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Levy cuts through rhetoric in the construction industry

Joshua Levy Crivello Carlson SC (Staff Photo by Kevin Harnack)

Success in the construction industry is less about materials, carpentry or masonry and more about mutual understandings, according to Milwaukee attorney Joshua Levy.

“In most cases, the problems really boil down to communication and following the plan you set in the beginning,” said Levy, of Crivello Carlson SC. “I do seminars and talk to groups, and I get some humor out of telling people that there’s this revolutionary tool when you run into problems with a project: ‘Go read the contract.’

“But it’s so true. Too often, parties put those contracts in a drawer after they’re signed.”

As a counselor, litigator and arbitrator, Levy said he heavily relies on his ability to cut through rhetoric.

Among his most memorable cases, he said, was his 2008 representation of Milwaukee County, which alleged negligence against an engineering-consulting firm that failed to identify 67,000 square feet of asbestos-containing materials in the Courthouse Annex before its demolition.

Once the county discovered the issue, taxpayers incurred a significant, unforeseen expense to quickly and safely abate the problem. The county ultimately recovered with a $628,000 arbitration award.

“I represented my county that I love,” Levy recalled, “regarding a building that I’d traveled under probably 20,000 times, and we came out on top.”

The Daily Reporter: What do you consider your biggest career achievement to date and why?

Joshua Levy: Building a successful practice. I have an expression: ‘There are two kinds of lawyers: There are quarterbacks and cheerleaders.’ Cheerleaders tell their clients everything they want to hear, but quarterbacks will tell them when they have to punt or call a different play. I try to work like a quarterback. After 21 years, I think I’ve built good client relationships, due in large part because I tell clients I won’t be their cheerleader.

TDR: What is the top legal issue construction firms need to be aware of today and why?

Levy: Tracking the money. With public projects, you know the money’s been appropriated. With private projects, I have gotten more calls in the last four years where, at the end of a project, the developer or owner tells the contractor the bank won’t give up that last bit of financing they need. Every time I drive by a moth-balled project, it just kind of hits me in the gut — knowing it was started with good intentions and now it’s just sitting dormant because the financing wasn’t as secure as people first believed.

TDR: What is one thing attorneys should know that they won’t learn in law school?

Levy: The one law they don’t teach in law school, is that ‘Possession is, in fact, nine-tenths of the law.’ In construction law, that’s completely true.

TDR: Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Levy: Litigation is 90 percent facts and 10 percent lawyering. You can’t change bad facts. But when the facts are close, that 10 percent of lawyering really is important.

TDR: Who are your heroes?

Levy: Maybe it’s cliché, but my dad, Alan Levy. He’s a partner at Lindner & Marsack SC, still practicing. Often, when things are heating up, I try to imagine how he would react, because he’s very measured, and the advice he’s given me over the years has never been wrong.

Also, Robin Yount. I grew up in Milwaukee, taking the bus to County Stadium. I’m in my first year as president of Whitefish Bay Little League and my boys play in the league. I always talk about Robin Yount and how he ran out every ground ball. He always played hard. Whatever business you’re in, you’ve got to run out every ground ball.

TDR: What book is sitting on your nightstand?

Levy: ‘The Art of Fielding.’ It takes place in Wisconsin and is so well-written. It was just a really fun read.

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