Mr Branca is managing partner of Peckar & Abramson’s Washington, DC office and co-chair of the firm’s power and industrial facilities/EPC practice. He focuses his practice on construction and government contract law. Mr Branca routinely represents general and prime contractors, construction managers, and other members of the construction and government contract industries. Given his depth of experience, he is able to provide an impressive range of services to his clients, including the review and negotiation of contract documents, prosecution of bid protests, project counsel support and guidance, and the preparation and litigation of claims.
Describe your career to date.
I have exclusively practised construction and government contract law since 1993. Although I have represented many participants in the industry – owners, construction managers, contractors, subcontractors, and sureties – over the past 15 years the vast majority of my time has been focused on construction managers and prime contractors.
You describe yourself as a “start-to-finish” attorney. Is this a difficult role to fulfil, and how does it enable you to provide added value for clients?
I have worked with clients from the very start to the close-out of a project. While the majority of my time has been focused on claim preparation, claim defence and dispute resolution (arbitration, litigation, and the like), I have done everything from reviewing requests for proposal, drafting and negotiating contracts, and providing support throughout the life of a project.
This broad experience provides perspective on each stage of a project. For example, if an attorney only focuses on drafting contracts, that attorney may not see how the agreed-upon terms play out in a subsequent dispute. Likewise, an attorney who only focuses on litigation may not understand the nuances of the interrelated terms of a complex contract.
On what matters have clients most frequently asked you for advice over the past year? What would you say is driving this?
Over the past year, clients have most frequently asked for advice about preparation and litigation of claims on federal projects. Although speculative, federal budget constraints appear to result in a greater number of disputes on federal projects.
What are the most common sources of construction disputes and how do you think clients can minimise the risks of them occurring?
There are certain risks contractors cannot avoid, such as differing site conditions or defective specifications. However, with respect to those risks within a contractor’s control, early detection of a problem and the willingness to deal promptly with that problem can help to stop a problem from festering. It is human nature to ignore problems; however, on a construction project, problems rarely fix themselves.
What are the main challenges currently facing those looking to develop infrastructure projects in the US?
The primary challenge for those looking to develop infrastructure projects is money. Public agencies from the federal, state and local levels are all strapped for cash. All public officials want to support infrastructure projects, but making a direct pitch to the public for increased taxes or bond initiatives is not the best way to get re-elected. Agencies that are willing to employ alternative financing arrangements – such as public-private partnerships – have the most success in developing new projects.
How have labour shortages affected the approach of clients in their day-to-day processes?
Labour shortages have made contractors be more selective in the projects they are willing to take on. No contractor wants to be awarded a project and then not be able to properly staff the project. Prime contractors and construction managers need management and supervisory staff; subcontractors need craft labour. The US has experienced shortages across the board. Although this has caused problems, I think most contractors would tell you that it beats the alternative, ie, too few projects and too much labour.
How do you see your practice developing over the next few years?
A successful attorney must adapt to the changes being experienced by that attorney’s clients. My practice to date has been a series of adaptations as my clients’ businesses have changed. As my clients perform more public work, I spend more time working on public projects. When the market experiences a downturn (as it regularly does), I need to focus on how to help my clients adapt and remain profitable (or at least in business).
What is the best piece of career advice you have ever received?
A client once told me “just be a member of the team”. He said don’t act like you are better or more important than anyone else on the team. This has stuck with me and I have always tried to follow this advice – be a team player and help the team win.
The other piece of advice I received as a very young lawyer was “keep your chin to the wind”. The practice of law can be stressful and unless you keep a positive attitude you will quickly burn out.