The question of whether to hire an attorney or a service like Levelset to manage your mechanics lien compliance or file a mechanics lien is a controversial and complicated one. As the CEO of Levelset , a non-law firm, legal document preparation company, and a licensed construction attorney with an active law firm practicing construction law (Wolfe Law Group), I think I fit into a small group of people who can see the issue fairly from both sides.  Here is my take.

Part I: Preliminary Notice and Lien Management (Winner:  Lien Service)

A few months ago I published an article on this blog asking attorneys “How Can Clients Handle Preliminary Notice Compliance?”  The question was simple, highlighting a legal compliance challenge confronted by building suppliers and subcontractors across the United States. I went out and solicited comments from attorneys practicing construction law and specifically asked them to address the mentioned challenge. Every attorney answer side-stepped the issue.

They can’t hire an attorney in every state to track and send notices. They can’t do it in-house because the compliance framework is a mess. What do they do?
What is this challenge?  It’s that many subcontractors and suppliers cross state lines, have a high volume of projects and work on varying types of projects within varying tiers.  The mechanics lien and preliminary notice laws are different on every project for these contractors and suppliers. Take a huge Fortune 500 electrical supply company, for example, and you’re talking about 2000 – 10,000 projects per month.  How does this company handle this challenge?

They can’t hire an attorney in every state to track and send notices.  They can’t do it in-house because the compliance framework is a mess.  What do they do?

In this instance we have a clear winner.  Using a preliminary notice and mechanics lien compliance management service like Levelset solves this issue, and it’s the only type of offering out there that can help.  Attorneys do not offer the service, and doing it in-house is a non-starter (even with software).  So, here we go with the Pros and Cons:

Attorney ProsAttorney Cons
  • Can Give Legal Advice
  • Comprehensive Evaluation of Every Project
  • Will likely be able to take advantage of laws that apply to unique situations when sending notices (by adding customized notice material to the notice)
  • Attorneys cannot cross state lines (as your business does)
  • It will be very difficult to find an attorney willing to send preliminary notices, much less a high volume of notices
  • If an attorney is willing to send notices, turn around time will be long and costs will be high.
Lien Service ProsLien Service Cons
  • Companies like Levelset can use its patent-pending application to track your compliance requirements
  • Specializes in sending high-volumes of preliminary notices
  • Can send compliance notices in all states and situations
  • Affordable
  • Practical
  • No legal advice (but you can still get this through an attorney for a fee or a service like Avvo.com for free)

Part II: Uncomplicated Mechanic Liens (Winner: Lien Service)

Having an attorney send preliminary notices for you is actually a non-starter. I believe, it’s an absolute non-starter.  If you called my law office – which specializes in construction law – and asked us to send a preliminary notice, we would tell you to go find someone else. It’s not worth the time or trouble, and there isn’t any way to quote a reasonable price to do this service.

Mechanic lien claims, on the other hand, are do-able for law firms, and lawyers frequently file these claims.  In a survey of mechanics lien data we conducted across the United States based on mechanic liens filed between 2004 and 2009, we found that approximately 25% of mechanic liens are filed by attorneys. Unlike a preliminary notice request, if you call Wolfe Law Group and ask for a mechanics lien claim filing, that is something it could do.

The question here, though, is should you get an attorney to file your mechanics lien claim?

Filing a mechanics lien claim can be complex and technical.  As evidence of this just scan through this blog.  It contains over 300,000 words about mechanics lien claims and the issues you must consider when preparing your filing.  For all the complexities, however, a very large majority of mechanic lien claims are run-of-the-mill easy filings.

As evidence of this, consider the mechanics lien survey we completed earlier this year, which found that most mechanics lien claims (a high percentage) were paid within 3 months without any further legal action.  We file thousands of lien documents at Levelset and we very rarely encounter a mechanics lien challenge to the document itself, if ever. Bottom line: When you file a mechanics lien with a lien service like Levelset, the document is almost always going to be correct.  The issue is what data you put into the document.

[pullquote style=”right” quote=”dark”]Right off the bat, 38% of the attorneys we contacted didn’t return our call. Of those we finally spoke to, 55% of those attorneys had a pretty unreasonable or unworkable response.[/pullquote] When you use a lien service you are representing yourself and making legal decisions on your own.  So, when it comes time to set out the amount of your lien claim, for example, you’ll be required to self-determine whether or not to include lien costs, interests and other expenses in your claim. If you make the wrong decision it could affect your claim depending on how the state construes lien claims.

Help on these questions, however, is readily available.  They just take time to go through.

Getting an attorney to help you with a mechanics lien, however, is not an easy alternative.  We actually conducted a survey of construction lawyers and construction law firms to see just how easy or hard it is to get a mechanics lien filed with them.

Right off the bat, 38% of the attorneys we contacted didn’t return our call. Of those we finally spoke to, 29% wouldn’t disclose a fee for a mechanics lien without scheduling an initial consultation (sometimes, a week or two away).  11% didn’t offer the service of filing a mechanics lien.  15% wouldn’t give a flat fee and would only offer to do the service at an hourly rate that was more than $200/hr.  All in all, of the 62% that would speak to us, 55% of those attorneys had a pretty unreasonable or unworkable response.

Not a single attorney or law firm would do the lien for a price close to Levelset’s $295 rate, nor did they have an efficient way to collect your mechanics lien information like Levelset’s online order form.  In fact, there are so many pros to filing a mechanics lien with a company like Levelset, many of our clients are frequently attorneys filing for their clients!

This brings us to the Pros and Cons:

Attorney ProsAttorney Cons
  • Can Give Legal Advice
  • Comprehensive evaluation of your claim
  • Available to help with post-claim negotiation or advice
  • Expensive
  • Hard to Contact and Find Attorney Who Can Help
  • May Not Be Experienced Filing Mechanic Liens (Yes, Really)
  • Cannot Cross State Lines (as your business does)
Lien Service ProsLien Service Cons
  • Easy to Use and Practical
  • Affordable
  • Although you must self-determine some questions, resources available to help.
  • Technology used to guide you through complex areas of lien forms
  • Specializes in mechanic liens only, not complicated legal disputes, and thus probably has more experience than attorney in lien filings
  • Can usually e-record liens
  • No legal advice (but you can still get this through an attorney for a fee or a service like Avvo.com for free)
  • Not around post-filing to help with negotiations or give advice about moving forward

Part III: Complicated Mechanic Liens (Winner: Construction Lawyer)

Not every mechanics lien claim is simple, and this is where the construction attorney shines.

Not every mechanics lien claim is simple, and this is where the construction attorney shines.
 Attorneys are great at helping companies deal with complicated legal situations.  If you’re owed a lot of money on a complicated project, with complicated disputes at play, it’s probably best to go consult with a construction attorney to wade through your issues and make sure you are proceeding with the correct remedy at the correct time.

When all the parties to a project have lawyered-up and there are tons of disputes, the last thing you want to do is make a misstep within your mechanics lien and have the opposing attorneys pounce on your mistake. Getting a construction attorney to review your situation is key.

A word of caution, however:  You want to hire a construction attorney, and not just any attorney.  Attorneys are a dime a dozen, but many know absolutely  nothing about mechanic lien claims and construction disputes.  You’ll need an attorney well versed in construction dispute issues and mechanics lien filings to help you out.

The Pros and Cons:

Attorney ProsAttorney Cons
  • Can Give Legal Advice
  • Comprehensive evaluation of your claim
  • Available to help with post-claim negotiation or advice
  • Able to review complicated legal disputes, delay claims, workmanship claims and more, and give you advice as the best way to proceed with your claim
  • It will be Expensive
  • Make sure you find the right kind of attorney with experience in construction disputes
Lien Service ProsLien Service Cons
  • Easy to Use and Affordable
  • Technology used to guide you through complex areas of lien forms
  • Specializes in mechanic liens only, not complicated legal disputes, and thus probably has more experience than attorney in lien filings
  • Can usually e-record liens
  • No legal advice (This is a big one for these complicated type of disputes, you need legal advice)
  • Not available to negotiate with opposing attorneys or parties
  • Cannot evaluate your claim or evaluate other methods of recovery aside from the mechanics lien document