Welcome to The RoofersCoffeeShop podcast with your host, Dave Sullivan from The Roofer Show. You found the podcast that is dedicated to celebrating the roofing industry and the great people that work in roofing. Each week, Dave interviews a member of our roofing community to learn more about their challenges and successes and to share stories only a roofer would appreciate. Let's get started.
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.
Dave Sullivan: Welcome, everybody. I'm Dave Sullivan, and thanks for joining me on The RoofersCoffeeShop podcast where the industry meets. Many of you know The RoofersCoffeeShop. It's been a place for the last 20 years that's built a community of roofing professionals that share ideas, tell stories, do research. We sell items, find items and get help on the day-to-day problems we all face. I've been a successful roofing contractor for over 30 years, and I host another iTunes podcast called The Roofer Show where I help contractors grow their businesses, and you could check that out at theroofershow.com to see what that's all about. The great thing about podcasts is that you can download them to your phone, listen to them in your truck or wherever you want. Each week, I sit down with another roofing contractor that's hitting it out of the park and learn what they're doing at their company that's working for them and give you the takeaways that you can use in your business. Today, I'm going to sit down with Trent Cotney of Cotney Construction Law. Many of you know Trent as the go-to attorney for the roofing industry, and he's been a huge supporter of The Coffee Shop, writes many articles, has some great stuff posted on there, so you want to go check that out. Let's go in and talk to Trent Cotney. Trent, great to talk to you again.
Trent Cotney: Same here.
Dave Sullivan: The last time was back in December where I had you on my other podcast, The Roofer Show. We covered some great information, but here we are in January. How were the holidays for you?
Trent Cotney: Fantastic, man. I got to spend some time with the family and take a little bit of time off. How about you?
Dave Sullivan: Likewise, we tried to get some skiing and ... but out here in the west, it's a pretty dry season. It's-
Trent Cotney: Right. Right.
Dave Sullivan: We've finally got a little snow, but it's been ... It's starting off like one of those drought years that we have so many out here. Usually, on this show, I sit down with another contractor and we talk about what's working and what's not working in their business, but you have supported The Coffee Shop so much with your articles, and I've read through that. You've got some great information. I really wanted to get you on the show. I know Vickie and Heidi really appreciate all the effort that you're putting in, and I want to thank you about that, but, recently, you ... I hear you changed your name of the firm. What's that about?
Trent Cotney: Yeah, come January 1, we changed the name of the name of the firm over to Cotney Construction Law LLP, and the reason I did that was really twofold. One is, in the past we were Trent Cotney, PA and, obviously, our firm has grown. We're 19 lawyers now, so I wanted to make sure that we changed to a name that focused on what we really did, and that's construction law, where I represent the industry. That's what we do, and also I wanted to be able to make sure that I could bring on other partners to the firm and help it to continue to grow and expand as needed.
Dave Sullivan: You only work with contractors, don't you?
Trent Cotney: Pretty much. I would say 95% of our practice consist of representing contractors and trades, heavy, heavy, heavy roofing.
Dave Sullivan: How did you get into that, and why did you decide to really niche down on the contractors?
Trent Cotney: It's an interesting story. This is interesting to me, but my grandfather was a roofer, and I kind of grew up in construction, and I'm sort of your atypical lawyer. I don't particularly like lawyers, unless if they're here with me in the office or relatives or something like that. I much rather hang out with roofers. I tend to relate better to them.
Dave Sullivan: [crosstalk 00:04:11].
Trent Cotney: Right, and I think a lot like them, so it ... When I started the practice and I realized that I wanted to advocate for the industry, I wanted to be someone out there that was fighting for construction workers and their employers, and the reality is that there's plenty lawyers out there that fight for consumers or fight for insurance companies, but very few that stick up for the roofers, so I started doing that and then I got involved with my local association. I got involved ... Gosh, it's been 17-18 years ago at this point. I've been a director of that organization since '04, and this is the West Coast of Florida Chapter of The Florida Association, and I really got involved because I wanted to learn more about the industry. I wanted to go to the demonstrations. There were supply houses. I wanted to learn more about roof applications and how to do it and, from there, I got involved with our state association. I've been involved with them for the better part of 15 years, and then I've gotten involved nationally with a variety of different associations, the Tennessee association, and it's just something that's kind of I guess you could say was in my blood, and it was something that I really like about the practice of law. I like being able to fight for the roofers that are out there because it's ... I can relate to it, having grown up from a family that came from that.
Dave Sullivan: It's an interesting story. I grew up with the family roofing business, and my brother and I came into the business and we're partners. He never really liked the business, so he went back to law school after seeing how much litigation there was in the roofing business, and he went to law school, became an attorney. He focused on roofing. The first run out he says, "My first assignment is to sue a close relative, and I've chosen you." Hey, great, but, yeah, he never did care much for the business and ... but he loved the law and there was plenty of it.
Trent Cotney: Absolutely, yeah. There's never a dull day. Let me put it that way. We're always running into unique things, especially within this industry. You think you've seen it all and, sure enough, something pops up that's a brand new fresh take on things. It's always interesting, always fun.
Dave Sullivan: Yeah, along those lines, I always like to hear the craziest thing that you're seeing here lately because it always makes me feel better that I'm not the only guy out there that's screwing up. Give me a legal story that we're going to find hard to believe.
Trent Cotney: I love what I do. I truly love what I do. I get up every morning, and I may be tired, I'm maybe stressed out, I may have all these things, but I'm fired up, man. I got to tell you. I come in the office and I'm ready to go because I know that we're doing good work out there, but some of the issues and the facts that I get are pretty crazy. I think we've had three cases that have involved bats in the roof. I know I've had that. I've had snakes. I've about any type of wildlife you can get, but let me tell you one story that happened not too long ago that I always find funny. Most of my friends are in the roofing industry. One of the things that I said at a recent association meeting was I said the reason why I keep coming back to the association is because they're like family. The great thing about Roofers Coffee Shop is we're a family. You don't really see that in any other trades. If you think about electricians or if you think about plumbers or something like that, there's not that family environment. With roofers, it's definitely that way, so a lot of the roofers that are out there I consider close friends. I'm sitting at my desk and I get this phone call from a roofer that I've known for along time. I consider him a good friend, and he calls me up and he says, "Trent, this guy owes me money, and I'm going to go. I'm going over there to his place of work. I'm taking Big Al with me and we're going to go beat him up. How much can I beat him up before I spend serious time in jail?" and I said, "Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold on here. Hold on. Hold on here. First of all, why are you calling me? This is, you know ... I don't, I don't [inaudible 00:08:33] and, second of all, what are you doing? Don't do that. Get out of here. Go, go back to work. You know, that's not the way to do things." He says, "Okay, well, let me hang up. I'll be back to you shortly," so I'm sitting there panicking because I'm trying to ... I was like, "Oh, God, I'm going to have to bail this guy out or, you know, I got to give him some criminal counsel. What do I do here?" 30 minutes later, I'm biting my nails, I get a phone call from him, and [inaudible 00:08:54], "Trent, I'm here in front of this guy's house. He's got my money. I'm here with Big Al. Just stay by the phone because we might need you." I'm like, "No. Get out of there. What are you doing? Don't ... Get out of there. Don't, don't do this. What are you doing?" so he hangs up, and then now I'm really freaking out. Now, I'm pacing and I'm thinking, "Oh, my God, what am I going to do?" 10 minutes later, I get a phone call, and he says, "Okay, he slipped, he slipped a check to the mailbox, and we're on our way." I'm like, "You can't do that, man. You can't. You can't be threatening people. Don't ... and why are you calling me? Don't, you don't call me and tell me about those stuff." The good news is everything's smoothed out and it ended up being okay in the long run, but it's those kinds of things that I think are hilarious because it's .... It's hilarious looking at it after the fact. It wasn't during it, but it's the kind of thing where it's ... That's the kind of relationships that you build in the industry. They're close enough to call you even with questions like that, but I'll always remember that because I think it was one of the funnier things that I've had to deal with, again, looking at it after the fact, not while I was in it.
Dave Sullivan: Yeah, he had Big Al and [Rocco 00:09:57] and [Vito 00:09:59] that did my collections for me.
Trent Cotney: We call that [inaudible 00:10:03] justice. We can't do that anymore, but that's ...
Dave Sullivan: Yeah, we got to collect other ways. Yeah.
Trent Cotney: Right.
Dave Sullivan: What are some of the biggest problems that contractors need to be aware of right now? I mean, I know we've gone through so much, I mean, over my 30 years. We had the asbestos. Now, we've got mold. I don't know if that's still a huge issue or not, but I would imagine down your way, mold's got to be a big problem, but what kind of things do we really need to be aware of, maybe some trends that are happening or some tips that our contractors can take away with them?
Trent Cotney: Yeah, there's a couple things that I'm seeing that have started to develop that I think are going to start trickling down to more and more areas, and one is roofing litigation that is arising out of stucco cracks. I've seen it in California and I've seen it in Florida, and I've seen it in a few other states, but what's happening is, like you said, the [inaudible 00:11:05] lawyers are always looking for the next asbestos, and the sink hole is there for a while and mold was big until the insurance companies wrote it out of policies, and now stucco is the latest thing. These lawyers will go out. They'll see cracks on the side of a new construction and then, of course, the water intrusion that's coming in as a result of some kind of roofing problem, which makes no sense to me, but they end up getting dragged into lawsuits. Primarily, it affects new construction, so the roofers that are doing new construction are having a big problem with this because they're [inaudible 00:11:41] it over to their general liability carriers. Those general liability carriers are charging them a deductible and, depending on where you're at, California's got some different rules than Florida does, but depending on where you're at, you could potentially be facing a deductible for every single house that's got a problem, so it's created this big issue for really what isn't a roofer problem. It's a stucco problem. The other thing that I've seen is sort of just the continued trend towards the legality of certainly. That's what I call it. As manufacturer specifications and applicable rules and regulations become more and more strict and will become more and more legalized, what you'd see, especially in the commercial context, you'll see a lot of consultants and plaintiff's lawyers looking to follow the letter of the law with regard to manufacturer install or building codes to the extent they're in the states that have them or whatever their operable spec is, whether it's NRCA guidelines or whatever it might be. I think one of the things that I would really ... I'm a big believer in taking proactive steps so you don't have to hire a lawyer. Nobody wants to hire a lawyer, so take the steps now to make sure not only are you following all those guidelines, but look at your internal processes and procedures as well. One of the things we really advocate is taking a close look at your employee manual, your safety manual. Make sure you've got the up-to-date stuff in it, your contract. The key thing is is that a lot of times people don't want to look at any of that stuff until it's too late. It's not after the problem happens that you need to look at it. It's before it's going to happen, and sometimes it's just listening and being aware of what other contractors have faced in residential. You can use your contract to go basically go in and identify stuff proactively, and that's the great thing about The Coffee Shop is we all talk to each other. Everybody talks to each other. They use it as a centralized hub to communicate, and you get to hear what other people have to say, and you don't need to reinvent the wheel every time. Listen to what your peers have to say. I'm a big believer that the people that have been doing it for a long time, I listen to what they have to say very carefully because they have more than likely encountered some of the same problems that you might have encountered regardless of whether it's in a different state or not, so my recommendation is to just be proactive, proactive and listen and continue to stay involved, because I think that's the difference between getting caught with something and having to hire a lawyer and not having to.
Dave Sullivan: I totally agree, and that's what's great about this podcast is that I'm just chatting, interviewing contractors that have already gone through this. I mean, we've taken all the arrows and so forth. You don't need to, as you say, reinvent the wheel. There's the hard way and there's the easier way. There's never an easy way, but you can avoid so many of these problems, and by doing them up front because, I don't want to spend the time in this, but if you get it on the backend, you are going to spend 10, 20 times the amount of money and the amount of time by just kind of sitting down and doing some of that work up front, don't you think?
Trent Cotney: Absolutely. Absolutely, and, Dave, you do a great job not only with this podcast, but with your The Roofer Show podcast there of just helping education the public that's out there. Listening to your podcasts have been incredibly enlightening to me. I've learned things every time I listen to one, so I think that's the thing is going to association meetings, going to IRE, going and being out there and seeing. I know it's difficult for a lot of roofers to do that stuff, but that's how you learn, man. I mean, I take more away from going to things like IRE than I do sitting around at the office any day because you just pick up stuff by talking to other people.
Dave Sullivan: Yeah, I totally I agree, and speaking of IRE, we've got our show coming up in New Orleans here in February. I'm certainly going to be down there, and I know that you've got a booth down there. You're going to be speaking.
Trent Cotney: We do.
Dave Sullivan:Tell me what's going to be happening down there.
Trent Cotney: I'm very excited about IRE. It's one of the ... my favorite times of the year because I get to see a lot of people that I don't normally get to see. We'll have nine of our people there, and we will be there starting from I think Saturday all the way through Thursday, so we're going to be participating in the National Women in Roofing Day. Our booth number is 2639. We've got a double booth, and I'll have at least three or four of us there, so if anybody has any questions, feel free to stop by, and we're happy to answer any questions that people have. I'll be speaking on Thursday I think at 9:30 on legal issues pertaining to marijuana along with the latest updates to that, so it's one of those constant changing things. We saw some recent changes in some of the stuff from the Trump administration, so I want to touch on that, and then-
Dave Sullivan: Yeah, that's really interesting, what happening with that, because things are really changing, and that's going to be a great talk that everybody should check out because you got to get up on these latest laws.
Trent Cotney: Oh, yeah, yeah, and just the questions alone that I get from that or after I'm done presenting are insightful because it helps make me better at what I do because I know exactly what those issues are, so we're going to be pretty much at every meeting. Everything that's going on, we'll be there. It's one of our biggest things that we do all year, and I'm really excited about doing it. It should be a fun time. I look forward to catching up with you, Dave, over there.
Dave Sullivan: You bet, yeah. There's so much going on. I know the coffee shop has a booth. I'll be hanging out there, and I'm hoping to do some interviewing and some podcasting, so, any of the listeners, be sure to stop by and say hi and let's find out what's going on in your business and how we can help each other.
Trent Cotney: Absolutely.
Dave Sullivan: Now, also, I know that you, your firm and yourself specifically, have really been involved with a lot of charitable organizations, and one in particular is this Black Dagger Military Hunt Club. I think that's kind of your ... where you spend a lot of your time. Tell us about that. What's that about?
Trent Cotney: Sure. I was always raised that you've got to give back your time, your talent and your treasure. It's something that's been ingrained in me, beaten into me, and I don't ever take anything that I've been able to do for granted, so I think it's very important that myself and we as a firm do whatever we can to not only support industry charities, but support other things as well, so, in particular, Black Dagger is a group that's based out of SOCOM here in Macdill Air Force Base in Tampa. SOCOM as you now is in charge of Navy SEALs and the Tier 1 operators for our military, and it is a great organization because what it does is about 98% of all the proceeds go directly to the charity. It gets those Tier 1 operators that have been injured. Some have ... are paralyzed. Some have lost limbs. There are all kinds of different injuries that's happened, and they get them doing the stuff that they like to do, so we do adaptive hunting, adaptive fishing, shooting, working on scuba diving, doing some other things, and we work with local partners that provide us with specialized machinery that allows them to go out there and do that stuff. The reason that's important is because one of the biggest threats to veterans coming back is the suicide rate. It's important that they understand that they're part of a brotherhood, and the great thing about Black Dagger is they're out there every single week, letting them know that it's not just them alone, that they're part of a group. They always will be part of a group. I can't say enough good things about it. I've seen, I've witnessed it personally being out there and sponsoring and participating. It's amazing to see the smiles on their faces, knowing that they can do some stuff they used to do with specialized equipment, so I encouraged everybody to look at it. If they search Black Dagger Military Hunt Club, [inaudible 00:20:39] the website and on Facebook. Great organization. I can't say enough good things about them.
Dave Sullivan: That's awesome, and that's one thing about this industry is that we give back so much. There's so much that we can do, and NRCA is so involved with so many charities.
Trent Cotney: Absolutely, yeah, we're ... I'm an alliance member, and it's something that I think is very important. To me, what they're doing with the Ronald McDonald House and the other charitable endeavors that they support, so I encourage everybody to take a look at what the alliance is doing because I think it's a great way to not just benefit from the industry, but to give back as well.
Dave Sullivan: Trent, for those of us that can't get down to New Orleans, how can we be more proactive and get in touch with you and see what you've got going?
Trent Cotney: Sure. They can go to our website, which is cotneycl.com or cotneyconstructionlaw.com. Our phone number is 866-303-5868. They can email me at anytime at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to any of our Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram pages, and I monitor everything and I try to get back as quickly as possible to anybody that contacts me, so I look forward to talking to anybody out there, and, definitely, if you're at IRE, swing by and say hi. I get lonely out there.
Dave Sullivan: Thanks so much for your support, and we'll see you down in New Orleans.
Trent Cotney: I'm looking forward to it. I'll see you then.
Dave Sullivan: You bet. All right, take care, Trent. Thanks so much.
Trent Cotney: Take care. Thank you.
Dave Sullivan: That's it for the podcast today. I appreciate everybody listening, and be sure to visit therooferscoffeeshop.com. Sign up for the form. Get active in the community. Ask some questions. Offer some answers, and we'll make this a great place, and you could check out my other podcast at theroofershow.com and see what's that about. Until next time, thanks for listening.