”More fun for us. Bigger savings for the client,” says partner Geir Frøholm.
”This is an era of major construction projects in Norway,” says Geir Frøholm, partner and head of the construction and infrastructure group at SANDS.
Frøholm sits in a grand meeting room on the top floor of SANDS’ new headquarters in the centre of Oslo. He has a direct view of the new National Museum of Arts construction site, a monumental project he has been consulting from the very beginning.
”The projects out there are becoming much larger, the contracts far more complex. What is unique about SANDS’ approach is that we don’t just come on board when conflict arises. Rather, we attempt to ”solve” the project legally speaking from the get-go. We tailor contracts early to save the client time, money and conflict later.”
Lawyers on the site. Geir Frøholm is developing one of Norway’s premier and largest groups for contruction law. He joined SANDS after nearly two decades participating in developing similar group at Schjødt. He has hired people with a keen interest in the construction business.
Everyone get their own construction helmet. ”That helmet is an important symbol,” Frøholm explains. ”A good construction lawyer’s very simple guiding rule is to avoid for one client what the other has had to go through. That kind of experience can only be garnered by people on the front line. Even my own practice of law is becoming increasingly hands-on: We provide all our lawyers with construction helmets and and send them into the field, rather than have them write another letter. Because that is where true understanding for construction is forged.”
We are in the middle of Norway’s financial heyday. We are constructing buildings and laying out infrastructure that we will see for centuries. Public spending on construction has exploded. At the same time, the size and scope of the contracts is ballooning. Billion euro projects where entrepeneurs are invited in from the planning phase are not unusual. These are the contracts SANDS are working on.
”SANDS has been part of most of the big Public Private Projects in roads and public service buildings like schools and nursing homes. We have also been part of many large projects in railway, sewage, residential projects and signal projects. If you’re to offer your clients the best service the market has to offer, you need to have the volume and the quality nescessary to handle the construction porcess from start to finish,” Frøholm says. ”And that requires oversight.”
The art of conflict resolution. Traditionally, construction law has been dominated by litigation lawyers. They normally enter the fray when conflict has already arisen. SANDS offers extremely competent assistance in litigation, but pulls away from the rest of the field due to its hard focus on solving problems before they erupt. Frøholm has recently expressed scepticism at the legal industry’s willingness to incur conflict and bill hours:
”I have voiced my scepticism because so much of the criticism of our profession hovers around our high costs and focus on conflict rather than conflict resolution. The Norwegian Bar Association wishes to build conflict resolution as a field of its own, in order to solve conflicts before internal and external costs explode,” Frøholm says.
Frøholm is building a legal group to be perceived as experts of alternative dispute resolution.
”SANDS declared vision is to build long-term relationships with clients by being involved in the entire contruction process. We shall make money, but primarily by building intellectual capital in a proactive work environment where you can take your legal challenges to your colleague next door to achieve the best results and make a fifteen minute phone call to the client without invoicing it afterwards,” he says.
In Frøholm’s experience, the earlier involved, the more smoothly things run later.
”Today, the large entrepeneurs move in with their consultant already in the regulation phase. They stay on board through the tenders, the project planning, the building and the completion. SANDS assists in all these sequences. Coming in this early gives us the knowledge we need to guide the projects by all the potential pitfalls.”
More participation = increased responsibility. As SANDS is part of the whole project run, the law firm also has to accept greater responsibility. This means that they need to be accomplished at adjoining legal areas as well:
"It is up to us to raise these perspectives for the client. At SANDS, therefore, public tender expertise lies under us in the construction law department. I, myself has many years of exerience in building and contruction law. What happens, for instance, if a school’s ventilation requirements have been broken? And in Norway, HSE is of great importance to authorities. At SANDS, we are good at this stuff."
Being there. SANDS takes pride in its local presence. The firm has branches in all the biggest Norwegian cities.
"Our strong local precense is unique and one of our greatest attributes. We know the municipalities ond we get under the skin of the people who make projects move. We cultivate a vast network with enormous amounts of relevant experience. If someone wants to build in Ålesund, we will know the local ground conditions. We’ll know the building authorities and whether there are prior conflicts worth noting. Being there instills trust with the authorities."
The International Desk. To an international company, entering the Norwegian market can be challenging. Our regional knowledge combined with our holistic approach to the cnstruction projects has positioned SANDS to be of help to international clients.
”We have developed a service where we guide our clients throught the entire process andI have a long career behind me with international work,” Frøholm says.
His advice to international clients is the same as to everyone else: ”Throw on a whole bunch of coal in the beginning and you won’t have to freeze in the future.”