Lawyers already have to slog their way through contracts, torts, criminal and constitutional law… but maybe it’s time to add “green building law” to the list?
An emerging new trend among attorneys is appending “LEED AP” to the “JD” already behind their name. The acronym stands for “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional”, and a LEED AP is an individual who is certified by the Green Building Certification Institute as having demonstrated expert knowledge of green buildings and the LEED rating systems.
More LEED Buildings Mean More LEED Litigation
Why would lawyers want to add “LEED AP” to their list of professional certifications? For one, the green and LEED certified building industry is growing tremendously. The number of federal LEED-certified projects that have been completed surged from 544 in 2011 to 821 for just the first eight months of this year — a nearly 51 percent increase. According to a new study by McGraw-Hill Construction, 35 percent of architects, engineers, and contractors now report working on green buildings, and that share is expected to increase so that by 2014 “green jobs” will comprise 45 percent of all design and construction jobs.
Along with the increasing number of LEED buildings comes an increase in LEED-related litigation. Shaw Development v. Southern Builders, Case No. 19-C-07-011405 (Md. Cir. Ct. 2007) paved the way as the country’s first green-building case in 2007. It was soon followed by Steven Gidumal, et al. v. Site 16/17 Development LLC, et al., No. 105958/10 (N.Y. Cty. Sup. Ct. 2010), The Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Inc., et al. v. Weyerhaeuser Co., No. 8:2011cv0047 (Md. Dist. Ct. Jan. 6, 2011), and Henry Gifford, et al. v. United States Green Building Council, et al.
Earlier this year, the International Code Council (ICC) released the International Green Construction Code (IgCC), the first-ever “model code” for state and local governments to require minimum levels of energy efficiency on new buildings. Rhode Island, Maryland, Oregon, North Carolina, Richland, Washington, and Scottsdale, Arizona have already adopted the IgCC, and more local government adoptions are likely in the near future. It’s a pretty safe assumption to say that with increased regulation will come increased demand for knowledgeable legal counsel.
But LEED AP attorneys may be hard to come by. There are over 160,000 LEED Professionals worldwide, but fewer than 500 of them are lawyers.
LEED-Certified Lawyers Make a Difference In Communities
We asked Paras Nanavati, a principal architect at PNC Studios and CleanEdison instructor for LEED exam prep, on his experience working with LEED AP lawyers. Here’s what he had to say about a recent sports arena project that he completed in Los Angeles:
“Having intelligent, interested, vested lawyers in the design team and the construction team enabled them to advocate for the local community. The local lawyer teams who were supporting the community and representing them were able to get the project decision makers – the developers, the contractors, the architects, the engineers – to show them what the plans were well in advance. Having the developers come answer questions, having the architects come explain the project, having the engineers talk about public safety requirements, etc. – it was all a little more transparent. A lot of questions were able to be overcome by having intelligent lawyers advocate for the community. Hence, a really nice project is now getting the full support it rightfully deserves.”
Interview with a LEED Accredited Attorney
We also spoke with Michelle Daley, Attorney and LEED AP, about her experience with LEED.
Q: What lead you to become a LEED AP?
A: “At the time, I practiced in a real estate litigation sub-group within the Commercial Litigation Department of a mid-size firm, representing regional and national home builders and contractors. As a young female associate in a mostly male-driven practice area, I identified LEED AP certification as a marketing tool that could give me an edge during a ‘green’ shift in building theory. Green building is somewhat still a new frontier, especially in residential building. By learning the fundamentals of environmental design, how to implement the design in residential construction while continuing to assist home builder clients in keeping their bottom line low and their profits high, as well as educating myself to identify potential pitfalls and liability exposure to home builders, I knew that a LEED AP certification would help me improve the services I offer to current clients while equipping me with another method in which to build business. Because the new concept of green building was quickly growing in popularity, it was evident that environmental building issues would soon become prevalent in real estate disputes.”
Q: How did you prepare for the LEED exam? How difficult did you find it?
A: “I prepared for the LEED exam – which was a one-part exam when I took it – by enrolling in a preparatory course offered by the U.S. Green Building Council in Washington, D.C. The course provided live instruction by green building practitioners and text books that outlined the entire LEED system with the environmental, building, and policy reasoning for all the prerequisites in each rating system, so that students understood the theory behind the rating systems. The exam was administered by computer at a testing center. I found the exam to be moderately difficult. Some reasons for my assignment of this level of difficulty include the inability to return to review and edit previous answers and the imposed testing time limit.”
Q: How has being a LEED AP certified attorney impacted your career?
A: “I no longer practice real estate law, so I haven’t utilized my LEED AP certification in a number of years. However, when I was representing home builders, I was invited to join local home building associations in a leadership capacity because of my demonstrated interest in building education. In the home building industry, my LEED AP certification was a testament to my forward-thinking as a real estate attorney, which my clients wanted to put to work in both their transactional and litigation matters I handled. Obtaining LEED AP certification was a step above and beyond the normal educational criteria for a real estate attorney and, in the cut-throat building industry during a declining housing market, certification provided me with the advantage I needed over the competition. As a general practitioner, I now use my LEED AP certification as a networking tool and resume builder to show my commitment to life-long education and diversity of knowledge. Both private and public-sector clients seek representation by attorneys who can learn quickly, stay updated on issues important to their industry, and promise a business advantage in the delivery of legal services.”
Becoming LEED Certified
So how do you become a LEED AP? In order to be eligible for the LEED AP exams, you must first pass the LEED Green Associate exam, which is a 2-hour exam that covers the basic green building concepts. Then, you need to acquire “project experience” by working on a building development project that is currently registering for, or already has a LEED Certification. Finally, you may take any of the five LEED AP exams, which go into great depth on a specific rating system (to the tune of 200 questions per exam). If you have project experience beforehand, you can take both the Green Associate and LEED AP exams in the same session.