Kim Franklin, who starts writing a weekly legal column for the aj this week, has no illusions about the level of legal knowledge within the construction industry. 'Most people are fascinated by the legal aspect but don't begin to understand it,' she said. 'Architects pull down their standard textbooks form university, and don't realise that things have moved on. Contractors copy out standard letters from books; they don't realise the letter is meant for the subcontractor, and send it to the client.'
The result is 'marvellous for us - people are always getting into trouble'. Franklin, qualified barrister, arbitrator and adjudicator, is an expert at sorting out those troubles, although her moves into both construction and law had a somewhat random quality. At the age of 11 she declared she wanted to be a magistrate but, when told that this was an unpaid job, 'said I wanted to be the one who stands up with a wig'. She was told that she couldn't be a barrister because it was very difficult - which just made her more determined.
She studied law at Warwick and temped in her holidays for solicitor Masons, a construction specialist. 'That's how I got into building work,' Franklin said. 'I had my foot in the door.' She ended up doing a building pupillage with Keating Chambers. Since 1989 she has been with Lamb Chambers as part of the property group, and does nothing but building law. She has recently qualified as an arbitrator and adjudicator and 'I have got the bit between my teeth about lay arbitrators. They don't serve the industry well. I am evangelical about getting them by the scruff of the neck and showing them how it should be done.'
The majority of Franklin's clients are contractors, although she does a certain amount of professional negligence work for architects and their insurers. She is joint editor of Construction Law Journal and has contributed to publications on the expert witness and the architect. She has been an active member of he Society of Construction Law, the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the forum for Construction Law Reform.
So what does she really think of the industry? 'Construction is a great business and a crazy way to make money,' she said. 'There is a lot of posturing, and shooting from the hip.' She doesn't believe that new forms of contract can change much either. 'None of the schemes to reduce litigation will work because objectives are so dramatically opposed. The employer wants a cheap building, the contractor wants to make a lot of money.' Kim Franklin's prospects look rosy.
See legal matters, page 57.