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S3:E1 Kathleen Ropka - Getting to Know the Cotney Chicago Office - PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION

Cotney - Chicago podcast
January 4, 2021 at 1:19 p.m.

 

Editor's note: The following is the transcript of an interview with Kathleen C. Ropka of the Cotney Construction Law Chicago office. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast here.

Speaker 1:
Welcome to Roofing Road Trips With Heidi. Explore the roofing industry through the eyes of a longterm professional within the trade. Listen for insights, interviews, and exciting news in the roofing industry today.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Hello and welcome to another Roofing Road Trip from RoofersCoffeeShop. This is Heidi Ellsworth, I'm an RCS partner with RoofersCoffeeShop. And we love these Roofing Road Trips because we get to meet people from all over and right now we're doing something really special. We're combining our Roofing Road Trips with Cotney Around the Globe. That's right, Cotney Construction Law Around the Globe, I mean, they are everywhere.
So we're going around to meet all of the amazing attorneys that are a part of Cotney Construction Law. And today we're visiting with Kathleen Ropka who is out of the brand new Chicago office, and she's doing some things that are just great. I'm really bringing Cotney into the Midwest. So Kathleen, welcome to the show.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Hi Heidi and thanks for having me.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I'm so excited. We haven't met in person yet although we will, but it's just so nice to have you on this podcast today.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Thank you. I'm looking forward to it.

Heidi Ellsworth:
No, I'm looking forward to getting to know you a little bit better, so let's start out with that. Please share with me and our listeners out there a little bit about yourself and your experience in both law and construction.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Yes, definitely. Before I joined Cotney Construction Law I worked with a general litigation firm for over 16 years. We had a very aggressive litigation schedule and practice in both state and federal court. My practice areas included construction litigation, contract review and drafting, lien and bond law and contract negotiations.
Then while I was at that firm in December of 2000, I started a construction company with two of my brothers. Our business is a commercial rebar installation business. What brought me to that was my father had a rebar business with four partners for over 30 years, so basically I grew up in the construction business.
After my father retired, we started the business and named it after him, it's J. Quinn Construction, Inc. and we are actually members of Iron Workers Local #1 in Chicago. I have to say my experience in the construction business has been extremely helpful with my legal practice, as it provides me really hands-on experience and first-hand knowledge in the construction industry. And as a matter of fact, I'm still operating the construction company, and now an attorney with Cotney that specializes in construction law, so it all works out well.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Wow, you're a busy lady. That is a lot.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Yes. I agree. I agree.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I love it. Well, my dad was a general contractor, so I grew up in the trades also and so there is something special about that isn't there?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Yeah, definitely. I mean, we used to go out to the job sites, stand across the street and watch my dad's company do their work. And it was just really interesting to see how actually these buildings start from the bottom, the foundations and watch them grow, so it was a really neat experience.

Heidi Ellsworth:
That is cool. So I'm guessing you and your brothers probably have the same driving towards it. My siblings and I had growing up on, "Oh, we worked on that building. Oh, we did that building. Oh, we did that." Right?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Yes. I attended DePaul University undergrad and law school, so when my father would take me back and forth to school at times, we would drive through the loop and different areas of Chicago and he would point out the buildings that their company had worked on. So it was very interesting and I felt very proud to be part of it.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Oh, I'm excited. The next time I come into town for NRCA meetings, I'm going to think about that, think about you and your dad and the buildings. That is that's very cool, Kathleen. Well, along those lines then, talk to us a little bit about Chicago and what's happening there on the construction front. Obviously I'm always interested in roofing and some of your experiences since you started in July, right?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Yes. I actually started with Cotney in July of this year. My official start date was supposed to be in March, but then with the happening of COVID-19 it was bumped until July. And that says a lot about what has happened this year and what has affected the construction industry in general in the world.
I was hired at first, I was hired to assist in the expansion of the Chicago office due to the increasing volume of legal business in Chicago, the Illinois area and Indiana as well. So right now we are rapidly growing in our Chicago office and hiring more attorneys to assist in our increasing caseload.
As for my experiences last year, I have to say, I am working with some of the most knowledgeable and experienced attorneys that I've ever worked with while practicing Los Angeles. With Cotney, every legal aspect of the construction industry is covered from employment, immigration contract law to ocean matters. So, since joining Cotney, I've had a very busy case load. And going back to where I started with COVID, especially dealing with legal issues that have come up with COVID and the construction industry.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. That has just been the topic of the year, and that was exactly what I was going to ask you about. What are some of the hot topics and trends that you're seeing in Chicago and Indiana and all the areas that you're starting to bring together? And maybe start with what are you hearing on the COVID front, essential workers and such?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
This year, as you mentioned, mainly we've been addressing legal concerns of COVID at the office and on the job site. I mean, we have been assisting our clients with keeping their contracts, their employment manual, safety programs current with this ever evolving and the changing guidelines for COVID.
Contractors are dealing with everything from job delays up to job shutdowns. They need to be kept up to date with the proper safety requirements on a job site, which includes everything from proper personal protective equipment, such as masks, eye wear as well as having sanitizer stations, proper distancing on the job site. And even in the offices, revising office schedules to stagger or shortened shifts so everyone can work in a safe environment.

Heidi Ellsworth:
There is so much that is going on on that front. And when we talked to your coworkers in Denver on the last podcast, they also were talking about vaccinations and that that's going to be a whole 'nother thing too and how does that going to work? Are you seeing much of that yet or conversation?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
That definitely has. The conversation has started, and it's just up in the air where we know it's in Chicago, it's just a matter of when and who will receive the vaccinations, so it's an ongoing conversation.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. Yeah. 2020 was really interesting and now we're seeing such hope coming for 2021 but it's still going to be an interesting year for sure.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Well, I think that's it, it's just the hope. Everyone's hoping for a safer and more productive year and again, not having to deal with all these issues pertaining to COVID-19. And as I mentioned with the job delays, the job shutdowns, the safety of the workers, all those concerns that hopefully with the vaccination and the rollout it will definitely help things in the construction industry.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I know, I think I really do. Although we have definitely seen a busy year in roofing. A lot of people I'm talking to are still really busy. What are you hearing from the roofing contractors in your area?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
It definitely has been busy. I mean, especially you've had some severe weather, so there are a lot of repairs up to a lot of brand new roofing projects. Right now though we are in the winter season, so roofing contractors tend to take this time to update their training procedures, to review and update their contracts, their safety plans if necessary. And that is part of our role is to help prepare them and update them on all of these levels, and to get them ready for when the projects start up again. And I'm sure all these contractors are hoping for a better and safer year in 2021.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Definitely. Yeah, because I did hear, I'm visiting with someone from Chicago this morning, that you're getting snow right now, is that right?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Actually, it's coming. I mean, I'm sitting in right outside of Chicago and it's cloudy. You'll see a few snowflakes, but I think it's coming.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, it's coming I think. It's getting-

Kathleen C. Ropka:
The contractors are ... I'm sorry?

Heidi Ellsworth:
No, exactly. I was just going to say winter is definitely hitting across the country and it's the best time to really put together, make sure everything is right. So maybe you could talk just a little bit more about that, the importance of your safety manuals and employment manuals and around diversity too. I mean that is such a huge issue moving forward and everything else that contractors need to make sure is up to date. Cotney can help with that and has some great programs and subscriptions to be able to help people with it, right?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Oh, definitely. What we like to consider ourselves, we like to put ourselves as a proactive business partner, not so much a third-party lawyer to our clients. We like to help to have our contractors to be more proactive in their business operations to basically avoid problems before they occur.
So we help our clients identify the soft spots in their business by reviewing their contracts and their safety manuals, their operating procedures and updating and updating or advising them accordingly. And identifying problems and dealing with them again before they have to deal with any legal issues, we just want them to be prepared.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. That's what I've been seeing across the board that contractors are not only ... they're understanding how much money actually can be saved by being proactive and instead of reactive. Yeah. I think it's so interesting, Kathleen, with your history in rebar and the full building, how do you see the differences within the trades? Because I know Cotney does construction law for all trades, but what are you seeing with the trades working together and from roof to the buildings? I mean, there's just a lot of coordination that's having to go on there right now, more than normal.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Yeah. I mean, it's just really being familiar with the schedules and the project itself, and making sure that everyone adheres to the safety requirements. That everyone is definitely participating under the safety guidelines, having toolbox talks, and really be considerate of everyone they work around because you do have different trades on a job site at one time. And it's a matter of making sure that everyone there is obviously they can perform their services, but they have to be considerate of others and also make sure that they're aware of the safety of the individuals that are working around them.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. It's just a whole 'nother level of being aware than it ever has been before.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Especially now. I mean, yeah. They just added, exactly, a whole 'nother level of you just said, the workers knew what to do before, but now they need to have again, additional PPE and spacing and staggering job schedules. I mean, it's just a whole different environment.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. It's wild. So what are you seeing? I mean, with your involvement in the unions too in Chicago, I'm just so impressed with your background and with what you can bring and help with contractors. Are you seeing any new trends or new things that are happening on all sides of construction, especially in the roofing thing in Chicago?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Again, I think it's just a matter of being able to comply and to keep everyone updated with the current laws and guidelines. And make sure that once again, that people are working within those guidelines and keeping ahead of any problems and issues. So I think there's a higher level that's out there now that people have to keep up with but I think again, this year in 2021, hopefully we'll see some better changes for the industry.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, exactly. And you are in the same town as National Roofing Contractors Association, their office is out in Rosemont. And so have you had any involvement with NRCA as of yet? Are you hearing anything on that level, because you're going to have contractors and people coming in from all over the country to your great city.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Yeah, definitely. We are excited to have her office in the same city as the NRCA. Our firm is actually in general counsel for the NRCA and has been since December of 2019, so we work very closely with them. We also were recently appointed general counselor for the Chicago Roofing Contractors Association, so we're very proud to be general counsel of both associations.
So our firm works with the committees with the association and provides ongoing member benefits of legal consultation, that include strong emphasis on proactive support surrounding construction employment, immigration, and OSHA law. And we just really work closely with the associations to help stay informed and updated on current safety technical codes, that will help us make sure that the members and clients are advised and up to date on the codes and guidelines applicable to roofing and to other contractors.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. I know Cotney is getting very involved in lobbying also. I mean, in Florida, now on a national level with Craig. So you have the fact that you're right there in Chicago with NRCA and the breadth of the Cotney on work on the general counsel, that really brings huge value into the industry to understand both from regulations all the way up to what's happening in DC, what's happening in Chicago. I mean that's a lot.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Yes. No, it's definitely and again, it's very exciting to be a part of it and to be closer to their office here in Chicago. And I'm looking forward to becoming more involved and participating more in the committees and the events for the association.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Here at RoofersCoffeeShop, we do a lot with NRCA. I've been friends with the folks there for a long time. You are going to love it. I know you've already had some exposure, but it only gets better. Great people. Great people in the roofing industry.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
No, I definitely agree.

Heidi Ellsworth:
So one of the things that I also want to just talk about is with your background and a lot of contract review, corporate law, commercial litigation, you really have seen that all. In giving some words of advice to roofing contractors as they are doing their planning for 2021, what are some of the things that ...
I know we've already talked a little bit about the COVID and about making sure that's all in safety, but even beyond that with, I know it's getting better, but some of the volatility of new construction and contracts not always happening, what are some of the things that contractors, roofing contractors should be looking at and preparing for, just to make sure they have their basis covered in 2021?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
From what I can see, again, it is a matter of just making sure that they are proactive in regard to keeping up to date with regard to their contracts, being proactive with regard to their business operations, getting ahead of problems. Making sure that their safety manuals, operating procedures are current and that they're ready to move forward with any new projects, new or upcoming projects they have for 2021.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. What I'm hearing too is just really looking at your contracts, making sure that you have everything you need in there for any job stalls or delays or whatever it may be, is more important than ever and collections. Trent talks a lot about that too, that it's about the contracts, but it's also about making sure your collections are in a great spot and Cotney helps with that. It helps across the board from beginning to end, right?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Oh definitely. And that's one thing we do advise our clients is to really keep a calendar, really keep track of dates. For example, when you issue your invoice, that certain period of time where you want, if you're not paid, there has to be a particular notice sent out to the owner or a general contractor, really to preserve your rights and to move forward filing the mechanic's lien.
So you need to really keep on top of that or you might lose your right to file a mechanic's lien and then enforce it against the property or the project. So it is important for contractors to understand the steps and the procedures involved in the collection of their invoices.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, exactly. I hear I'm hearing that over and over again, as people are putting their plans together. I mean, right now is the time for 2021. And we just, as I said, talking to your Denver office a couple of weeks ago, really having contractors think about looking at the Cotney subscription plan, something that is set every month and that can really become a proactive tool for business. Can you talk a little bit about that?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Sure. I was really impressed when I joined Cotney and became more informed of this subscription plan. And again, owning a construction company, I mean, I as an attorney was able to handle my legal issues by just knowing what a benefit having this plan is to construction companies. I was very impressed that this was set up.
And it really is a great system because contractors can join. There are four different plans and each plan has different levels of services. So for example, there's the Bronze Plan and for 5.99 a month a contractor receives attorney-on-demand phone calls. So if they have an issue, they may be standing on the job site. They may be in their office and something comes up, they can call Cotney and they will get a response. There's unlimited phone calls with that package, unlimited demand letters for payment on invoices.
As you mentioned, such an important part of the business is contract review. That is part of the plan that we will review the contract and give them updates and suggested revisions. In addition, if they are reviewing a project and they receive a contract from a general contractor or an owner, we will review that contract, and again, give them suggested advice as to how to revise that contract, if necessary.
And then the plans keep going up. There's a silver, gold and a platinum plan at different levels and price or levels each month, but each plan adds on additional services from Cotney. And it's just to me, such a great idea for contractors to have this ability just to reach out whenever there's a problem. So I really highly suggest that the contractors sign up for a plan like this. In addition to the services I mentioned, there's also additional discounts with [Finley 00:22:18] partners that come along with it. So overall it is really the best way to go when it comes to adding a significant benefit to the companies.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, I agree. And I've been involved with Cotney watching this grow, and I just see what a benefit it is to roofing companies and all companies, all construction companies. Because obviously it's not just roofing with Cotney Construction Law, but I know that's where the heart is.
As we come to the end of this podcast, I would just love to ask also, Kathleen, just what's your impressions of having your own construction company and being in the rebar, that world, and now for the last six months being involved in the roofing world? What do you think, how does it look to you? Have you had a good time? We'd love to hear a little bit of feedback about what you're seeing and enjoying in roofing.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
No, I'm really enjoying learning more about the roofing industry. I mean, again, I build foundations, we're on the ground and then now I'm dealing with roofing. So it's very interesting and again, I've reviewed several contracts and just getting to know more and more about it.
It's still in the construction industry. I feel like my knowledge just based on the rebar company, really applies across the board. I mean, it may be a different trade, but we still have the same legal issues. We still have the same guidelines to deal with, collection issues, employee issues.
So, I mean, there's not much other than the trade itself when it comes down to business there are many similarities between the two. So I just find it very interesting to learn more about the trade itself, and I've really enjoyed getting to know the clients in that particular trade, so it's been a really good experience.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I love it, I feel the same way. It's construction overall, great people and roofing just heart and soul of those men and women at the top of that building. They give so much back in the protection of homes and buildings and families. Well, I could not end this podcast without making an invitation. Maybe you've already joined, or have you looked at National Women In Roofing?

Kathleen C. Ropka:
I am actually on the Chicago Women and Roofing Committee right now, I just joined. So I would definitely take a look at joining The Women's Committee For The National Roofing Contractors Association and I appreciate you bringing it to my attention.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. No, that's perfect because our National Women In Roofing and the Chicago Women In Roofing all work together and such great organizations. And to have someone like you with your experience in construction to start being a part of that, that's awesome. So thank you and welcome. Welcome to roofing.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Thank you. I appreciated our time today and if you need me or would like me to come back at any time I would love it.

Heidi Ellsworth:
You know I will. We're going to have to check in next year, because I want to hear how everything is going and this Cotney Around The Globe podcast, we're just going to keep circling. We're just going to keep checking in and it'll be fun to hear the things that are happening because we know again, it's going to be a very eventful year in 2021.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
It will, and you will see substantial growth and continuing expansion in our Chicago office, that is a definite.

Heidi Ellsworth:
That is exciting. Well, I can't wait to come visit you there. As soon as we get everybody vaccinated, I'll be planning on coming to Chicago and coming and checking and seeing you in your new office so that is excellent. The next roofing road trip can be in-person.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Well, thank you, I look forward to meeting you in person.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Perfect. Well, thank you so much and thank you everybody for listening. The Roofing Road Trips are just part of the podcast series on RoofersCoffeeShop, including our stories from the roof and now Cotney Around The Globe podcasts. We every day are trying to bring information to you that helps your business, that gets you connected within this great roofing industry.

Heidi Ellsworth:
And be sure to look at all of our educational items, including webinars and videos and eBooks under our read, listen, watch section of the RoofersCoffeeShop.com. Again, Kathleen, thank you so much for being with us today.

Kathleen C. Ropka:
Thank you.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Thank you and thank all of you for listening. Have a wonderful day.

Speaker 1:
Make sure to subscribe to our channel and leave a review. Thanks for listening. This has been Roofing Road Trips With Heidi from the RoofersCoffeeShop.com.



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