When envisioning a lawyer to retain, it's difficult to articulate what makes a great litigation firm. But one thing is definitely true: "Fear the trial attorney who knows his case." Simply stated, it's impossible to bring home a win if you don't know the case inside and out.
Attorneys at boutique construction litigation firms like Castro & Associates are particularly adept at following this paradigm. They build their cases from the ground up. They are trial lawyers - there simply isn't room at the firm for the archetypal behind-the-desk, paper shufflers. The "hands on" deep familiarity with every aspect of a case of these seasoned lawyers is just one of the many reasons why boutique construction firms are ideal for complex construction claims. Here are few more:
- 24/7 relationships Boutique construction firms specialize in construction and know their specialty area of construction law. Also, the trial attorneys who prepare the case are the same attorneys that will try the construction cases. Boutique firms allow for close working relationships between trial attorney and clients. Clients always know the chain of command and "where the buck stops." Clients can "put a face" to the trial attorney who will work with them through all phases of trial, and have the luxury of direct communications 24/7.
- Such regular person-to-person collaboration inculcates productive working relations, creation of trust, and reliable "team building" skills that will be needed to navigate a complex construction litigated claim from start to finish. Boutique firms typically involve a center nucleus and discrete support team approach. The seasoned trial attorney with four decades of specialized construction experience forms the nucleus and the support team provides interactive and critical support throughout the prosecution of the complex multi-party construction claim.
At Castro & Associates the litigation team is:
- Led by a senior construction trial attorney, actively directing and participating in the entire preparation of the case, discovery, motions, depositions, expert selection, deposition preparation and overall litigation strategy with client input and collaboration;2
- Fully supported by experienced trial attorneys specializing in complex, multi-party construction claims. Support trial attorneys are likewise required to be fully familiar with all "moving pieces" of the litigated case and know how to integrate their litigation contributions to "fast track" the construction claims and successfully navigate through the myriad of pitfalls and obstacles to reach a timely and cost effective successful resolution;
- Fully supported by experienced database staff proficient in cutting edge Electronically Stored Information [ESI], document collection, processing, privilege filtration and production to multiple litigation parties. Additionally, the firm houses its own CAD [Computer Assisted Drawing] department where complex 2 dimensional project blue prints are converted to "court admissible" 3-dimensional CAD drawings, used for all litigation purposes from discovery, motions, mediation to trial and beyond.
Large litigation firms, typically, house considerable attorney staff and resources to throw at incoming complex construction claims, but tend to distribute the complex construction work load to associates with less expertise, who will not be trying the case. At times, the large firm paradigm precludes the formation of a single, senior attorney fully vested in all the facts and strategy of the case.
- Flexibility A boutique litigation firm is liberated from the excessive hierarchy and bureaucratic chain of command that can stagnate thinking in a large firm and delay rapid movement. A boutique litigation firm is typically spared this bureaucratic maze because most of the critical decision-making can be "streamlined" for resolution by the attorney / client concordance. Large law firms typically have "committee paradigms" for operating and establishing procedures that require a multitude of meetings and sign-offs before taking action. Boutique firms are often far more flexible, which allows quick decision making that frequently becomes a tactical advantage. The large firm "committee paradigm" was never built for speed.
- Innovation Boutique construction firms are typically more focused on working closely with clients and contemporaneous responses to client feedback and recommendations. Person to person contact ideally positions trial attorneys and their clients to introduce and develop new ideas to "develop new game plans" and successfully prosecute their case. This is largely due to litigation attorneys not having to report to litigation or management committees or seek approval from anyone other than their clients.
- Cost Benefits With a more focused operation, boutique construction litigation firms can deliver litigation results at a lower cost. Having a focused litigation group by definition will limit the hourly attorney fees that can be billed on a complex construction claim. Boutique construction litigation firms typically deliver lower attorney fee and cost billings for clients. A boutique law firm is leaner and more "hands on" out of necessity. It relies on actual litigation attorneys performing all critical "trial preparation tasks," such as client intake, failure analysis, photo-documentation, seminal interviews, generating and responding to written discovery. Additionally, the litigation attorney prepares and takes critical party and percipient depositions, retains appropriate experts, and prepares, takes and defends expert depositions. Most significantly, a single trial attorney can become the repository for every material aspect of the complex case and, in the process, become a fluent advocate for every stage of the case including settlement conferences, mediation and trial itself.
A recently resolved complex construction defect case provides useful insights into the cost effective handling of a massive construction litigation case by a boutique litigation firm. In Wilshire Vermont Housing Partners, L.P., vs. Taisei Construction Corporation, et al., Los Angeles Superior Court, Case No. BC504178, Castro & Associates represented the plaintiff property owner, Wilshire Vermont Housing Partners L.P. (CalPERs limited partner). Wilshire Vermont [plaintiff] bucked traditional wisdom and performed project-wide repairs costing tens of millions of dollars during its lawsuit against the general contractor and over 40 subcontractors before litigation was completed and while the 449 unit project was fully occupied. This could never have occurred without a constant collaboration between the "attorney nucleus" and motivated client. [Wilshire Vermont Station, is a flagship MTA station known as a Transit Oriented Development, with 449 units and 20 retail spaces in Koreatown, Los Angeles].
Castro & Associates necessarily wore two hats during this process, simultaneously prosecuting the case while acting as facilitator for extensive project repairs. The latter role included assisting the owner in its retention of repair contractors, providing copies of repair plans to the defendants, and arranging hundreds of defense inspections during the repair process lasting several years. Surmounting these obstacles resulted in most of the defect repairs being performed by the time the case reached trial and the case settled for $55 million in the plaintiff's favor.
During the course of the litigation, Castro & Associates prepared and appeared at 400 days of depositions for percipient, party and expert witnesses; 292 days of site inspections, over 40 days of mediation, and opposed 53 defense motions for summary judgment and/or for summary adjudication. Having five senior attorneys sharing this work was both successful and economical - Wilshire Vermont was given the benefit of the litigators' expertise and know-how, while avoiding being charged for basic skill development as is often the case with big firms spreading the work among junior level associates.
- Public Policy Fee savings and attorney expertise are not the only reasons that clients should consider retaining a boutique litigation firm to handle their complex construction case. Boutique litigation firms have the prerogative to shop for meaningful cases that shape the construction industry and significantly impact important public policy issues. A case in point is the landmark decision in Myrick v Mastagni (2010) 185 Cal.App.4th 1082, 1087. In Myrick, Castro & Associates represented the plaintiffs against substantial odds because it was the right thing to do, and because the case involved an important public issue: seismic life safety through URM retrofitting in California. The building owners in Myrick were held liable for failing to retrofit an unsafe unreinforced masonry ("URM") building that collapsed during the 2003 San Simeon Earthquake, killing two employees and destroying the building. Their survivors sued the owners for negligence in failing to perform "timely" seismic retrofitting of the building. A jury awarded a multi-million dollar settlement and set new law for California. Id. at 1084-86.
On appeal, the owners asserted that the trial court erred in not ruling, as a matter of law, that they had no duty to retrofit the building until 2018, the mandatory URM retrofitting compliance deadline. Id. at 1084. The Myrick trial court had permitted the jury to consider the owners' non-compliance with the ordinance in deciding if they were negligent, despite the earthquake occurring 15 years before the compliance deadline. Id. at 1087-90. The court of appeal affirmed the jury's verdict, holding that the retrofitting deadline ordinance did not operate as a complete defense to negligence. Id. at 1087-88, 1093. Under Myrick's holding, owners now have a clear duty to investigate the sufficiency of the seismic force resistance system of their buildings, and may be held liable for death or damage if an earthquake strikes before expiration of their compliance deadline for mandatory retrofitting. Id. at 1087.
No matter the size of the client or the project, it is fair to say, based on the foregoing considerations, that a boutique construction firm may be ideal for a complex, multi-party construction claim.
Castro Associates has considerable construction litigation experience representing HOA board members and institutional boards of directors throughout California;
1. Wilshire Vermont HP: $55,000,000, Klein Financial & CalPERs boards
2. Eaton Crest: 100 foot soil subsidence case - $23,000,000
3. Promenade West: first structural design case jury verdict - $6,900,000, first punitive damages award for construction case - $600,000
4. Chalk Hills: $14,000,000 - Copley Real Estate Advisors Boston, Harvard, State of Alaska and MetLife boards
5. Hasley Hills board of directors - Santa Clarita California - $6,500,000
6. 4310 Cahuenga, Luxury condominiums - $9,000,000 - Toluca Lake
7. Wilshire House luxury high rise condominiums board - Westwood
8. Wilshire Regency high rise board of directors - Westwood, California
9. Wilshire Ambassador board of directors, Westwood, California
10. Tiara board of directors, Valejo, California - $7,400,000
11. Sea Colony boards of directors - Santa Monica, California
12. Ocean Towers boards of directors - Santa Monica, California
13. Las Brisas board of directors, Santa Maria, California
14. Myrick v. Mastagni, San Simeon Earthquake, San Luis Obispo, California
15. Jewish Federation board of directors
1[professional identification: Joel B. Castro is the founder and principal of Castro & Associates, a boutique law firm specializing in complex construction defect cases. Castro & Associates has achieved the "preeminent Martindale - Hubbell AV rating1signifying the "pinnacle of professional excellence, earned through a strenuous peer review rating process, managed and monitored by the world's most trusted legal resource." He also received the Martindale - Hubbell "preeminent" AV rating from the California Judiciary signifying "the highest possible rating in both legal ability and ethical standards reflecting the confidential opinions of members of the Bar and Judiciary. He has received numerous honors and awards, including the Jennifer Myrick Justice Advocacy Award, and the Outstanding Construction Attorney Flaig Award in 2015 from the Los Angeles County Bar Association. Toneata Martocchio, an associate at Castro & Associates, spearheads the firm's law and motion / discovery team. She has co-authored and edited published construction articles such as "Evolving Liability for Design-Build Contracts: The Perfect Storm of Conflicting Interests," 2009.]
2United States v. KISAQ-RQ 8A 2 JV (N.D. Cal., 2015) 2015 WL 5935364, at *3 (Approved as reasonable fees of boutique firm specializing in construction and real estate law that had three partners, each with over 25 years' experience, and was superbly prepared with a near encyclopedic knowledge of the hundreds of trial exhibits).