Contractors: Are there licensing issues?Use This Punch Checklist to Pick the Right Lawyer

First, some background: There are many useful sources of information for contractors who need to hire an attorney when it comes to contract litigation and collection efforts. However, a contractor who needs to hire an attorney to defend his contractor’s license before the Contractors State Licensing Board (“CSLB”) faces a much more difficult task: few in the public, including the contractor’s widest connections, will recognize A licensing attorney skilled and experienced enough to make a recommendation. However, the stakes in contractor licensing law issues can be prohibitively high — far above the general stakes in a misdemeanor criminal trial or a routine commercial dispute that evolves into a civil lawsuit.

The critical degree of risk in the contractor licensing case is obvious: Contractors devote significant time to costly and highly specialized education and/or apprenticeship programs. He or she has been studying for months and taking a difficult and expensive exam. Then, after years of climbing a steep learning curve and investing a lot of money to develop a viable contracting business. For a contractor suddenly facing a license suspension, loss of a license means loss of a job and means of livelihood, which may be the only such means for which an individual contractor is qualified or employable. For sole proprietorships, revocation of a license means closing the business and forfeiting all income, while also incurring the many ongoing costs of doing business. Few civil lawsuits concern a person’s entire income and ability to earn a living. By this standard, licensing law is the ultimate high-risk area. However, it is still practiced out of the public eye, and few who need the “best” licensed attorney know how to find a competent one. This article is provided to fill that need.

Why a punch list?

Punch list. All contractors use them. It is a document used by the construction industry to organize the smooth completion of construction projects. Listed here is a “Punch-List” of successful contractor organization permits. The listed criteria are task oriented – meaning this is a checklist of things a skilled licensing agent should do. It is not a list of necessary personal characteristics or qualities. To be sure, a good mind, a wide range of specific similar experiences, hard working habits, impeccable honesty and strong communication skills are all essential. But there’s no need to draw up a punch-list for these attributes—everyone can know that these qualities are essential. Instead, this punch list lays out what you need your licensed attorney to do in your case. Of course, the facts and circumstances of each case vary, and each case raises issues that require specific decisions and actions by contractors’ attorneys. But based on over 30 years of experience, there is actually a recognizable “punch-list” of legal services that consistently positions a client’s case for the best possible outcome. So, aside from the special requirements of your unique licensing law issue, here’s what your potential licensing agent needs to advise in your situation:

List of valid contractor licensing law representatives:

1. Early, comprehensive and thorough fact-gathering:

  • Issue a formal legal demand to compel CSLB to share all investigative packages and all evidence the agency intends to use against you.
  • Subpoena all witness statements, photographs, agency records, and other materials that CSLB relies on in its charges or decisions against you.

2. Early and regular intervention to reduce cases:

  • Intervene immediately with CSLB investigators and other officials to persuade the agency not to proceed, or to proceed with a less serious set of charges and proposed penalties.

3. Regular and ongoing skilled negotiations with Board representatives, including the Attorney General or CSLB attorneys, and including an Administrative Law Judge acting as Settlement Officer, to reduce charges and proposed penalties.

  • Introduce alternative proposals for licensing discipline, or specific case conditions for licensing.

4. Professional case preparation:

  • Identify, seek out and be prepared to directly and cross-examine all witnesses who support your position.
  • Be prepared to cross-examine any witnesses who oppose you.
  • Create diagrams, videos, maps, photo journals, workbooks, and other exhibits to support your case.
  • Prepare, file and debate legal motions that may limit CSLB’s ability to discipline you under the law or that may exclude evidentiary material against you.

5. Present your case at the hearing:

  • Object to the admission of unreliable evidence against you.
  • Provide all evidence to support you.
  • Question and cross-examine all witnesses.
  • Argues the case and submits an exhaustive post-hearing brief, applying the law to the evidence admitted at the hearing.

6. Complete any applicable post-hearing procedures:

  • File a formal written objection to an adverse proposed decision and file a request for reconsideration of any adverse decision.
  • Appear before the Contractors State Licensing Board to support or oppose a proposed decision.
  • Reserve your right to expedited writ proceedings to challenge adverse agency decisions in civil court.
  • Maintain the integrity, accuracy, and completeness of administrative records in the event of a court challenge.

That’s it! Here’s a punch list of skilled reps in contract licensing matters. When you have a free consultation, you will need to hear these assignments as the attorney describes his or her plans for your case. If all the lawyer’s talk is about hearings — or all about negotiations, or all about any other limited part of a contractor licensing case — watch out and move on. If the proposed service agreement or employment agreement does not detail the entire punch list, you will need to talk further or speak with another attorney before signing and handing over the check.

When your livelihood or business is at stake, you need an attorney who can advocate for you in every aspect of your fight. Licensing disputes involving your professional status and ability to earn a living can be the most important, costly and emotionally challenging legal disputes you will ever experience in your life. Don’t go through it alone; don’t protect your professional rights with anyone with less skill, ability or willingness than you need and deserve.

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