In this issue

by Simon Tolson, Partner

Welcome to the captivating realm of our 2023/24 Annual Review, the 27th edition that brims with compelling content waiting to be explored. 

As we delve into the past year, reflecting on the tumultuous 2023, akin to the challenging years of 1991 and 2008-10, the echoes of uncertainty still reverberate in the construction industry. Despite these trials, the resilient spirit within the construction, infrastructure, and related domains persists.

I've had the privilege of participating in Building Magazine's Building the Future Commission, a year-round exploration of radical and challenging ideas aimed at transforming the built environment. The consensus among industry leaders, echoed by Sir John Armitt, chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, is the imperative need for collaborative, long-term planning between public and private sectors. This plan must be adhered to steadfastly, spanning longer than five-year government terms and bridging the gap between high-level aspirations and on-the-ground execution.

A critical issue unearthed during our discussions was the gap in education. The construction sector demands a strategic investment to align education with its needs, addressing the escalating skills shortage. Fenwick Elliott proudly supports the Construction Youth Trust, a charity dedicated to fostering young talent and inspiring them to pursue careers in the construction industry.

The looming Building Safety Act poses challenges, with the need for education, training, and skills identified as key barriers during the Building the Future Commission Conference. The ongoing reforms in building safety demand our understanding and proactive engagement as the industry undergoes a much-needed transformative shake-up.

Venturing into the technological frontier, our exploration of the generative AI revolution reveals the profound impact of technology on construction law. From 4D and 5D models, digital twins and Building Information Modelling (BIM) models (used for visualising and VR renderings for projects) to mapping and charting drones, AI, and smart contracts (thanks to blockchain), technology has brought about unprecedented advancements, yet not without presenting intricate legal challenges as we segue from traditional to new ways of working. I am passionate about managing this change in the firm and am closely involved in these issues through my participation in TECSA’s AI working group and forthcoming draft AI guidelines.

Bridging the gap between human-centric construction law and technological advancements requires a harmonious blend of legal expertise, industry insight, and a wholehearted embrace of innovation. From continuous learning and ethical tech considerations to evolving dispute resolution mechanisms and collaborative teamwork, our approach must be dynamic. Here at Fenwick Elliott, we are launching our own smart AI tools to help decipher mountains of data and enhance our services. 

In the realm of achievements, Fenwick Elliott proudly maintains its Tier 1 status in both the Legal 500 and Chambers and Partners’ UK Guides. The firm’s recognition extends globally, with accolades such as FIDIC Law Firm of the Year and a nomination for the Oath Middle East Legal Awards. I want to thank all my partners and staff for the huge work they have all put in over the past 12 months. The comments from peers and respondents are a testament to our record of efforts and reputation:

“The only firm of out-and-out construction specialists in London. Great team with in-depth knowledge of our subject matter.”

“Strong construction focus and industry expertise.”

“The firm has a great ability to see the small details in complex matters while not losing sight of the overall commercial objectives that drive our business."

"The team are very capable of thinking outside the box and are always prepared to provide an inventive solution to our problems."

Since the firm’s inception over 35 years ago, we have grown from two to 25 partners, with over 100 staff. Our strategy has always been to bring together the best construction lawyers as a dedicated team for clients needing advice in this one specialist area of the law. I am immensely proud of our achievements which are a recognition of the hard work, determination, and loyalty of everyone. I would just like to introduce our three new partners. 

  • Leonie Sellers joined us in our international hub in Dubai in 2022 as a Senior Associate. Her rapid promotion to the Partnership reflects not only her abilities but the impressive growth happening in Fenwick Elliott 's Dubai office. 
  • Mark Pantry, a non-contentious specialist, has been with us since 2019 and spent nine-months on loan working in-house with an international contractor. Mark is stepping up as the third partner in our flourishing non-contentious team.
  • Edward Farren has been with us for over 25 years. Today, Eddie specialises in helping clients get paid and business development and is our first Business Development Partner. Eddie's promotion is a nod to his significant contributions to client relationships and the firm's growth over the years.

I could not be happier about these promotions. These promotions highlight our commitment to fostering talent across various teams and locations for the construction and energy sectors.

Fenwick Elliott remains devoted to promoting equality, diversity, and inclusion. Active participation in initiatives such as the 10,000 Black Interns program underscores our commitment to transforming prospects for young individuals.

It is also important to me to see our team lead by example. Claire King continues to play prominent roles in the Adjudication Society’s Women in Adjudication and mentoring initiatives. Karen Gidwani has established a working group on diversity within TECSA, which has published an ED&I policy, and she is now working closely with the TECSA Adjudication Sub-Committee on diversity in adjudicator nominating bodies looking at widening the adjudicator panel.  

2023 also marks the 150th anniversary of the TCC the specialist construction court in the UK. Mr Justice Waksman led the vanguard, and I was involved heavily with the programme as was my partner Dr Stacy Sinclair. Dame Sue Carr's appointment as Lady Chief Justice is a testament to the court's progressive spirit and the quality of the judges who lead and pass through it. 

Reflecting on this milestone, it was a pleasure to contribute chapter, with my partner Dr Stacy Sinclair, entitled: ‘The TCC and Developments in Technology and Innovation’, to the excellent publication: The History of the Technology and Construction Court on its 150th Anniversary Rewriting the Rules. The TCC has always embraced and pioneered the use of technology to improve case and document management and I am in no doubt that the TCC’s innovative approach to digital transformation has placed it in good stead to adapt to the continued rapid future developments that we are going to see. Here’s to the next 150 years! 

Our commitment to knowledge-sharing persists through our many publications, webinars, and thought leadership. Monthly webinars, even amidst the pandemic, continue to draw a global audience, providing insights into the latest industry developments. Whether it is an update on the latest Building Safety legislation or adjudication enforcement courts or a practical look at concurrency, bonds, or claims, we welcome a regular audience from the UK and around the globe.

In closing, this Annual Review is not a mere self-indulgence but a testament to our dedication to industry insights. Rather than focusing solely on our achievements, we aim to contribute to discussions on cases and developments in our market over the past year, offering a glimpse into the road ahead. If you wish to delve more deeply into any topics discussed, we welcome your inquiries. The Fenwick Elliott team is here to help navigate the ever-evolving landscape of the construction industry.

Lastly for now, as a sector-focused law firm, we pride ourselves on our extensive industry expertise. So, rather than talk solely about ourselves and the work we have been doing for our clients, this Annual Review is based on articles which give our take on cases and developments in our market over the past 12 months – and where things are heading in the year to come! 

If you would like to discuss any of the points raised in these pages in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact any of us. As always, we are here to help.

Next article