23 January 2013

Law and Plumbing

Upper division law school courses are notorious for "law and" course.  Law and economics.  Law and sports.  Law and feminism.  Law and religion.

One course that I have never seen a law school offer is "law and plumbing."  This mostly reflects the lack real world experience practicing law on the part of law professors, and also the serious deficit of plumbing knowledge on most law faculties.

You think I jest.  But, honestly, after law and economics, law and plumbing probably runs a close second in relevance to a practice like mine which is built around serving upper middle class and affluent individuals, and small and medium sized business.

I probably have at least one or two matters a year, probably at least two or three a year on average, that present law and plumbing issues.  In contrast, for example, law and religion comes up in my practice only once every several years.  Law and plumbing  issues are just a bit more common than law and medicine issues.

Plumbing disclosures are a mandatory part of every residential real estate transaction.  Sometimes there are construction defect questions.  Sometimes there are disputed between neighbors that implicate the laws of easements or condominium law.  Sometimes they present as water law issues.  Sometimes they come up as landlord-tenant disputes (not necessarily small ones, commercial property owners have these issues as well).  Not infrequently, they involve questions of governmental liability, insurance coverage (when is a plumbing issues a "flood" that is not covered, and when it is an accidental casualty that is covered), and licensing law.  They come up in divorces, foreclosures, real estate development and estate planning cases, since plumbing issues go to the valuation of property (particular in determining development value of vacant or only partially developed land) and generate expenses that must be allocated to the right people.  They can come up in tort liability cases in a variety of ways.  They can come up in quasi-criminal ordinance violation cases.  They come up in oil and gas law contexts.

Lawyers can also relate to the business model of plumbers.  They are selling services, have a fairly low overhead, and struggle with issues related to the value associated with the time they must spend to get something done and the value associated with their expertise. Plumbers have analogs to transactional practice (new construction and renovation work), and also analogs to litigation practice (when things break in someone's home or business).  Plumbers charge for their services on a time and materials basis, although there is some experimentation with alternative billing structures, and sometimes charge hourly rates similar to ours.  Plumbers face marketing issues similar to lawyers, and are still fairly decentralized outside "big transactions" (like installing new plumbing for large new developments and major commercial buildings).  Plumbers, like lawyers, are licensed by the state and sometimes serve as expert witnesses, but mostly help clients meet their personal needs.  Both lawyers and plumbers need to have a certain amount of slack in their schedules, because new client emergencies that require prompt and intensive and time consuming provision of services come up all the time.

The range of legal issues and plumbing issues involved is quite diffuse, but these problems do suffer from the core element of any multi-disciplinary enterprise.  One needs a high level of expertise in lots of different kinds of legal and plumbing knowledge to adroitly and efficiently handle these issues, and not a whole lot of people have all of the relevant skill sets.


No comments: