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Roofing Road Trips: S1: E5 with Alison LaValley and Stephen Phillips - PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION

Roofing Road Trips with Heidi - Stephen Phillips and Alison LaValley, NRLRC 40th Anniversary Seminar
October 29, 2019 at 6:00 a.m.

Editor's note: The following is the transcript of an interview with Alison LaValley and Stephen Phillips. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast here


Heidi Ellsworth: Hello, this is Heidi Ellsworth and I want to welcome you to Roofer's Coffee Shop Partner Podcast. Today I am here with Stephen Phillips, General Counsel for the NRCA and for the National Roofing Legal Resource Center. I have known Stephen for quite a while and he is an amazing lawyer and has been an amazing advocate for the roofing industry, working with these two associations. I also have Alison LaValley who is the Executive Director of NRLRC, the National Roofing Legal Resource Center. I tell you these two folks, they have done so much for the roofing industry and today I'm very excited to talk to them about the upcoming seminar in its 40th year. So NRLRC will have their 40th-anniversary seminar in New York City, September 18th through the 21st and Alison and Stephen are going to share all the great details and information about not just the seminar but also about NRLRC overall. So let's get started. I would like to welcome both of you, Stephen and Alison.

Stephen Philips: Thank you. Heidi.

AlisonLaValley: Hi thank you, Heidi, nice to be here.

Heidi Ellsworth: Thank you so much. So Stephen, maybe you could start us off if you wouldn't mind and share a little bit about yourself and your involvement in the roofing industry.

Stephen Philips: Sure. I've been fortunate enough to be a part of the roofing industry for approximately 40 years. I've enjoyed it very much and never have been bored. There's always another issue, particularly legal issues in the roofing industry, so I was fortunate enough to get started with the NRCA in the late 1970s and in response to legal issues, particularly product problems that were being experienced in the industry. We formed in 1978 what was originally known as the National Roofing Litigation Center and we've been dealing with different roofing issues for contractors ever since.

Heidi Ellsworth: Wow. That is really... I'm excited to hear about everything. You have a lot of history, so we're going to get to that because I think there's a lot that people really just don't know of how much you've done for the industry to help us out. So before we start down that path, Allison, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Alison LaValley: Sure. I have been fortunate not only to be involved with NRLRC for about 15 years now, but I have also been at NRCA just a little bit over 31 years. I spent pretty much my whole career here and fortunate definitely to be able to do that and to work with wonderful members and have grown up with a lot of those members over the years and have an opportunity to work with Steven and his firm and people like you, Heidi. I mean it's really been a wonderful experience. One that not too many people get to call their own, so I'm looking forward to the year ahead, especially the upcoming 40th-anniversary seminar. I think a lot of the people listening here, your members and your subscribers and a lot of the industry can really benefit from joining us and also taking advantage of everything that a legal research center has to offer.

Heidi Ellsworth: That is great. Stephen, can you tell us about some of that history? I mean, I didn't know it was called the Litigation Center and maybe tell us a little bit more about how it all started and really what it's done for the industry.

Stephen Philips: The history, Heidi, of the organization is really very interesting. It started in the late 1970s in response to really the first widespread attack of litigation against roofing contractors. And NRCA was looking for how can roofing contractors be better prepared to respond to this wave now of really lawsuits against contractors and it frankly started with one particular product that was manufactured in the industry called a two-ply organic felt roof system marketed as one plus one equals four and the Barrack division of Allied Chemical had started this product. Then the other manufacturers followed suit and we had wholesale failures, particularly with this two-ply coated sheet system and NRCA was struggling, how to help contractors. Contractors would be told that they were the only one having this particular problem, but as calls came into NRCA, we understood that no, this wasn't limited to one contractor. It was happening to contractors all over the country. There was some consideration of actually filing a class-action lawsuit against the manufacturers of this product, but instead of taking that route, we came up with the idea of assisting contractors really in terms of giving them the technical information and particularly reducing the cost that a roofing contractor would have to respond to the litigation. So we formed the National Roofing Litigation Center at that time, and we gathered the documents that I had obtained from my own representation of individual roofing contractors in these cases involving the two-ply coated organic sheet system. And we gathered hundreds, in fact, thousands of pages of documents which really were able to show that there was an internal problem in questioning the effectiveness of this two-ply coated sheet system. And we were able to obtain some very positive results in cases in South Carolina and Kansas. And then we were to make this information available to other contractors and that had the effect of contractors now being able to really effectively defend themselves in cases where their whole company was at stake due to the roofing failure. That was the genesis of the organization and met that particular need. The organization's always had an independent board and president, and in the early 1980s, the president of the National Roofing Litigation Center at that time was one of the more famous roofing contractors in the country, Charlie Raymond, whose name many people may recognize from the Charlie Raymond Membership Award. And Charlie was a person who was always thinking of people working together and he came up with the idea that we should change the name of the organization, a little bit of the focus of the organization from the National Roofing Litigation Center to the National Roofing Legal Resource Center to indicate to our members and roofing contractors across the country, that the Legal Resource Center was here to help them with a whole panoply of issues that they might face. It could be anything from any other product liability failure, to OSHA, to an employment issue. And that led to the name change and ultimately the litigation center becoming the resource center and to the organization that we have today as a complete resource and center for roofing contractors, to obtain information, guidance, help, to deal with legal problems, and particularly to reduce the cost of legal services. We know how expensive it is for roofing contractors to get expert legal advice and we wanted to come up with a very economical means that they could do so. And that's been the mission of the organization ever since.

Heidi Ellsworth: Wow. That is very impressive. And it has, I mean, how much are they... how many members do we have right now? Maybe, Alison, you can share a little bit about that. I know that it's through the NRCA membership, but really give us maybe some examples of how contractors are using this so that some of our listeners can understand really how they might be able to utilize it.

Alison LaValley: Yeah, well definitely. As Stephen mentioned, NRLRC does operate as a separate organization yet it collaborates with NRCA. So about five or so years ago, all NRCA contractor members. So if anybody's listening and is a contractor member of NRCA, you automatically for free of charge, you have access to all of these legal benefits, be it assistance through the legal experts such as Stephen and other counsel from his firm. They're available to talk and try to address some of the legal and business and employment issues that you might have questions about. We have contract language examples. I mean if you, as I said, have an employee relation, a question about a payment provision, codes, and standards, insurance, and safety coverage issues, regulatory compliance. These are all things that the legal resource center can assist with and it's done through a number of ways, Heidi. First of all, when we provide education via the annual seminar let's say. Also, one of the unique things that the Legal Resource Center has is an extensive database. This comprehensive database has, I would say now close to 450 legal articles. There are court decisions in the database, there are special reports. All the materials from the past legal resource center seminars are there. So that just as a resource to be able to search that and pull that up. And like Stephen said, "Maybe try to do some due diligence and get information ahead of time before you might have to seek counsel." I mean you might be able to do some of the look for counsel ultimately saving you money by having these resources online in this database. And also as I said, we have the hotline. So if you have a legal question, something that you can talk briefly about, whether it's employment law or certain contract provision. We have Stephen and his firm, counsel is there to help. We also have a legal library. In the last 15 years, we've grown that library considerably. We have now 17 different legal publications available. And if you're a member of NRCA, a contractor member, you have free electronic downloads to that. We have an extensive OSHA citation defense manual. We have contractors guides to fume claims, obtaining payments, guides to [inaudible 00:10:42].  And I think one of the best things we offer are we have up to seven different volumes now of contract provision. And each of those books contains 20 contract provisions and those contract provisions are written by legal counsel and they are understandable. They are written in such a way that a contractor can pick up that contract provision and insert into their own document. Of course, making it much easier then of course going to your own legal attorney and trying to get something written. So those are all available and again I could go on and on, but the resources that are available, again, especially if you're one of our site contractor members to download and have access to and ask questions and attend education, it just, it goes on and on. So a lot of invaluable resources available to contractors through this member benefits.

Heidi Ellsworth: I think that's... I mean what a great foundation. For them to be able to have all of those documents, to be able to really look and find past court cases and law. I mean that's what contractors need to be able... Plus the hotline is so important. And now let's talk about the 40th anniversary seminar, because then it really is the frosting of everything you just talked about, is this opportunity to get together with other contractors and with all these great legal and risk and advocacy minds, to be able to really take your understanding of what you need in your everyday business to the next level. Alison maybe can start us out just telling us about this seminar and 40 years, that's pretty impressive for the anniversary.

Alison LaValley: We are excited. So to celebrate 40 years of this seminar, this format that we have, I can't stress enough what a great couple of days this is. I mean if I can... Just the fact that within these three days, the way it's set up, we start, we have an opening welcome reception on Wednesday night, September 18th and actually that's new this year. We're going to have a really nice reception to celebrate the 40 years and celebrate each other and we're going to be doing that at Tavern on the Green in New York City, which is part of Central Park. It's a lovely place and it'll be just great to reconnect with everybody. And then on Thursday the 19th, we pretty much will go all day Thursday, a half-day Friday morning, and a half-day Saturday morning. That's our typical format. What we've added this year on Thursday is an opportunity to network with counsel. So with Stephen himself and also with Phil Segal, to be there to answer questions, one on one, if you have something that is a burning issue for you, talk to Stephen, talk to Phillip about it there. It's not that they're not available the rest of the time too, but we've kind of, shepherded this special time to do that and to register and just get to see people and start networking earlier. The seminar overall offers about 14 hours of education. There are continuing education credits available, especially to those in Florida and we're applying for them through the roof consultants group also. So there's opportunity there and it's just a great place to get together and learn from. First of all, the brightest legal, technical business experts in the industry and then also to network with your peers. What's kind of been nice about this format is, is because we spend three days together, is you really get to form some good, not only business but personal relationships, but I see a lot of the same people come back year after year to reconnect. They talk to each other throughout the year and then they come back to learn more, which has been great and the seminar has grown over the years. We're usually somewhere between at about 80 or 120 attendees, which is still a nice setting. We stay together the whole time. So again, there's opportunity to hear and learn not only from the experts but questions that are asked. And I think that's really important and we give a lot of nice materials that attendees back with. And so again, just really great speakers on again, not only legal but business, risk management, and technical experts will be there. Reid Ribble, our CEO will be there this year to give an NRCA update. And also we're inviting a couple of former congressmen to talk about their time and their experience. Stephen will be moderating that program, we've never tried that. So again, something new. We've also invited all of our former presidents over the years to come back and join us to kind of just bring more perspective to the three days. And again, I don't know what better place, I mean I don't know how many people you know, if you love or don't like New York City, but we are in a really convenient location at the New York Hilton Midtown. It's a really nice Hilton. It's affordable and you can walk pretty much everywhere. Central Park is just steps away, lots to see, lots to do. And again, the whole seminar, we'll have a couple of receptions. We have a reception Thursday night too. So even if you don't want to venture out, we've got a lot for you going on not only during the day, but also at night. So again, I can't say enough good things about it.

Heidi Ellsworth: That is great. And I love the fact that you are having past presidents. And that they're invited to come and really share their knowledge. And I know that opening luncheon really is kind of focusing on that, a look back on 40 to 50 years of roofing and what is all the changes and what has happened. Stephen, maybe you can share just a little bit about kind of that perspective of all of these great presidents and contractors that you've worked with over the years and what's kind of that look back on so many changes that have happened.

Stephen Philips: Yep. Well, we have certainly a number of changes and a number of constants, and the Legal Resource Center is there to try to respond to new issues and old issues. So for instance on old issues, we know that ever since the establishment of OSHA in 1970, that has been an issue and some would say a plague for roofing contractors. So we developed in the mid-1980s and keep expanding it each year, the OSHA Citation Defense Manual, which Allison mentioned, which I'd say is probably our signature publication, which is the single most comprehensive guide to everything that a roofing contractor would want to know about OSHA. And uniquely has all the different cases that have been brought against roofing contractors and all the different defenses. So something like OSHA has been a constant throughout the 40-year history of the Legal Research Center, but we also need to stay on the cutting edge of technical issues.  And so Mark Graham, SRI, Matt Dupuy, Renee Dupuy will be talking about those issues technically that have come up and new issues. And we know that code issues change. When we started the Legal Resource Center, building codes were not a real big concern to roofing contractors. Today, they are a major concern. So we try both through the publications and services that are offered during the year and during the seminar, to cover both those issues, which always are critical, such as the contract provisions. Although the exact contract provisions will change each year. And we try to cover the newest issues in terms of the newest code issues and technical issues. So we have folks like Mark Graham, who most everyone's familiar with is NRCA's Director of Technical Services, dealing with the code issues and technical issues. And then we cover the employment issues that are current, drug issues. So we try to really have a combination at the seminar of very basic things that frankly are probably repetitive of what's been covered in the past because they're just the basic essential building blocks for a roofing contractor to be well prepared to defend themselves legally. And then we always will add what are the more current issues that are coming up. So we tried to combine both of them and the seminar kind of reflects what we have in the way of all the different publications that we've published over the years and that are available to contractors and you can save them literally thousands of dollars just because we've done the research.  Another example, for instance, we've looked at and have a compendium of the different statutes of limitation in the different states. So instead of you having to pay your attorney to research the statute of limitations applicable to a roofing claim, that's again information that can be available through the Legal Resource Center. So just as the name implies, the idea is we have resources that can help each and every contractor now that it's membership is open to the entire NRCA membership, to really help them in a better position to avoid being in a legal problem. And if they are in a legal problem, to be able to defend it. And the seminar will cover many of those types of issues.

Heidi Ellsworth: That is cool. So you have items, not just in the resource center, but also maybe you can tell us a little bit about the sessions the contractor's going to be able to attend and they're going to take things home that they're going to be able to apply right away to help their business.

Stephen Philips:  Absolutely. So we always start with the basic fundamental of contract provisions because we know what's in the contract and what we can anticipate coming up. This is where we can be uniquely helpful to roofing contractors. Many attorneys obviously can write contract provisions, but to know that what are the issues that often come up for a roofing contractor during the course of the job. So for instance, we know that the substrate, the deck that the roofing contractors is going to start on, that there's likely to be a contract provision that makes the contractor responsible for that deck condition just by accepting work. So we'll cover in the first session, a provision uniquely suited for roofing contractors so that a roofing contractor does not accept more liability for that deck and they can reasonably accept by making a visual examination of the deck. And that issue has really come to the head in recent years because of the widespread problem we've had in the industry with moisture and concrete decks, particularly from lightweight structural concrete decks. Then we'll go to emerging technical issues as I referred to earlier that Mark Graham, NRCA's Vice President for Technical will cover, and so issues which Mark has seen from calls that have come into NRCA, that hopefully people attending the seminar have not yet personally experienced, but now can be on the lookout for and be better prepared to deal with. Tom Shanahan of the NRCA staff, who's been very active on safety issues and risk management, will be doing a practical program on really analyzing and evaluating risk in your company and will be joined by two contractors who are very knowledgeable and been very, very active in NRCA, Monica Cameron and David Hesse. As Allison had mentioned, our CEO Reid Ribble is going to be talking about where NRCA is, in addition to our kind of special program on congressional reform, which has been an issue that's very dear to Reid in which he recently testified before Congress and then we'll be doing some programs on the deal with labor and employment. Phillip Segal will be talking about what should be in the employee handbook. Trent Cutmayu who does a lot of work with roofing contractors is going to be talking about the opioid epidemic in the roofing industry and how that may affect people. And then we'll be doing programs on real live employment issues that have come up, that come up fairly frequently in terms of whether it's travel pay, or restrictive covenants, just based on the number of inquiries and calls that we've received over the years. And then, unfortunately, we have crises in the roofing industry can be a fire, it could be the fatality due to a fall and nobody expects that, nobody wants to ever have it. But we know they occur in our industry and we'll do a program again utilizing roofing contractors who've gone through that, who would try to give guidance to contractors if they had that kind of misfortune. They had that kind of crisis so they can be prepared to deal with it at the time. And Mark Graham will be talking about the codes and revisions to codes that are coming into effect so that we can be current on that. And we always end with a program that the contractors all seem to enjoy. That we actually talk about some actual reported cases. They can be roofing cases, they can be construction cases that involve the same principles, that would affect roofing contractors. And it gives the contractors a chance to indicate what do they think should be the outcome of that case. And then we cover actually what was the ruling of the court and then those cases, as Allison alluded to, are part of our database. So a contractor who wants to know about oil, is there any case on oil canning of metal roofing, they can go check our database and see maybe what rulings there have been on the case like that. So again, the seminar covers a wide range of issues with contracts, the technical to the employment. We generally will touch upon some insurance and then the crisis management and evaluating risks. So there's a little bit of something for everybody.

Heidi Ellsworth: Wow. Wow. I mean, what a... I mean that is going to bring so much knowledge, education and obvious profitability because you're avoiding risk with all of that information. They can take that back and really put it to use right away. And I guess I would like to end this with the fact... We kind of talked a little bit at the beginning that the Legal Resource Center is open for all NRCA members. Maybe Allison, can you talk just a little bit, let's give some takeaways here for our contractors out there. How do they get involved? How do they, first of all, get access to this great information that you've talked about and how do they do that? And then how do they sign up and register for this seminar so that they can get in there? I know there's a little bit of an early bird that we want them to be registering so they can save a little bit of money on that.

Alison LaValley: Right. Yeah, well we welcome, like I said, all roofing professionals to get involved. But the best thing you could do is be a member of NRCA first to access this and you can do that by calling us here at NRCA or of course, going on our website which is www.nrca.net to learn specifically about the Legal Resource Center. We also right now have information not only on our NRCA site under resources and legal, but we have our own separate website which showcases all of the benefits that the Legal Resource Center offers and all of the seminar information is housed there as well. And that's at www.nrlrc.net. And so really accessing either of those websites, you can find out the legal information. If you go to the NRLRC website, the seminar, it breaks down not only registration information, but just general background information. Our schedule of events is there, the hotel information is there. There's a link to the hotel so you can either call the hotel or actually just go to the link to book your room if you are interested. As far as staff resources, Ann Schroeder and I, like I said, both work for NRCA and NRLRC, so if you needed any kind of resources here on staff, we're available, we're just a phone call or an email away and really you can find out more, not only about all the legal offerings, like I said, the database and the hotline and just all the publications we have, which again are housed on both websites. So resources are available just for the asking, but we just need your support as a member to keep funding all of these activities and all these benefits. So again, any questions can be directed to me here or again through either website and always here to answer your questions and if I don't know the answer, I know Stephen's got the answer for me and then ultimately for the member as well.

Heidi Ellsworth: That is excellent. And I do want to note to everyone that the 40th-anniversary seminar information is also on Roofers Coffee Shop, you can find it on the homepage. You can find in the directory and there is a special early bird promotion. So when you go into-

Alison LaValley: How could I forget that Heidi? I'm so sorry and I'm sorry to everybody who's listening. I'm sorry. The Roofers Coffee Shop members and listeners get a hundred dollars off of registration and that's exclusive to all of you only. And so we appreciate your support, not only NRLRC but of NRCA and so please join us. And another benefit that is available is that not only will you get the exclusive hundred dollars off your registration, but if you bring multiple people from your organization, there's also another hundred dollars off for those additional people attending. So if you can take advantage of that. Heidi, did that go through the end of July? Did we put that-

Heidi Ellsworth: I believe it is July 30th through the 31st.

Alison LaValley: Okay. All right, good. So please, and again, if you have trouble registering or any questions about that, just call me here and I'll help you out.

Heidi Ellsworth: And I have to tell you, just to emphasize what both of you have shared, this is something that's critical for a roofing business. And if more contractors can bring more of their team, then this is not just good for your business as an owner, but is going to be great for the culture of your company, for more of your team understanding it. So by NRLRC making these discounts for groups, it really offers a cultural and huge benefit to the employees too. So there's just so many different angles. They're just going to help the roofing company and the roofing contractors through being a part of this seminar and part of the resource center.

Alison LaValley: And Heidi if I can add onto that real quick, just expanding on what you said and I should have mentioned it earlier. When you talk about multiple people within the company, I want to assure everybody that's listening that we have CEOs and owners who attend, but we have staff that, human resource staff and professionals, we have safety directors come, training directors within companies, onsite on-staff legal counsel, office managers, and project managers. So it's a wide variety. So I don't want anyone to think that, "Well, that must just be the seminar for the CEO," because it's not. If you're a CEO, great. But if you do any kind of other staffing that I just mentioned that would lend itself to an employment relation, employment law, any kind of legal risks, safety sort of issues in the company, then the seminar can really help you.

Heidi Ellsworth: That's excellent. That's I really think, there's just so many sides to it and obviously if any of the listeners on this podcast have any questions, just really want to go a little bit deeper to understand, getting a hold of Allison or Stephen, they can really kind of help you both with every day and with being part of the seminar and being a part of the resource center overall. So you can find all that information, contact information on the website. Go ahead.

Stephen Philips: Yeah. Heidi, I think your last point is really a good one to emphasize to all your listeners that if they have any questions, not just about the seminar, but a legal issue, whether it's employment, contract, technical, it's just a call or email to Allison and Anne Schroeder of the NRCA, NRLRC staff and then somebody with the requisite technical professional experts will get back to them. It's a real benefit of being an NRCA member. It can save them an awful lot of money rather than having to pay an independent counsel to answer a question that we may be able to give them the guidance they need. So it's a resource. It's absolutely out there that we encourage people to take advantage of.

Heidi Ellsworth: It continues to show the power and benefits of the NRCA and what they're doing for this industry, which is just phenomenal. So I say thank you to both of you for everything you've done over the years and for the great seminar that's going to be coming up. Thank you for being here today.

Stephen Philips: And thank you for the opportunity.

Alison LaValley: Thank you, Heidi.

Stephen Philips: Good luck at the Coffee Shop.

Heidi Ellsworth: Okay, thank you.

Alison LaValley: Thank you.

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