I’ve served as the general counsel at Weis Builders since 2002 and have assisted on about $3 billion worth of construction contracts. One might assume that I grew up in the construction industry or formally studied it, but I was first introduced to construction law while serving in the Air Force’s JAG Corps, which provides legal services to the Air Force around the world.
Prior to becoming a JAG attorney, I was a military policeman in the Air Force for four years, which acquainted me with certain aspects of the law that made me want to become an attorney. As I was finishing my undergraduate degree, a supervisor suggested I look into the Marines JAG program, and without much contemplation, I went down that path. Before attending law school, I was commissioned as an officer. I then was committed to become a JAG after law school, and that started an unforgettable chain of events. I trained in Quantico and the Naval Justice School. I was first assigned to Camp Lejeune as a prosecutor and loved it. I felt like I was working in a district attorney’s office because I would work in multiple courtrooms each day, handling everything from small infractions to big crimes.
After nearly two years of prosecution, I became a defense attorney for the Marines and again had many trial opportunities. I considered entering private practice, but my Air Force friends encouraged me to apply for Air Force JAG, which offered me the chance to break into civil law. I went to Eglin Air Force Base and handled medical malpractice and tort cases for a year and then became chief of the labor law division.
This background might sound strange for an in-house attorney at a commercial and institutional builder, but it shaped my legal philosophies in profound ways. I became proficient in numerous legal arenas, including litigation, labor law, torts, claims, and contracts. I encounter all these areas of law in my capacity as Weis Builders’ general counsel. Beyond that, there is the personal benefit of having been in the military and receiving its inherent character traits; the military has a noncommercial mission built around character, integrity, leadership, discipline, and loyalty.
I had numerous offers at large law firms when deciding to leave JAG to settle down with my growing family, but I came to Weis Builders because it has a stable and supportive leadership team, and it is located in my native state of Minnesota. Upon becoming in-house [counsel] at Weis Builders, I knew there would be plenty of professional challenges, in part because my experience in construction was limited to two years of litigating construction cases for the Air Force’s contract-litigation team. With that type of background, it was important that I rely on experienced Weis Builders employees to assist me in understanding the nuts and bolts of certain construction issues as they arose. Some people might view that approach as a hindrance, but it has been my asset. If
a legal issue develops related to a roof system or building materials, I have project managers break it down for me in basic terms, which protects against inaccurate conclusions being drawn. This allows me to better assess issues, manage risk, and protect the company’s interests.
Typically, one associate and I handle all legal affairs for the company and outsource work when necessary. If there is an issue, I’ll vet it and either run with it from start to finish or send it to outside counsel. All legal matters get addressed thoroughly. Our portfolio is wide—we work on health-care, hospitality, retail, mixed-use, and multiunit residential projects. We have offices in Illinois, Minnesota, and Texas, and we do work all over the country. We have to understand which laws may be applied differently in each jurisdiction as we draft contracts and advise on a variety of complex issues for high-valued construction projects. I have to be ready to work on escrow agreements, joint ventures, vendor contracts, and consultant agreements. I do this through a personal organization system and by relying on a legal skill set I developed as a JAG attorney that allows me to perform the plethora of legal activities that confront me as a general counsel on a daily basis.
Schmidt Artist Lofts
Weis Builders is giving St. Paul’s West 7th neighborhood a much-needed update by rehabbing the trendy area’s old Schmidt Brewery into an affordable live-work space. The brew house and bottling house have been vacant for 20 years, and Weis is converting them into loft-style structures while adding 13 new townhomes. Amenities will include a roof deck, a club room, a fitness center, community rooms, and studios and practice rooms for sculptors, painters, musicians, dancers, and other creative tenants. The lofts themselves will have polished concrete floors, Energy Star appliances, and quartz countertops.
The building, currently on the Preservation Alliance of Minnesota’s list of the “10 Most Endangered Historic Places,” will be completed with special attention paid to the restoration of its windows, stone, and brick. Weis Builders will craft mock-ups to ensure historical accuracy.
Olmsted Medical Center–NW Clinic
Rochester, MN, Office
Weis Builders performs work for many health-care clients. The company’s experience in the field includes the expansion, renovation, and construction of many different
spaces, including clinics, medical offices, and skilled nursing facilities, and it has also completed more-technical projects such as laboratories and operating rooms. It recently completed the new Olmsted Medical Center–NW Clinic, a LEED-certified two-story walkout medical clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
Illinois State University–Cardinal Court
In August of 2012, Weis Builders celebrated the opening of Cardinal Court at Illinois State University (ISU) in Bloomington, Illinois. The project, which was the school’s first public-private housing initiative, brought 900 students together in five buildings that replaced outdated housing units. Cardinal Court features a community center, a gym, a game area, a theater, a fitness center, meeting rooms, study areas, offices, and a café. During construction, ISU students completed internships alongside Weis Builders’ construction professionals.
Hilton Garden Inn and Texarkana Convention Center
In 2011, Weis Builders completed nearly 25,000 square feet of construction attached to a 155-room Hilton Garden Inn in Texarkana, Texas. The space—Texarkana’s Convention Center—is LEED-certified and uses low-flow plumbing fixtures, a drip-irrigation system, efficient HVAC units, increased building insulation, low-VOC finishes, and regionally produced materials. Weis Builders completed a 12,000-square-foot ballroom, 5,600 square feet of outdoor patio space, and 2,200 square feet of kitchen-prep, office, storage, and restroom space.