Building & Construction Lawyers

I was recently at a client’s house, helping them with legal matters when they pointed out that I seemed to understand their issues very quickly. A commercial builder had earlier made a similar comment and it made me realise that there’s a good reason for this due to my previous work prior to working with Building & construction lawyers.

At 16, I finished year 11 in Gayndah and began a carpentry apprenticeship with the Queensland Department of Works and Housing in Bundaberg. During the four years of my apprenticeship I worked on various government buildings. We fixed broken windows, replaced broken doors, built new school buildings, police stations and other small government buildings. I dug holes, hung doors and carried out a range of building tasks. It wasn’t a glamorous apprenticeship, but looking back now, it was a good grounding for my future career. Of course, if circumstances had been different I would have gone onto university and started my legal career much earlier. But I don’t regret that I started as an apprentice. Everything else that I have done was built on that very solid foundation.

In 1985 I had finished my carpentry apprenticeship and I was struggling to find work as a tradesman carpenter. My skill set was not exactly suited to building houses as I had more of a commercial / industrial background. Times were tough in regional Queensland in the 1980s and it was difficult to find ongoing employment, so on a whim I applied to join the Royal Australian Navy. On the 6 August 1985 along with approximately 100 other young Australians I became part of GE 18, Rankin Division and took my first steps into the uniform of a sailor with the Royal Australian Navy.

Returning to Building

For the first time in my life I travelled interstate. I met people from other parts of Australia and my outlook on life was forever broadened. It was a huge adjustment. I had to learn to iron my shirts. I had to learn to be on time, every time. I learned self-respect and self-discipline.  My time in the Navy changed me in many ways. I spent three years on HMAS Torrens and travelled to many parts of the Pacific and South East Asia. I enjoyed my time in the Navy and it for ever changed me, but after my initial six years it was time to leave and come back to the building trade. The year that I spent in the Navy ensured that I came back into civilian life looking to improve myself and the only way to do that was via education. However, in 1991 I was the father of a young family and that meant that in the short term I had to work and earn a living.

In 1991, I started working for a company that did ceilings and partitions, mostly in high-rise buildings. I worked on office fit-outs all over the Sydney CBD. During the next three years I worked as a carpenter and enrolled in TAFE to do a Building Supervisors Advanced Certificate, or a Cert IV in Building and Construction.

Understanding Home Construction

In early 1995, I applied for a role as a production estimator at Clarendon Homes. At that time, Clarendon was an up and coming builder in Penrith on the western outskirts of Sydney.  I spent the next couple of years learning about how a house is constructed and how important the cost of each element is. In 1998 I was offered the position of Pre-construction Manager. I worked under the Operations Manager to make sure that all the elements of the process needed to get the house to construction worked. It was an exciting time and I began to learn more about the management of a company, working with a small but dedicated team of professionals whose job it was to make Clarendon Homes profitable. I loved my time with Clarendon but by 2001 it was time for a new challenge.

In 2000, I applied for a position as a Contracts Manager with Meriton Apartments and to my great joy, I was given the job. I immersed myself wholeheartedly in the world of high-rise residential apartments. Again, I was lucky to work with a small group of professionals and I found myself on a very steep learning curve. I also found that my solid foundation again served me well and I very quickly learned my new trade.

In 2002, I took another turn and with my family moved to the South Coast of NSW. I started a small building company in Ulladulla, NSW before returning to Queensland for family reasons.

In 2006, I was working for a remote area building company called Wild Geese. I project managed the construction of 20 indigenous houses in Boggabilla and surrounding districts. As part of that development, we provided new roads and infrastructure. After completing that project, I headed to Gove in the Northern Territory. In Gove I was responsible for building accommodation for mine staff, a new middle school and a complete subdivision including infrastructure and housing to accommodate Commonwealth and State government staff working out of Gove.

Learning the Law

In 2007 it was again time for a change and I headed to Townsville to work for a building company project managing residential high-rise construction. However by now I knew that it was time for a more permanent change and in 2009 I commenced a Bachelor of Law with James Cook University. During 2009 I worked overtime on the degree and managed to cram in an extra subject. In 2010, I started working with a company in Townsville called SAW Formwork. They did pre-cast concrete panels and high-end concrete products and I was responsible for reviewing contracts and generally being the person with construction knowledge in the office. I enjoyed my time at SAW and was extremely lucky as I was given time to attend lectures and work flexible hours.

In 2011, I moved to Cairns and completed my Law Degree at JCU Cairns. The main reason for my move to Cairns was to work for Chris Taylor, a building & construction lawyers, who like myself came from the building industry. Unfortunately, my time with Chris was short lived as he went to the Bar in mid-2011 and I was on the lookout for a new opportunity.

By chance I connected with Jim Doyle from Doyles Construction Lawyers and not long after, I started working for them, first in their Sydney office and then in Brisbane. I was finally admitted to practice as a lawyer in 2012 and worked in the Brisbane office of Doyles for almost 5 years with the building & construction lawyers team.

In November 2016, I took an enormous leap of faith and began working for myself as Becker Watt Lawyers. The support and encouragement of my loving wife, Sue, has helped in so many ways. The learning curve since I commenced my own law firm has been very steep, but I have enjoyed the challenges.

In some ways, I still consider myself part of the building industry and I know that the 16 year old apprentice is still there just below the surface. He’s the reason I understand our clients in a way that lawyers who haven’t worked in the building industry cannot. The world is still wide and bright and I continue to look forward to the future and what it brings my way.

Contact Len Watt from Becker Watt Lawyers now.