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people: celebrating an excellent try

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Wales' defeat of Argentina in the opening match of the Rugby World Cup last Friday was aided by lawyer Mike Jefferies - who sorted out the contracts for both the new stadium and the new coach by david fanning. photograph by gareth morgan

One of the happiest people in Cardiff's Millennium Stadium for last Friday's opening ceremony and inaugural game of the Rugby World Cup was 53-year-old lawyer Mike Jefferies. Head of the building and construction group at Cardiff solicitor Hugh James Ford Simey, Jefferies led the 10- strong legal team behind the development of the new stadium and was greatly relieved to see the project finish in time.

'The stadium has been built in two years when a project of this size would normally take four years to complete,' he says. 'It has been an incredible two years, working on such a major construction project right in the heart of a busy city centre.'

Not everything went smoothly, of course, and there have been well-publicised differences between the Welsh Rugby Union and its neighbour, Cardiff Rugby Club. These have necessitated delays and significant changes to hok-Lobb's original plans. Jefferies and his team were involved in the drafting of around 200 different contracts and spent more than 1,000 person-days on the job.

'The paperwork fills 100 box files, and we sent literally thousands of faxes and e-mails,' he says. 'But it's all worth it when you look at this new landmark for Wales.'

He is immensely proud of the team's achievements and says that the past two years have been 'one of the most exciting periods in my career'. The icing on the cake has been his recognition last week by the legal directory, Chambers Guide, as one of the uk's leading construction lawyers.

Jefferies set up his firm's construction-law department 20 years ago, having joined the firm in 1972 straight from University College, London. Now a partner, over the years he has been involved in much complex multi- party contract work and litigation. One of the most experienced uk construction lawyers, he is a member of a Salford University working party on adapting construction contracts to make them it-friendly.

In addition to the stadium project, his firm has also handled the major £200 million inward investment development for neg in Cardiff Bay. It has also been involved with the pfi scheme to build the Bute Avenue boulevard between the city centre and the waterfront.

The Millennium Stadium contracts were among the most complicated and time-sensitive he has handled.

'I have worked in the field of construction law for 25 years and the main aim is to ensure that there are no nasty surprises for your client as the project progresses,' he says. 'That's why it was so important to negotiate a guaranteed maximum-price contract with Laing.'

As Jefferies says, employers love the certainty offered by such contracts, but it is difficult to persuade contractors to accept them. Laing has reported losses of £30 million or more arising from the fixed-price contract; and the constructors are probably not among his greatest fans.

'The other big challenge,' Jefferies says, 'was the phasing of the land acquisition and demolition necessary to turn the stadium footprint around by 90 degrees. The timed release of land to Laing was critical to the project's success.'

While accepting a number of setbacks and disputes along the way, he regards those as relatively trivial. 'There are usually disputes with neighbours on such projects - but that appears to be water under the bridge.'

As if he didn't have enough on his plate with the stadium project, Jefferies was also involved in the frantic negotiations to bring Graham Henry from New Zealand to take over as national Welsh coach. 'That meant lots of conference calls in the middle of the night, dealing with lawyers in two different time zones. We were working flat out for ten days, so it was pretty intense, especially when the world's media were taking a keen interest in every move we made.'

His principal involvement with the project's architects was to secure collateral warranties, an exercise he says was one of the easier tasks. In that process, he was acting for the architect's client, but he highlights important areas for architects to consider when entering into such agreements.

'First of all, they must settle the terms and conditions of their engagement and make sure that their role is clearly defined,' he explained. 'On novation of a contract with the constructors, they must be careful about owing any continuing obligations to the original employer and avoid any actual or implicit guarantees that their design is capable of implementation within the guaranteed maximum price.'

He argues that architects also have a duty to satisfy themselves that contractors can realise their design and accomplish the necessary work. The stadium project had its fair share of what Jefferies describes as 'nail-biting moments', but he says that what won the day was that 'everyone involved on this project wanted it to happen'.

Over the past few years, he says, there has been an easing of tension within the construction and engineering industries. He says that there is now less conflict between employers and contractors - a development that can be attributed to the adoption of the New Engineering Contract formats and their amendments. Overall, Jefferies says he is extremely happy with the outcome of the Millennium Stadium project: 'I am delighted to see the whole thing finished on time and I regard the design as an outstanding achievement.' He is proud of the stadium's achievement in being the only major Lottery landmark project in the uk to stage a world- class event before the end of the year.

The last time Jefferies, who hails from Abergavenny, played rugby was at school, but he counts himself an eager Wales fan. His best moment before last Friday was, he says, 'sitting in the stadium watching Wales beat South Africa'. And he expects great things of the Wales team.

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