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Civil Engineering and Law School Team Up for New Course

In the past when civil engineers and attorneys got together, they often faced off as adversaries on opposite sides of a legal issue, but this quarter Gilson Riecken, visiting professor in the School of Law, hopes to change that with his new course, Engineering and the Law. Riecken, who has a varied background as a design professional in both architecture and city planning and as an attorney focusing on design and construction law and loss prevention, sees a great opportunity for solving problems before they become legal issues by bringing engineering and law students together.

“The legal system has a tremendous impact on what engineers do, but they do not always understand it, and attorneys generally do not understand engineers,” said Riecken. In this course, students from civil engineering, engineering management, and law will examine principal aspects of a law school education—risk, contracts, how litigation works—from the perspective of how it relates to design professionals, exposing engineering students to different issues lawyers are involved with, and giving law students a sense of how their body of knowledge relates to engineers.

Civil engineering chair Steven Chiesa notes, “As the process of project development becomes more integrated through the increased use of Building Information Modeling (BIM) software, our students need to be forward-looking in terms of how this is going to work out technically and legally. This course will help them be aware of possible legal entanglements that result from new integrated design and construction strategies.”

Engineering and the Law, offered at the graduate level, is intended for advanced students with work experience. “This course allows engineering students to focus on some of the more non-technical issues that are nonetheless part of doing business, and complements our civil engineering offerings while furthering the School of Engineering’s goal to promote collaborative education across disciplines,” said Chiesa.

“Twenty years ago, no one had any idea how the computer would change the design process,” said Riecken; “The world of BIM and how it could contribute to integrated project delivery is in its infancy now and planning for the future is essential. This course is a first step in preparing both engineers and the legal community to open their eyes to their role in shaping this future. My goal is to have each come away with a better understanding of the other and how to best work together.”