Providing Survey Guidance

By September 9, 2014 Engineering News

Real estate lawyers hoping to help clients steer clear of avoidable headaches can turn to free seminars taught by the team at DiPrete Engineering Associates Inc. The topic: “What an Attorney Needs to Know about Land Survey.”

The hourlong seminar is usually taught in a law firm’s conference room, as part of a lunch or breakfast meeting. Often a law firm will invite attorneys from outside as well. Cranston-based DiPrete Engineering offers the program as a way to build its own client base.

The program helps law firms “advise clients on what sort of surveying they’ll need and how much it’s going to cost,” said Chris Duhamel, a professional engineer and surveyor who helps teach the course. “It helps them guide their clients through the process.”

DiPrete has seen a boost in business for its effort.

“A lot of clients come to us first for surveying, and then for engineering,” said Sheryl Guglielmo, a senior project engineer at DiPrete. “That means the course brings work to us.”

The seminars “help tie us into their whole Northeast network,” Duhamel added. “Of course, it’s not a one-hour commercial for our firm. We identify some top colleagues in Rhode Island they could use.”

Before the DiPrete team began making presentations, they gave an outline of the seminar to the Rhode Island Bar Association for review. As a result, lawyers who attend a seminar now receive a one-hour credit for continuing their legal education, a bar-association requirement for legal professionals.

Attorneys give the seminar high marks. “Usually a lawyer just sees the end result of a survey,” said Robert Stolzman, a real estate attorney with the Providence office of Adler Pollock & Sheehan. “A good lawyer wants to understand the process, to ensure the survey is top quality. It’s a wonky subject, but when it involves your work, it’s good stuff to know.”

The big message, says Duhamel, is to be certain you hire a surveyor with adequate insurance.

“Make sure a firm has professional liability insurance for errors and omissions,” he explained. “In Rhode Island, it’s not required, so often people don’t ask. That means that if a mistake is made, there’s no way to repay the clients beyond the surveyor’s assets, which usually won’t cover the damages.”

Seminar leaders present some real examples of surveys gone wrong, including the well-publicized case of the Narragansett home unknowingly built by developer Robert Lamoureux on parkland. A court has ordered the home to be moved or torn down. “We worked on that Narragansett case,” Duhamel said. “The developer called us in after the mistake had been discovered. A mistake like that could cost half a million dollars, and the original surveyor only had $250,000 insurance. The developer asked us to do another survey, hoping we could find some way to help him. Unfortunately, we couldn’t. A case like that reveals the jeopardy you could find yourself in when you use a surveyor who does not have proper insurance.”

Changes in surveying equipment, such as the use of GPS technology, are another subject covered. “As with smartphones, there have been enormous advances regarding the efficiency and accuracy of surveying equipment over the past 10 to 15 years,” Duhamel said. “The result is surveys are both less expensive and more accurate. We’ve been able to cut manpower in half.”

There’s also a discussion of New England’s unique property laws, and how they’re rooted in ideas Colonial settlers brought with them from Great Britain. “Some national clients aren’t familiar with the Colonial land system found here,” Duhamel said.

The program was developed by Nicole Reilly, one of DiPrete’s professional engineers. It will continue in 2015, with DiPrete professionals likely traveling to the Boston area to give presentations. They plan to present their outline to the Massachusetts Bar Association, so that Bay State attorneys get the one-hour credit for continuing education, too.