Construction attorney succeeds in field where women are underrepresented


by Cynthia Price
Legal News

Hanging neatly on the wall of Hilger Hammond attorney Aileen Leipprandt’s office on the newly-renovated second floor of the Minhaar Building are several hammers with brightly-painted handles.

“Oh, I recently participated in a Habitat Women Build,” Leipprandt comments.“They sold these as a fund-raiser, so I bought some of them.

“I sometimes give hammers to clients at the end of a trial or dispute resolution. But,” she adds, picking one up from the floor, “I don’t think I’ll give this one away — it’s
too pretty.”

Leipprandt’s recent selection for inclusion in the 2012 Martindale-Hubbell’s Bar Register of Preeminent Women Lawyers is a recognition that she is also giving her clients the benefit of her vast skills and expertise. Inclusion is an indication that she has received the highest rating in both legal ability and ethical standards from her peers — an honor granted to less than 5 percent of women lawyers nationally.

Her success in litigation and her expertise in commercial, real estate and construction law would be impressive in an attorney of either gender. She goes above and beyond expectations in construction industry organizational participation, and in sharing that expertise through writing and lectures. “Ben [Hammond], Steve [Hilger] and I all give lots of presentations,” Leipprandt comments. “It’s part of being involved in the industry.”

 She is also a Super Lawyer, so designated in 2011. “Aileen is a highly-experienced and well-trained advocate for the construction industry who has served in both a public and private capacity in representing players from all sectors of the industry,” commented Hilger about Leipprandt.

She has been a member of the Legal Advisory Committee of Associated General Contractors of Michigan, the American Subcontractors Association of West Michigan Western Michigan Chapter, and the U.S. Green Building Council; she served as the chair of the Western Michigan Chapter of the Associated Builders and Contractors in 2007 and 2008.

She says it was a great honor to be elected to the Grand Rapids Chapter of the National Association of Women in Construction (NAWIC) local chapter board at the end of 2011. NAWIC exists “to enhance the success of women in the construction industry.” Leipprandt comments, “I think a lot of boards appreciate the opportunity to have a lawyer involved.”

She is also on the State Bar’s Real Property Section Construction Law Committee, the Defense Research Institute Construction Committee, and Inforum West Michigan.

Leipprandt’s membership on the Construction Industry Forum of the American Bar Association has resulted in a new  opportunity she finds most exciting. The Forum gives out four scholarships to women and minority applicants to enable attendance at Forum-sponsored national and regional conferences, unparalleled learning experiences in the construction law field, and she has just found out she will receive one of the scholarships. “It’s a big time commitment, four days for the first national conference alone, but it’s great because the programming and everything I learn will help me do the best possible job for my clients.”

After graduating magna cum laude from Alma College with a B.A. in Business/History, and receiving her J.D. from Indiana University, Leipprandt worked for two larger Grand Rapids law firm before joining Hilger Hammond. From the beginning, she was drawn to construction law.

When asked why, Leipprandt responds, “Interesting people — very interesting people. My  first case was for a builder out of Holland, and we just got along fabulously. I appreciate working with construction professionals, and I just find it a real interesting industry.”

One West Michigan trend is part of what keeps her continually fascinated. “The course of the construction industry has really changed in the last 10-15 years with green building and LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] construction,” she observes. “Virtually every major contractor has someone certified in LEED.
“West Michigan has been fairly progressive and we’ve had some wonderful projects, especially here in downtown Grand Rapids,” she continues.

“With computerized aids like Building Information Modeling, and all these advances in how buildings are being constructed, the standard industry contracts have continued to change over the years. I help clients negotiate and understand those changes.”

She says she comes in at the very beginning of the process, to ensure that contracts reflect the way parties want the project to proceed. “I ask them, ‘What project delivery model do you want?’ Then I listen to what they’re interested in and come up with a set of contracts that help them shape that.”

Leipprandt says it is critical to include in such contracts the methods for handling resolution of problems and disputes that may arise. Arbitration, which is generally thought to be a less expensive and time-consuming process than going to trial, frequently comes about as a result of being specified in a contract.

“I do mediation work,” Leipprandt says, “but usually I’m participating on behalf of a client. The mantra is you do whatever you can to find an efficient resolution.”

She observes that in her career of choice, she has often been the only woman present at a meeting or on a committee. She looks forward to a time when talented
female attorneys find a way to stay in traditional legal careers.

Leipprandt, who has children aged 11 and 13, adds, “When a family comes along, you realize how important it is to do that right, in addition to your career. It’s a generational change too, it’s affecting young men who participate in raising their families. I think firms have to recognize that there are stages in life, in order to keep talented attorneys.”