BIM's legal stumbling blocks: what you need to know

8 May 2017

With all the talk about the benefits of BIM, are the legal implications being swept aside? Quigg Golden's David McNiece puts us in the picture.

The buzz word around the industry at the minute is BIM: its use, the benefits to the industry and how we all need to get ready for it.  

I’m not going to preach about the pros, cons or technical benefits of using BIM, these are well rehearsed, but rather look at the problems I come across advising clients on the legal aspects of BIM.

With that in mind, this article seeks to look only at the practical legal implications of BIM and why we as an industry seem to not only have missed a trick in appropriating it industry wide, but what the underlying reasons for this are.

In brief, there appears to be a real hesitancy towards BIM and the proper usage and adoption of it. Why? BIM as a model is not next generation, it is well within our grasp and if we look towards our American cousins or works being carried out in South East Asia, we in the UK are significantly behind in our use and understanding of BIM.

BIM as a management tool is what we should be striving towards. In terms of our procurement and contractual obligations and meeting governmental objectives, concentrating on innovation, collaboration and whole-life costs, BIM should be at the forefront of construction.

So what is it about BIM that we don’t want to embrace? Well, in my experience, it falls into four main camps: 

It is hard for these not to overlap, but each brings its own distinct stumbling block. These headings also have some overlap with specific legal principles.  

The first obvious issue of resourcing is well rehearsed and speaks for itself. Money is tight and companies, both public and private, may not be in a position now to fully endorse BIM the way they should.

However, a lot of the problems that we are facing are nothing more than perceived problems. People look at BIM as new technology or an unknown; this has led to a hesitancy to embrace it. This hesitancy is highlighted by issues of public procurement, how BIM is used in contract, and a lack of understanding on intellectual property/copyright issues.

Is public procurement a stumbling block for BIM?

One of the most obvious problems with BIM is that it is not endorsed from the top down. It is (or at least should be) a public contract requirement, and there is a very strong argument that it should be the public sector itself that is encouraging or promoting the use of BIM (the hand that rocks the cradle and all that).

Ultimately, if the public sector does not encourage or even require the use of BIM, what incentive or need is there for contractors to actually spend time, money and resourcing in researching BIM or developing BIM departments?

So, why does the public sector not endorse BIM as it probably should?

From first-hand experience, it is not only a resourcing and knowledge issue (although this is a big part of it). If the client does not know about BIM, why would they want to base the award of a contract or the success of a project on something they do not understand themselves?  

There is also the money issue that having a BIM project from the outset with no prior engagement or experience is going to cost money. Generally speaking this is untested and whenever there is a choice between “use something that might cost more money” or “tried and tested” it will always be the path of least resistance that is trod.  

The flipside of this comes from the reforms of Lord Young in respect of SME participation in procurement processes. Lord Young’s reforms went to the heart of encouraging the use and involvement of SMEs. What better way to exclude smaller companies that do not have the abilities to resource and research a new form of technology, than requiring it in your tender process. Therefore, the inclusion of BIM in contracts where an SME could genuinely and competitively tender may be painting a target on the back of the contracting authority for a potential challenge.

What about BIM under contract?

One of the major problems again we are coming across in practice is how BIM is actually being used in the contract. It may be asked for at tender stage, the contract being awarded on that basis, and then in practice, BIM is not actually used at all.

The CIC BIM Protocol, of course, is a great start, but it is nothing more than a blank canvas on which to say, “so you are using BIM, now breathe life into the protocol”. There is also a major failing on behalf of drafters of standard form contracts for not actually encouraging or endorsing the use of BIM. Of course, it is impossible to make sure what is being included as there is very rarely going to be a “one size fits all” for how BIM should be used.

There is also hesitancy from specialist contractors not wanting to provide or submit information into the model as, after the project is complete or they have completed their term of contract, a competitor can gain access to all the information that has been put on the model by virtue of winning a contract. This is something that clients must address to allay fears and correct any misconception of “trade secrets” being released.

BIM is a good thing, but the Catch 22 of needing to understand BIM before we can use it (but not being able to use it because we don’t understand it) is something that we as an industry need to resolve.  

David McNiece is an associate at Quigg Golden Solicitors


Wow! A reasonably decent article on the legal aspects of BIM for once, apart from the slightly sensationalist headline. But you can't have everything. I would disagree on just a couple of points. 1 - I think fear of the unknown and the head in the sand approach to innovation is stifling BIM take up and in my view is the biggest problem we face. Too many even now are kicking this into the long grass, and it will turn and bite very soon, particularly in terms of profitability and competitiveness in the marketplace. 2 - the UK approach is world leading, and widely recognised as such, and we are one of few countries to have a full intellectual framework in place before implementation, sadly it is just at home in the UK this isn't recognised. Hence this is why the UK standards are being adopted around the world providing export opportunities and our standards are forming the basis for ISO and EN standards.
The article is correct though in identifying the deficiencies in the Level 2 mandate - it now applies to just 25% of the industry and there is no level 2 policeman! So we have to look to other reasons for adoption such as profitability, efficiency, competitiveness and just staying in business. Not to forget the overwhelming digitisation of society and as a consequence our industry has to follow suit to continue to exist. Read the Farmer Report.

JOHNEYNON., 11 May 2017

John, thanks for the comments! Much appreciated.

In relation to your points made, I am in agreement that our approach to adopting BIM is fundamentally the biggest problem and stumbling block, however, my thoughts are that this is exacerbated by the other practical implications of not having full adoption.

In relation to the UK approach, again, I am in agreement - my frustration (for lack of a better word) is not with our world leading approach to BIM, and our technological capabilities, but that this practice is not industry wide. It is analogous to the "1%" - BIM Level 2 at its highest level exists in the UK, but not everyone can either afford to adopt it, or, more worryingly, aren't aware it exists.

Thanks again for the comments, and if there is anything else, please do share and let me know. I am always interested in what we as an industry can do better to promote the use and adoption of BIM.

David McNeice, 15 May 2017

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