Arup Thoughts: Lawyers, don’t block BIM

It is time for lawyers to start enabling BIM instead of blocking it.The legal profession should not be permitted to dictate the direction of the construction industry when it comes to building information modelling (BIM).

By Bethan Onions, Arup December 29, 2014

The legal profession should not be permitted to dictate the direction of the construction industry when it comes to building information modelling (BIM).

Lawyers tend to be a traditional bunch who take a certain amount of persuasion to deviate from well-trodden paths. It is time for them to start enabling BIM instead of blocking it.

My master’s thesis considered the role of BIM in engendering a more collaborative approach in the industry. Through my research, I found that the focus of law firms’ literature tended to be on highlighting problems for organisations to consider rather than outlining the benefits that BIM brings to projects.

Yet achieving Level 2 BIM on projects should not involve a great step change in contractual approach from a non-BIM project. Of course, there are some differences such as the requirement for a protocol and BIM execution plan. But employing best practice for project management should stand parties in good stead for their BIM projects.

There is also no reason why BIM should change the approach to intellectual property rights. Yes, it means licenses will be required for software and third parties’ documents. However, this is no different from the standard position. Again, applying best practice principles should be the first step. As with non-BIM projects, this will probably lead to negotiations over who retains what rights. This is normal.

Instead of sparking fear about potential problems, the focus should be on educating ourselves and others in the industry. For Level 2 BIM there is no need for a major overhaul of contracts. Where new documents are required, standard forms have been drafted such as the Construction Industry Council BIM Protocol, use of which Arup promotes on its projects.Whilst I strongly advocate involving lawyers in the process, this should be as an equal and enabling force – not as a blocking mechanism that demands a higher level of respect than other roles in the team. If the legal profession cannot find ways to foster the use of BIM we may rightly find that we become a superfluous cost. We need to stay relevant to the process.

Of course, as we approach 2016 and Level 3 BIM, consideration will need to be given to areas that have previously been settled from a contractual perspective, especially in respect of insurance and the relationships between team members. Organisations in the UK industry will be addressing this over the next few months.

Successfully implementing Level 3 BIM will require a collaborative approach adopted by all members of the industry, including the legal profession. This is how we will achieve the creative contractual solutions required to ensure BIM develops smoothly and that everyone benefits from the advantages it offers. 

Bethan Onions is a solicitor in the legal team at Arup. His thesis sought to determine whether building information modelling (BIM) and integrated project insurance provide the ingredients for collaboration in the construction industry. This article originally appeared on Arup Thoughts. Arup is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Joy Chang, digital project manager, CFE Media,