While commercial construction has slowed during the recession, a handful of Wisconsin real estate and environmental law attorneys are preparing for a turnaround in the building industry.
At least four lawyers in the state have completed the Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design Accredited Professional program, which allows them to effectively advise clients planning to “build green.”
“As an attorney, I want to be able to speak the language of my clients who are pursuing LEED certification of their structures,” said commercial real estate attorney Brian D. Anderson of Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek SC, in Madison.
Several factors, including water and energy efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions, are measured to determine whether a building qualifies for LEED certification.
Though Anderson said his 2007 accreditation alone has not attracted new clients, it has allowed him maintain relationships with those who are exploring eco-friendly building.
In addition, in several cases he has blended aspects of LEED into building contracts to help clients take advantage of government incentives and tax breaks.
Real estate attorney Matthew D. Fortney said he expects more of those opportunities, and LEED accreditation allows attorneys to be “out in front” of the practice.
The cost of the exam is $350. Fortney completed his accreditation at the end of June.
“When you talk about tax credits, there are real dollars on the line here,” said Fortney, of Quarles & Brady LLP.
“I think all signs point to an increase in LEED certified building.”
But attorney James H. Gormley said that most clients do not yet demand that lawyers be accredited.
“It’s new enough that I think clients may not even know lawyers should be looking at documents that speak to the certification process,” said Gormley, of Foley & Lardner LLP.
Gormley earned his credentials on June 30. Much of his practice deals with drafting construction contracts, and he expects designers and contractors will play a big role in making sure building owners get LEED certification.
“In order to do that from the legal side, you need to make sure contracts spell out what needs to be done,” he said.
Environmental lawyer Benjamin P. Sykes also practices at Foley & Lardner. He said that all levels of government are employing “carrot and stick” approaches to encourage green building.
For example, Chicago recently implemented a Green Permit Program, which allows the city to expedite permits and waive fees for certain green buildings, including those that are pursuing LEED certification.
“As these incentives and regulations grow more complex, developers and others will benefit from the legal advice attorneys will be able to provide,” said Sykes, who became a LEED Accredited Professional in May.
New rules from the United States Green Building Council requiring owners to provide energy and water usage data, could lead to litigation over LEED issues, noted Anderson.
If publicly or privately financed projects thought to be LEED certified violate energy and water usage limits, suits could result.
Said Anderson: “That could give rise to a cause of action.”