Risk management best serves design professionals when it’s put in place prior to the acquisition of risk. Not damage control strategies, but damage avoidance strategies. In the case of design-build projects–arguably some of the riskiest in the business–this preemptive management of risk should include a number of questions asked by all parties involved. Among those questions: How should the design-build project be structured?
At Victor O. Schinnerer’s most recent Annual Meeting of Invited Attorneys, Jonathan C. Shoemaker, of the Lee & McShane law firm, answered this question and others based on his own research “on the contractual and professional risks of participants in design-build projects.”
According to Shoemaker, there are many ways “to structure design-build teams, including teaming agreements, joint ventures, partnerships, and newly-formed companies owned by the design-build team.” The following is an excerpt from a post on the Schinnerer website:
[Shoemaker] defines the organization of a design-build team as either a vertical relationship (e.g., a traditional prime contractor/subcontractor organization) or a horizontal relationship. And he points out that the vast majority of design-build teams are contractor-led, with the design firm serving as a subcontractor to the contractor.
According to Shoemaker, a horizontally structured relationship is where a contractor and a design firm come together to form a joint venture, a partnership, or a new company to provide fully integrated design-build services. He defines the most common horizontal structure, the joint venture, as “a business undertaking by two or more persons engaged in a single defined project.” A joint venture structure typically includes:
joint control over the joint venture’s decisions (as opposed to the prime contractor having control);
liability for the joint venture’s losses (as opposed to liability for only the design professional’s losses);
and profit sharing (as opposed to only the profit earned under the design agreement).
Shoemaker also examines the risks to the design professional on a design-build project and discusses how the risks vary depending on the design firm’s involvement.