During AIA Trust Week, one of the webinars shone a spotlight on LegaLine, a legal information hotline specially tailored to respond to the needs of small firms and sole proprietors managing an architectural practice.
LegaLine offers AIA Trust members access to qualified professionals who can help identify and manage risks while minimizing claims. In our webinar, the experienced lawyers from W&D Law, LLP, addressed four key areas of practice that encompass many of the questions architects face in their day-to-day dealings: Corporate, Insurance, Contracts and Copyright. We selected a few of the many questions members had after the webinar that we thought would be of interest to the broader membership:
Insurance. I just started my practice as an LLC (NY – no professional requirement). My work is limited to preliminary design and collaboration with other professionals and contractors. Do I need professional liability (PL) coverage and do PL policies differ from those that protect licensed professional entities?
Carrying PL coverage is a business decision aimed to manage risk. PL policies protect your firm (including its employees and owners) from claims arising arise out of professional services, from your initial meeting with your client to close out. The type of entity is not a decisive factor in procurement of PL insurance. Your stamp on the permitted set of drawings means you have assumed legal responsibility for the design. However, being part of a team, providing consultation, and communicating with clients are all activities that can form the basis for a claim. The risk may be less but should be considered in your business planning.
Design Protection. I was terminated from a job after providing schematic design. I later discovered that my design was used by the builder. How do I protect myself from not having this happen again?
Your agreement should address ownership and use to your instruments of service. Any reuse or modification without your involvement should not be allowed and provide for release and indemnity. In some cases, you can add a license fee. Lastly, you should also think about copyrighting your plans.
Scope. In the description of services, is there a point where too much information starts to open levels of risk?
Too much detail can create a risk if you do not perform as stated. However, generally a detailed description of services helps avoid future misunderstandings. To the extent you are unsure, state that particular services will be provided only if agreed to later in writing. It is better to be as clear as possible at the outset.
Copyright. How can I ensure that I am not infringing on another’s copyright if a client comes to me wanting to modify a builder’s plan?
Ask your client whether they have the rights to modify the plans. They should have it in writing. If your client is not sure, you or your client should reach out to the builder and ask for the rights. The builder may charge a fee or place conditions, but without confirming the rights you could be infrin