Incoming head of ABA construction law forum talks industry changes

Kristine Kubes keeps her father’s architectural scale ruler and other carpentry tools within view of her desk at her law office at International Market Square. She leads the Minneapolis-based Kubes Law Office where she specializes in construction law and represents architects, designers, engineers and other contractors in disputes. In September, Kubes will become the new chairwoman of the American Bar Association Forum on Construction Law. Kubes will be the first forum chair from a solo or small law firm and one of only a handful of women who have led the group. Kubes is a big advocate for lawyer professionalism and diversity and inclusion. She is also a founding member of Building for Good, Inc., a nonprofit that will create a volunteer network of construction lawyers.

Q: Can you explain how the Forum on Construction Law began and its main role?

A: The Forum on Construction Law is one segment of the American Bar Association. The American Bar Association is an association of lawyers nationwide and has more than 400,000 lawyers in it. … [The forum] has been in existence for 43 years. [It was] founded in 1976 by a group of guys who thought, ‘You know what? We should have a group that’s just focused on the construction industry that lets practitioners meet, have education focused on construction and help us to improve ourselves as practitioners.’ Ultimately the goal for the forum is to build the best construction lawyers. … We have three meetings a year that are all education related so three conferences of continual legal education for lawyers in the construction arena. In the forum there are 14 different divisions that relate to areas of practice, so for instance I came up in the design division because my primary purpose is representing the design professional.

Q: You are helping spearhead programming in the fall that focuses on diversity, inclusion and professionalism. How do you define professionalism and how does it relate to D & I (diversity & inclusion)?

A: Professionalism relates to everything. It is really a foundation, or it ought to be. We have a code of ethics and when you look at our code of ethics and when you think about professionalism it is a call for respect. It relates to diversity and inclusion because it relates to eliminating bias, being respectful of all and it plays out if we can do those first two. If we can be more in tune to our own implicit biases and work on overcoming them then we can be more inclusive of one another, we can be more accepting of one another.

Q: You have talked about a decline in civility in the law profession. What have you observed?

A: We are lawyers so we oftentimes are going to be sparring in the courtroom when we are arguing or objecting or whatever we are doing in front of the court. But as a general rule, at least in construction, at least in this market and in the forum generally, we’re very civil to one another. That’s important. To be able to disagree on the merits but be able to be civil in dealing with one another about the case. It’s very important to be able to draw that distinction. I don’t really know what the source of the problem is but you can feel it in politics in our nation right now, there’s this great divide is how it feels. … As soon as someone disagrees with whoever, they go to the next degree. They call each other names. … I would say that personally I have seen that type of behavior in our local bar and that is troublesome. It’s troublesome when you see a female colleague that you haven’t seen for awhile and you ask, “How are you doing?” and the female colleague says she’s been having a lot of bad behavior from her male opponents lately. That did not used to happen.

Q: The ABA recently updated its “model rules of professional conduct.” How can that help?

A: The model rules is a thing that the ABA creates. They have a committee. They develop these rules after a lot of work and then every state jurisdiction that licenses lawyers can tap into those model rules. … We were one of only three states in the country that had an elimination of bias requirement for our continuing education so we are already at the front of that parade as you would say. But the model rules are encouraging lawyers to think about their conduct at all times in their practice. The rules used to just say when you were in the pursuit of justice, which was interrupted to mean when you are in court. Now it is whenever you are practicing law so that could mean when you are at a bar function, when you are in your firm and talking to somebody else.

Q: You often think of construction as still being male dominated. What does it mean to you to be a woman leading the forum on construction law?

A: It is significant to be a woman in construction and a woman in construction law. I was raised in a construction family so I have been empowered since I was a kid about learning how to use the tools and read a plan and all of those things. So that’s great. But still there are very, very few [women] when you look at the total numbers. I think in the forum women are about maybe 18% of the whole membership, but our racial [diversity] numbers are far less. … We are working so hard in getting the word out, at promoting construction law as a profession to law schools to colleges, etc., and trying to bring in the possibility of this profession to diverse people.