of communication. Firms that take this challenge seriously and inclusively will successfully move their practices forward.

Trend #3: Climate Change Impact

This session focused on new trends in the building sector of moving away from fossil fuel-sourced energy toward an “electrify everything” movement. The speaker discussed an innovative trend called “grid-interactive buildings,” which are green buildings that go beyond energy efficiency and clean sourcing from renewables or other clean technologies and also incorporate battery storage to solve for intermittent issues with solar and wind power. These buildings also use smart controls that enable utilities to manage energy flows that optimize the least carbon-intensive resources to mitigate climate change.

Trend #4: Cyber Attacks on the Rise

Speakers discussed the latest in cyber threats for design firms, including threats from state actors in the form of phishing and ransomware. Threats are at an all-time high and smaller and mid-sized firms are being targeted because of their vulnerable systems and processes. Best practices for managing and avoiding those threats were shared and discussed.

Annual Meeting of Invited Attorneys Highlights

Project Delivery

The 58th Annual Meeting of Invited Attorneys featured similar topics to the Large Firm Conference, including trends toward project delivery methods that mirror the “sharing economy,” such as public-private partnerships (P3s) and integrated project delivery (IPD). With P3s, structured public and private sector dollars optimize equity and debt capabilities and share the costs of planning, designing, and constructing physical public assets, (i.e., horizontal and vertical infrastructure). Through IPD, distributed risks and rewards happens through profit sharing structures. Regardless of the project delivery method, the trend is all about exploring new ways to collaborate, share responsibilities, and incentivize investment.

Marijuana Facilities

Presenters also discussed the risks associated with the design and construction of marijuana facilities. As design professionals or attorneys representing design firms that work for owners of these facilities (either growing facilities or retail operations), turning to legal guidance can be problematic because federal and state laws don’t agree on what’s legal and what’s not. Many states have legalized the marijuana industry and more states are moving in that direction. Meanwhile, the federal government maintains steadfastly against legalized marijuana. Navigating these projects can be tricky for both firms and their legal counsel.

Papers:

Climate Change

Climate change and the existential threat to the world’s resources and life on our planet has many scrambling to either mitigate the threat as soon as possible by lowering greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide and methane gas, or adapt to symptoms of climate change in the form of existing and changing severe weather patterns. The design and construction industry has incredible opportunities to help the world address both. The question that is top of mind for many design firms is whether the “opportunity” has become an “obligation” through a new standard of care. Similar to the regulatory landscape for marijuana, the answer isn’t clear and appears to be an evolutionary one that could change at any given moment if a court were to say so. A court of law has not clearly weighed in on obligations, but there are indications in historical case law that would lead one to believe that it’s only a matter of time.

Defending Claims

Beyond the topics above, there was a presentation on helping law firms advance their written communication skills to modern times with graphics and charts, videos, photos, and other technologically inspired means for communicating with fewer words. An in-depth claims study featured the back-and-forth process among the litigants involved with a difficult plaintiff.

You can find all of the presentations and papers on the above topics and more here.