Editor's note: The following is the transcript of an interview with Trent Cotney. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast here.
Heidi Ellsworth: Hello, and welcome to today's Roofing Road Trips podcast. I am here with Trent Cotney, my very good friend, from Cotney Construction Law. And Trent and I have seen each other a lot this year at a number of trade shows, a number of events, meetings, board meetings, NRCA. We are together on the road at these different meetings quite a bit. But I thought today as part of our Roofing Road Trip, what I would do is actually sit down and take a minute and visit with Trent about what's going on with Cotney Construction Law so that all of you could hear all the exciting things that are happening. So Trent, welcome to Roofing Road Trips.
Trent Cotney: Hey Heidi, it's always a pleasure to talk to you. And yeah, it's like you said, it seems like we see each other almost every other week now at some place in the United States.
Heidi Ellsworth: I know. It's nice just to be able to sit down and talk a little bit and hear about everything that's going on. We always seem to be rushing around with everything that's going on.
Trent Cotney: Right.
Heidi Ellsworth: So Trent, I know, because of course we've been talking about these things, but there's a lot of really exciting things happening with Cotney Construction Law. Can you share with our audience kind of all the new stuff that's happened in 2019 and what's happening?
Trent Cotney: Sure. Well, we've been blessed. We've continued to grow and expand, and obviously we're very passionate about representing the roofing industry. We have recently been able to become General Counsel for the National Slate Association and a couple of other organizations that we'll be talking about here shortly in the future. But what I'm really excited about is that we have opened up another arm to do lobbying. We've got Cotney Construction Lobbying, which is going to be focused on helping advocate for rules, regulations and statutes that are beneficial to the industry. And we're starting here in Florida, and we've got a good group of people. So we're looking forward to being able to really get in front of both legislative and executive agencies to do what we can to help roofing through that company as well. So great things. I couldn't be happier. Just very excited about what the future holds. And I'm very fortunate to have a lot of great people that work with me.
Heidi Ellsworth: I think you are so progressive. You have put so many things together for the roofing contractors, and I really feel that you have your finger on the pulse of the pain points. I mean, obviously they need help with lobbying. They need help with the jobs and figuring out how to get in the right positions. And obviously with law and the whole legal. What are some of the major pain points that you're hearing from contractors across the country right now?
Trent Cotney: That's a great question. So a lot of what I do all day long is I talk to roofing contractors about what keeps them up at night. And most, the people that are listening to this podcast, the people that are out there, the people that participate on Roofers Coffee Shop, they're usually in management or they're involved in somehow higher up in the organization. And what they're focused on is the business. Okay. Stuff like legal is usually a distraction for them. So a lot of the times when we're talking to roofing contractors out there, the stuff that we're talking about is the stuff that keeps them up at night. So the compliance issues. It's how do I make sure I'm paying my people right? How do I make sure that I'm OSHA compliant? How do I avoid getting an audit from Immigration? Or how do I make sure that we're I-9 compliant? Are my contracts right? And it's those kinds of compliance issues, things that cause business owners a headache. We try to take those headaches away and solve that problem so the business owners can focus on growth and their business and vision and the things that are truly important to them.
Heidi Ellsworth: And exactly what you just said, I really see that a lot of that could be solved with proactive work ahead of time, whereas they are not putting their businesses at risk because they don't have all the right documentation or filings in place. So what do you see with roofing contractors out there handling some of these issues proactively? And what would you recommend?
Trent Cotney: Well, that's a great question. My biggest thing is I don't want roofing contractors to get sued. I know that's a crazy thing for a lawyer to say, but the goal is, like you said, to be proactive, not reactive. And unfortunately a lot of the processes, the procedures, the things that sort of are an afterthought are what's going to prevent you from getting sued or help you defend a lawsuit better. So the key thing is to make sure that you're taking the time to look at those things, especially if you're growing. Growing pains are something that all businesses have experienced. I've experienced it. And taking a step back to make sure that your policies, your procedure, your SOPs, your standard operating procedures, are in place to make sure that you're crossing your T's and dotting your I's internally. It's the difference between being a good roofing contractor and being a great roofing contractor.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah. I've had the pleasure of visiting with a number of your team, your lawyers at Cotney, and they talk about exactly what you just said. Really understanding and making sure all your immigration is in place, that your wage and hour, that your OSHA. And so as you're kind of looking at those big issues and the growth of a company, how are you seeing the contractors handling the legal expenses of that? I know you have a solution, so what's your recommendation on that front?
Trent Cotney: So I worked at big law firms the majority of my career. And seven-and-a-half years ago when I started Cotney Construction Law, the idea behind it was, I had come from a family of construction. Most of our lawyers have either worked in the industry or have family members that have, and I just knew that there was a better way to provide legal services. Where we were a business partner rather than just a third-party lawyer. So everybody hates the billable hour. That's how most construction lawyers and employment lawyers and immigration lawyers work. And what we did is we took a step back and we tried to figure out a way to where there was a fixed price every single month that you know what it's going to be, that you've got access where anybody in your office can contact us at any time for any reason. And we developed really robust and unique subscription plans that allow roofing contractors to help identify what these issues are and eliminate those pain points. And that's the biggest thing. It's what you don't know that hurts you. And what we do is through these subscription plans, we're able to kind of go in, look under the hood, be proactive in making whatever the changes are. And on the other side of things, the CFO, the Controller, whoever's in charge of the money for the roofing contractor, knows exactly what the bill's going to be every month. There's no bill surprise. We are truly a business partner. And that's been a big difference because what we've seen on our end is the average savings that roofing contractors experience is about 53%, but the difference in communication is night and day. I want contractors to call me. I want them to call me. I want him to email me. I want to be able to help them. I don't want them to get sued. Their success is our success. So it's just changed the discourse. It's elevated it, and it's just a better way to do business. So we believe strongly in these plans. We think it's a way that roofing contractors can save money. And again, we're about elevating the industry and making sure that we're all rolling in the same direction. So I think this accomplishes that.
Heidi Ellsworth: When you talk about supporting the industry, you and your team, Cotney Construction Law overall has been huge in supporting some really important initiatives, including National Women in Roofing, Roofing Technology Think Tank. And I've been really lucky to work with you. And so I understand exactly what you're talking about. About that communication level. I know that I can always call and talk to you, and you're going to take that fear away of whatever may be happening legally that most of us don't understand. Talk a little bit more just about that. About how important it is not to be ... And Trent, you know me, I'm a little scared of them the whole legal world. And so how important it is to have that kind of General Counsel or that resource with your team of lawyers right there to help them no matter what happens, to not be scared of making that phone call or text?
Trent Cotney: Sure, sure. The way that I like to describe it, it's like having a lawyer in your back pocket. And we are a team. We're about 40 lawyers or so now, and we're a team of specialists. So if you have ICE knocking on your door to do an immigration audit, we have a lawyer that specializes in that. If you've got Department of Labor doing a wage and hour audit, or if you've got a discrimination claim or anything like that, we've got three lawyers, all they do all day long is that. So what this allows us to do is it allows us to be a full service firm for roofing contractors. And I'll give you a great example of how one subscription client was able to use us. Their Project Manager was out on a job site and OSHA shows up to the job. Well, that Project Manager knew that they could contact me directly, and they're not going to get billed any more than they would if the owner had called me. So the Project Manager calls me on the job site. I immediately intercede, give him some great advice. We get our arms around the issue, control the issue, reduce that fear, reduce that anxiety and hopefully provide better protection for the customer. And at the end of the day, that's what it's about. It's about being able to reduce risk, save money, and increase accessibility so that the business owners can focus on the business rather than on navigating legal. Another great example is contracts. We review tons and tons of contracts. Average contract for commercial contractors is going to be 30, 40 pages. If you're a business owner or a COO or whatever, you can sit there for hours and read it, and you may still not understand all of it. You can outsource that to us. We can knock it out for you. And you know you've got a legal expert that's looking at it that will tell you exactly what you need to focus on. The most important thing. So it's been great because I get to create great friendships throughout the industry, and it's been really beneficial. Every day we learn more and more from these plans and realize that there's even more that we can provide. So really it's been exciting for me because I like it from both the business aspect and from what we can do to help contractors out there.
Heidi Ellsworth: That I think is so important. And I really want to circle back around a little bit on the proactive side of it and bringing that into what you're talking about with reducing risk. So I know one of the things that your team does is they help with manuals. Being involved with National Women in Roofing, we both know that there is a lot of risk out there if you discriminate or if you do things wrong. So maybe talk a little bit about the ability to develop employee manuals, OSHA manuals, immigration processes that are going to help reduce the risk and actually keep them from having to actually make some of those phone calls in the future.
Trent Cotney: Sure. So what we see a lot is it doesn't matter if you're a one pickup truck type of roofing contractor or if you're a top 100 roofing contractor, you may have a safety manual or an employee manual or a contract that you've developed. But what you need to understand is that every single year there are things that change. There are things that you need to add or tweak depending on how the laws have changed. A great example is the recent changes in medical marijuana and recreational marijuana status throughout the United States. A lot of changes need to happen in your employee manual and your safety manual to deal with things like signs of impairment and how you deal with that from an HR standpoint. And what we like to say is a lot of people treat those documents like their will. They don't look at it until it's too late. And what we want to do is really, as part of the plan, we look at it. We look at it, we make whatever tweaks need to happen every single year so you know that you've got whatever's current. And we give proactive advice on how to make sure that, for example, with safety, that you've got a culture of safety. That it's not just from a management standpoint. That you're drilling it down, all the way down to the crew members that are on the roof. So it's been a good way to have that conversation before it becomes a problem. It's like everything in construction. You can ignore it for so long and it's not a problem until it's a problem. But when it's a problem, it's a big problem. So the idea is let's eliminate that before it has to happen so that business owners can sleep better at night, and again, focus on what's important for them, which is growing their business, making sure that they're profitable.
Heidi Ellsworth: And I know that through that subscription plan you work your way through all those areas to make sure that the contractors have looked at employment, at immigration, on everything. And it's really interesting in talking to some of your other lawyers there, I know that they're doing in house trainings. They're actually developing procedures for OSHA visits. You have a lot of resources on your website and also on Roofers Coffee Shop where contractors can already get a lot of this information to kind of see how important it.
Trent Cotney: Sure. Education is key. I'm a firm believer in education. I think that the more that we can get out there, the more that we can help provide policies and procedures so that it helps prevent the sort of crisis type, cataclysmic event, that's the goal is let's educate the industry out there. Let's raise the professionalism as a whole. And again, I just couldn't be more pleased about it. I think it's really been a great way to sort of change the conversation. And everybody hates lawyers, right? Everybody. Nobody wants to deal with lawyers. This is changing that conversation. And I can tell now when I go to a trade show, I've got friends. And they're not looking the other way. They're happy to see me because they know that we're looking out for their business, and they know that we're part of their industry. And that's the difference with these plans. That's why I'm just very ... if you can't tell, I'm very pleased and I'm very proud of what my team's done. And I think it's good for the industry.
Heidi Ellsworth: Well, you've been doing this for a while. I can tell you I've watched. Everyone is excited to see Trent when you walk in the room. You don't have any lawyer stigma. But you know what? You started out this podcast with a big announcement. And I know I kind of took it around a little bit, but I want to come back to that because I think it plays right into what you're talking about. You are understanding what the contractors need and whether it's the associations or contractors or different groups, there's a need for advocacy on all levels. And so tell us a little bit about what you're doing on the lobbying front.
Trent Cotney: Sure. So it's gotten to a point in my career now ... this is my 20th year of practice ... and it's gotten to a point in my career where what inspires me is leaving a legacy of positive change. I want to look back after I'm done and saying, "This is what I did for the industry. I gave back, the industry that put food on my table, I gave back in a meaningful way." Right? So I kept coming back to the fact that, hey, we're doing all these great things for the industry. We're doing all this other stuff. It's great. But at the end of the day, if you're not in front of the decision makers, if you're not in front of the legislators, if you're not in front of the executive branch, if you're not in front of the people that make up the rules and regulations that govern our industry, then you're missing a component. And that's when I decided a while back, it's been a process, that we needed to start getting into lobbying. So it's taken a while to get to this point. But I think it will help us sort of expand, and if our goal is to be an advocate for the industry, then we definitely have to have that component. So really excited about what the future holds with that. I think there's a lot of opportunity there. And again, I think it's just sort of a way to make sure that we've covered every angle of doing what we can to fight for contractors in the industry. Stay tuned for more.
Heidi Ellsworth: And you know what Trent, before we get off this, I know you have done, you have spoken in the Florida legislature, you've spoken on the federal level. Maybe talk just a little bit about some of that experience that you've had personally speaking on these topics and protecting contractors.
Trent Cotney: Sure. So I've always been involved with advocating for various associations. I've been involved with FRSA, the Florida Association, for almost 20 years now. We're General Counsel for a variety of other associations, Western States and TARC and National Slate Association, RT3, all these other ones. And I have the capability of oftentimes getting in front of legislators or getting in front of agencies and being able to talk to them intelligently about what our issues are. A great example is the last couple of roofing days with NRCA It's one of the best experiences that I or my team have had. And you get in front of people, and you get to explain to them that roofers aren't just people with a pickup truck that are doing stuff illegal. That these are well-established businesses that are employing many people, that are basically making sure that every single business in the land is watertight. And once you start having that conversation with these legislative aides and with the rule making bodies, you see a change. You see a change in the discussion and the conversation. You see the light going off. And that's what I like the best about it.
Heidi Ellsworth: That is great. That's great. So how do contractors get in touch with you about, first of all just talking about the subscription plan, but also now ... I know you had talked a little bit about different ways that even in the lobbying group may be able to help contractors at certain times to develop effective bid packages or to successfully learn how to navigate government projects and bidding. Talk to me a little bit about, what's the process? How do we get our contractors, everyone who's listening to this, how do we get them from here to really having some great conversations with you and your team?
Trent Cotney: Sure. Well, there's a variety of different ways to do it. Obviously you can call us at any time. Our phone number is (866) 303-5868. You can go to our website, cotneycl.com, and on that website there's a subscriptions tab if you're interested in that. You can, and a lot of people know that they can contact me directly via my email, which is firstname.lastname@example.org. I have people that hit me up on social media. They hit me up on text message and wherever they hit me up, I'm pretty responsive, so I'm happy to answer anybody's questions. And then obviously just like you, I'm all over the US, so if you see me at an event, come up. I'd love to talk to you.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah. In fact, tell us a little bit about that. What do you have coming up this fall? Speaking events?
Trent Cotney: Oh man, there's a lot of stuff. I'm going to be in New York speaking at NRLRC, and that's going to be a real interesting topic on opioids and what we can do as an industry to kind of help prevent opioid abuse. I'm also speaking at the Chicago Roofing Contractors Association, October 24th, on some contract provisions. And I'm speaking at National Slate Association as well on a couple of different topics in DC, which is October 25th and 26th. In addition to that, I'll be at MRCA's trade show and expo and NRCA's fall meetings. RT3, and I'm sure there's a bunch of other stuff I'm missing. [inaudible 00:20:53] board meetings, so you name it, more than likely if it's an industry event, I'll be there.
Heidi Ellsworth: And most likely, I will be there too watching because I love watching you speak. In fact, I know this is kind of an ongoing thing, but my husband could not believe after watching you speak. He's like, "Is he really a lawyer?" It's so interesting. Tim was-
Trent Cotney: Thank you.
Heidi Ellsworth: Totally blown away. I do want to let everyone know too, that Trent and Cotney Construction Law has been, I mean, for the last three years has just been a major part of Roofers Coffee Shop. And so by going onto the site, you're going to be able to find webinars and eBooks and articles. The amount of articles that you write for us with such great information and legal help is just inspiring. In fact, I haven't told you this yet, Trent, but we actually are starting a whole blog just for you and your team called Legal Corner-
Trent Cotney: Great.
Heidi Ellsworth: Because-
Trent Cotney: Awesome.
Heidi Ellsworth: It's great information. I really encourage everyone to look for Trent on Roofers Coffee Shop. Check out the directory and all the different resources that you just give free, that is just out there for people to help them grow their business.
Trent Cotney: Well, I tell you what, it's hard to beat Roofers Coffee Shop. I'm literally on there almost every day, including the weekends, just checking up and seeing what's the latest and greatest in the industry. So it's always a pleasure and an honor to be affiliated with Roofers Coffee Shop. Love it. I think it does wonders for the industry and can't say enough good things about it.
Heidi Ellsworth: Well, we love working with you so this is a good partnership, and I have to tell you a great podcast. Even though you're in your office and I'm in my office, I feel like we're on the road. And we definitely will be on the road throughout the fall. So Trent, thank you very much for being [inaudible 00:22:53] today on Roofing Road Trip podcast.
Trent Cotney: Always a pleasure.
Heidi Ellsworth: And for all of you, please tune in. We're going to be continuing our podcasts, whether it's Up on the Roof, whether it is Roofing Road Trips or with our Read.Listen.Watch initiative. Our RLW's, where you can listen to things and learn things when you want to, how you want to. So thank you very much. Thank you, Trent. And everyone have a great day.