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Challenges In Construction & Property – The QS/Quantum Expert’s Perspective

October 16, 2019 | Silver Shemmings

Several months ago, Silver Shemmings Ash LLP got in contact and asked me to attend an event they were hosting in July 2019 on Challenges in Construction and Property. Initially the proposed format would involve a number of construction and property professionals that would speak briefly about the challenges they saw in the industry today, and it was anticipated that I would be given 5-10 minutes to talk about what I saw as current and on-going challenges faced by Chartered Quantity Surveyors and quantum experts. The event was a great success although the format was changed meaning that it subsequently transpired that I was not required to speak. However, I had already prepared a few thoughts on that subject which now forms the basis of these articles which I address in two parts:

  1. From the perspective of a Chartered QS working and advising on live projects; and 
  2. From the perspective of a quantum expert when you’re in formal dispute resolution proceedings, whether adjudication, arbitration or litigation.

However I open this series of articles with a little bit of background as to who I am and how I got there.

From An Apprentice QS To A Testifying Quantum Expert – A  Journey

Firstly, it’s probably worth providing a bit of background as to how I have ended up working as a quantum expert in addition to my regular QS role as this is a question I am asked all the time, especially by those younger practitioners with several years of practical project-based experience and with an interest in law. As with most things in life, it came about as a result of a combination of hard work and a bit of luck.

I commenced an apprenticeship as a mechanical and electrical QS in London in 1999 for one of the leading M&E contractors at the time (Haden Young) before moving onto a competitor (Crown House) and a leading M&E QS consultancy after that (Quants Surveying Services).

In 2007 I upped sticks and moved to Dubai when it was booming; you could walk out of a job in the morning and into a new one that afternoon almost, it was surreal (a bit of luck). It was here that I first got involved in dispute resolution and boy was it an eye opener. Everything there was like Wembley Stadium i.e. miles over budget, massively delayed and disputes left, right and centre.

After 4 ½ years of claims consultancy work and getting involved in some of the biggest projects in the world, including nearly three years across two stints on the Burj Khalifa (as my friends would say, I do like to drop that one in from time to time!), I moved into the offshore oil and gas sector building jack up rigs for a well-known regional offshore and renewable energy contractor. I was a project-based QS again and really enjoyed my time there as I had missed the site based (or in this case, shipyard based) camaraderie you get as part of a project team when you’re delivering projects under serious time and budget pressures. You just cannot buy that experience and it’s a massive thing I look for in people. Some younger practitioners are very keen to get into consultancy and expert work, but you cannot beat practical site-based experience, so my advice is to be patient! There was also the “little” fact that I had managed to leave the ‘onshore’ construction industry during the peak of the credit crunch and moved into the almost ‘mystical’ world of oil and gas when the oil price was close to its record high of $147 a barrel (a bit more luck!). To say it was a change of scene would be a bit of an understatement. It was a world removed from the previous three years fighting over every millimetre of pipework (or so it felt); clients were more interested in the getting the rig delivered early than they were in what it cost to build and were willing to pay for what they wanted, very different from credit crunch era construction work. Whilst this was relatively ‘easy street’ as a contractor’s QS, I was doing my Masters in Construction Law and Dispute Resolution (hard work, especially with new born twin babies) and didn’t see when I would be able to apply those skills, so I moved back into consultancy.

Little did I know that around six months after I made that move in early 2014, the oil price would crash and turmoil would reign in the oil and gas sector (more luck!). I’d been lucky and my timing couldn’t have been better; there was a resurgence in the construction market in the UAE and the wider Middle East generally with many of the credit crunch disputes now being in arbitration.

It was here I got into expert witness work, assisting a well-known Dubai based quantum expert called Gordon Moffat of GMCS in many of his appointments for the next three years. It was Gordon who had first recruited me back in 2007 and he had since set up his own practice with two colleagues whom I’d both worked with in the past. Taking me on when they did meant that I was lucky enough to get involved in the business not long after it was first set up. It was whilst working at GMCS that I became more exposed to formal dispute resolution proceedings, almost exclusively arbitration in the Middle East. This set me up well for my eventual return home (more hard work).

As schooling for my children loomed and with other family ties to home, we decided to return and made the move at the end of 2016. It was then that I set up a consultancy with a former colleague from Dubai, six months before his return. This was very much the hard work bit, starting out from scratch and not really knowing the London market at all after nine years away. There was lots of networking (essential), lots of ignored emails and phone calls but eventually, after a lot of persistence we started to pick up some work. Another point I would say to people starting out is say yes to everything, within reason of course; a case in point being a well-known M&E contractor client that I started doing some project-based QS work for, then led to some claims work and ultimately, to some adjudication related work.

I now run Novus on my own with a couple of colleagues and provide a mixture of advice to clients (subcontractors, contractors and employers) on live projects as well as my expert witness work. I think I’d better clarify that I consider myself a Chartered Quantity Surveyor first and foremost with the expert witness work following on from this. The two obviously dovetail nicely with one another when projects get into dispute, as with the best will in the world, they inevitably do from time to time. The points I make in the next article will hopefully address some of the challenges I regularly see which will hopefully help you successfully avoid, manage or resolve your dispute.

In the next article I address the challenges I face as a Chartered QS working and advising on live projects, with a final article addressing issues arising from the perspective of a quantum expert when you’re in formal dispute resolution proceedings


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