Celebrating Women in Construction Law

5 min

With five women lawyers in Venable’s Construction Law Group, the firm stands apart in an industry where women remain in the minority. In celebration of Women in Construction Week 2024, our team members shared their thoughts on what it’s like to work in a traditionally male-dominated industry, how their group works together, and why they would like to see more women working in this field.

Heidi Hennig Rowe on Women in the Industry and Why She Loves Construction Law

From the very start of my legal career, I fell in love with construction law and the construction industry. There are so many different types of projects, and it is fun to work in markets across the country and develop strategies to address the variety of challenges the industry faces each year. I also have a great deal of respect for the people in the construction industry. They are savvy, sophisticated businesspeople, who are also good, down-to-earth human beings. And if you know what you are doing, they will respect you, too—it doesn’t matter if you are a man or a woman.   

We are proud to have many women in our Construction Law Group, but that result wasn’t intentional. We look for the best people we can find, and the women in our group (along with the men!) really are the best lawyers to do the job. They are a tough, sharp group of women who know how to advance our clients’ business goals while protecting our clients’ legal interests. I feel very fortunate to work alongside them.

Amanda Schermer MacVey on Working in the Field and the Advantages of Having a Diverse Team

I spent almost a decade working out of a trailer on a construction site on two back-to-back projects. That experience gave me a unique understanding of what the people on the ground are dealing with and the pressure of resolving in real time the unexpected events that arise during the construction phase. Dispute resolution and risk mitigation have a very different time frame when you’re dealing with them on a building site. You don’t have the luxury of telling a client, “Let me go research that for a couple of weeks, and I’ll get back to you!”

When you have a construction team that has diversity among its ranks, you’re much more likely to be able to minimize the risk of making penny-wise, pound-foolish decisions in real time. And diversity is not only gender diversity. It’s about bringing a variety of skill sets to the table—people who can understand the technical side, the commercial side, the contractual provisions, and the myriad regulatory considerations.

Christina Brunka on Her Lifelong Interest in Construction and How to Encourage More Women to Enter the Field

I was always interested in design and construction. Growing up, I aspired to be an architect, and I ended up getting both an undergrad and a master’s degree in architecture. Ultimately, I decided to go to law school because that would allow me to combine my love of architecture with my interest in the legal aspects, particularly drafting better contracts.  What I most enjoy about my practice now is leveraging my architecture background to facilitate discussions with clients, draft better contracts, and help resolve disputes.

Creating opportunities is one way to promote women to enter the construction industry.  Before college, I shadowed a local architect.  We reviewed drawings, discussed the project from start to finish, walked the project site, and met with contractors.  That experience really helped me understand design and construction and heavily influenced my decision to work in the construction industry. I think creating more opportunities like that for young women would really help boost our numbers within the industry.

Katherine Peluso on Perceived Barriers to Entry and How Venable’s Construction Law Group Supports Younger Lawyers

The women I’ve encountered in the field outside of our group are few and far between. But I don’t think there is a barrier to entry for women in this field. I think a lot of women may feel it’s necessary to have a technical background to understand the subject matter. But really, it’s the same as any other type of law—you just take each project as it comes. I have always been interested in how things are built. If you want to be an attorney in this field, it does help to have an eye for how projects are put together.

Within our group, younger associates tend to start out doing litigation and then transition into more transactional work. Our group leaders have developed that model with the philosophy that if associates first learn how to litigate a claim, they are then better positioned to understand how to contract around it to prevent a similar claim from happening in the future.

Molly Hogan on Dispute Resolution and the Importance of Mentorship

The matters the group works on are quite varied, ranging from large infrastructure projects such as highways, airport expansion, and train systems to industrial projects or high-rise condos. A lot of projects run into issues in the early stages related to cost or time overages. But our group is good about trying to be proactive in the dispute resolution process so that the work in the field can continue. I really enjoy that aspect of working on large construction projects. It’s also given me a real appreciation for why many infrastructure projects get delayed or take much longer than anticipated.

This group is really invested in making sure that junior associates get to work on a wide variety of projects on both the litigation side and the contractual side. We tend to work in small teams, so there’s a lot of back-and-forth among everyone on the team, and our partners are very good about giving feedback about what we did well and what could be improved upon. There’s a natural understanding that the energy they put into the development of junior attorneys will be put back into the broader group and into the service we deliver to our clients. It’s wonderful having several female partners at the top of their game who are invested in the mentorship of associates. It makes me feel like I have a place and room to grow.

Learn more about Venable’s Construction Law Group.