Derek Allen, the new general counsel for the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin, is using his decade of litigation experience to keep AGC members on job sites rather than in courtrooms.
“People’s spider senses are pretty good as to when they should talk to a lawyer,” Allen said. “That’s one of the huge benefits of AGC is having an in-house person. You don’t have to spend $500 to pick up the phone and call someone.”
Allen joined the AGC of Wisconsin in July. Since he started, his time has been split between advising members on their legal questions and setting up educational seminars dealing with the variety of legal issues regularly faced by AGC members, including questions concerning worker classification.
“We’re here to help our members,” Allen said. “They’re doing amazing things across the state and across the country, and we’re here to support them as best we can.”
Allen is a graduate of Beloit College and the University of Chicago Law School. After getting his law degree, he joined the Winthrop & Weinstine law firm in Minneapolis, where he represented developers and contractors. He worked for Shannon Law Office in Evansville and Sterling Law Office in Madison before joining AGC.
Outside work, Allen coaches varsity boys basketball at Albany High School in southern Wisconsin. He also enjoys having a few beers, hiking and spending time with his girlfriend.
The Law Journal caught up with Allen after his first few weeks on the job with AGC and talked about what’s ahead.
Wisconsin Law Journal: How have your first few weeks as general counsel been?
Derek Allen: So far so good. We are doing an initiative to educate members on various legal issues. A big push in the state right now is classifying workers correctly between being employees and independent contractors. We’re putting together some seminars on that.
WLJ: What is some of the advice you’re giving employers in the worker classification seminars?
Allen: The State of Wisconsin has a pretty rigorous test for worker’s comp. We walk through the factors investigators or the courts are going to look at if the state or an individual worker feels there might be a violation. The biggest ones tend to be how the person is paid and then the level of control that the contractor has over them. If you’re paying someone by the hour and you’re mandating what they wear, how they do their job and when they show up, all those things lean toward being an employee. You walk through those factors, so if [members] have anyone in a gray area, they can clean that up on the front end, rather than dealing with an investigation and potential liability on the back end.
WLJ: What drew you to AGC?
Allen: I’d been litigating for the past 10 years, and I was looking to get out of that. I was fighting all day, and my hair was going to be all gray if I kept it up any longer. I still wanted to stay in law, and throughout my career, I really enjoyed working with my construction and manufacturing clients. When I read what the role was at AGC, I thought I’d be a good fit.
WLJ: How does your litigation background benefit the AGC members you work with now?
Allen: I’ve seen the end game with a lot of the issues that come up. I’m used to picturing “If this ends up in court, here’s what’s going to be important.” Being in the courtroom and seeing things become a legal issue allows you to reverse engineer what people should have been doing to avoid getting in a lawsuit in the first place.
WLJ: What are your goals as general counsel?
Allen: The goal of everyone in our office is to support members as much as possible. Really, the only way to win a lawsuit is to not get called in the first place. My goal is to educate as much as possible to ensure members are staying on the job site and not dealing with the court system.