Despite the pandemic and its effects on real estate and construction, work in those practice areas has remained strong. And Colorado attorneys agree on their optimistic outlook for the future of their practice in Colorado and across the country.
Matthew Ninneman, who practices in construction at Hall & Evans, which received a Tier ____ recognition on U.S. News and W orld Report’s Best Law Firms list, said the construction industry has stayed as busy as he’s ever seen it in his career. The economic impacts of COVID are affecting all industries, but because construction was deemed an essential business — and the legal services needed in that industry — the work continues at a healthy pace.
“I believe it cuts across all of those sectors, whether you’re talking residential construction, commercial construction, public municipality works — and I think it’s because a lot of the development effort that went into that all happened pre-COVID,” Ninneman said.
While the pandemic has brought its own economic impacts, 2020 has looked very different from the economic recession of 2008. Then, matters coming into the office involved a lot of litigation — most ly relating to failed projects, collapsed companies and unpaid situations. In the current downturn, banks are still lending money, developers proceed with new projects and people are offloading real estate and land available for use. “We continue to see that front-end transactional work coming through the front door,” he said. This ranges from real estate contracts developed to the general contractor contracts and indicates that things are continuing to move forward.
The work that continues to fuel the real estate world have driven growth, rather than retraction within the industry. Dominick Sekich’s real estate practice at Moye White, another U.S. News Best Law Firm designee, stretches over 30 years, and over the past decade has come to focus on industrial real estate. He said his work has grown over the past year. Moye White’s real estate practice has grown through the addition of four attorneys since the start of COVID.
“What we’re seeing in Colorado is a reflection seen in the U.S. generally — with some very bright and differences that create some optimism for Colorado specifically,” Sekich said. For industrial real estate, the past nine months have been marked by an acceleration in trends of real estate and construction seen in the past five to 10 years, Sekich said: an acceleration in new models of distribution of goods and logistics driven by some large players.
In his practice, Sekich was surprised that COVID had not been more of an interruption. While it’s difficult to know what December might look like, he said he believes the current successes are due to general contractors with decades of experience deploying procedures and processes in delivering client projects.
“I think it really is a testament to the good work the contractors have been putting in,” he said, adding he was amazed by the capability and carefully GC work has been — mitigating employees and risk to project.
In litigation, the work has continued as well, despite COVID-19 disruptions to the courts, said Steve Gurr, head of litigation at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner who specializes in construction litigation and contracts. His practice includes litigation of construction and real estate disputes and typically involves a couple trials a year. He has one starting on Nov. 30 that will be completely remote over five-days in the Denver District Court.
“The civil practice has been disrupted, but is continuing,” Gurr said. With the announcements of trials being vacated at many other levels, Gurr said both parties need to find other paths to resolution and still working to achieve that aim. “The court system has found a way through.”
Gurr and BCLP head of real estate Heather Boelens, collaborate often on clients and the construction and development of the real estate development around the country. Nationally, in terms of real estate, BCPL focuses on industrial work in deals often reaching over $1 billion, Gurr said. She agreed with Gurr that construction is still hot, especially in industrial and multi-family — and she doesn’t see a slowdown happening at any time in the near future. Leasing has taken a turn for the worse since the start of COVID, she said, adding she works on many different forms of leasing across the gamut, noting the downturn in office leasing.
“I’m not sure what will change in the office world post-COVID. I think we’ll see a lot of companies downsizing, realizing they were able to survive with a lot of their folks working from home,” she said.
“I also think there’s a generational aspect to that as well.”
Retail and hospitality has seen the impacts of the pandemic as well. Boelens said every deal she has was worked on in that space since March has died.
A learning curve did exist at the start of COVID in construction, Ninneman said. The brakes were pumped to see what might come next. After the first couple of months, the type of force majeure impacts and safety impacts would truly cause a slowdown or continue to work in the environment — keep everyone safe — and deliver on the construction and design.
“And we’re able to do that,” he said, via measures taken with working from home to construction contractors learning best approaching sequencing projects to assure safety.
“We just continue to see more momentum moving through those projects.”
Throughout his practice, Sekich said he’s gone through the dot-com bubble, the downturn in 2008, and now the pandemic — but it feels different.
“The downturn feels transitory and impermanent,” Sekich said. The economy of both Colorado and the country has remained strong, and Colorado’s appeal to companies and employees alike will continue.
— Avery Martinez