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7 Questions to Ask an Engineering Consultant Before Signing a Contract


We’ve previously listed 9 questions to ask before hiring an engineering consultant, but what happens once you’ve hired a company and it’s time to sign a contract? In order to protect yourself and your project, there are still many more important questions to ask a consulting engineer before and during the time a contract is drawn. Listed below are a few important things to ask before signing any project contract that will ensure you get the best possible protection and terms throughout its duration.

1. Have you ever done business under a different name, been either the plaintiff or defendant in a lawsuit, or declared bankruptcy?

All companies have a past, and those pasts can reveal a lot about their business practices. It’s not always a red flag if a company has been involved in a lawsuit, as most companies that deal with construction will eventually be involved in litigation of some kind. What you’re looking for here is honesty, and a company that is forthright about the reasons behind any business name changes and the details of past lawsuits shows integrity and good business practice.

2. How will change orders be handled with the project?

It’s completely normal for items to appear during the lifespan of a project that require time, materials, or methods outside of the original project scope. That’s why it’s important to specify in detail how those will be handled. A standard way of addressing change orders is to have the contractor submit it in writing, which is signed by representatives from both parties before the change is actually made to the contract itself.

3. Describe your billing cycle in detail. How often do you send customers invoices during a project? Do you penalize late payments, and if so, in what manner? What percentage of the retainer will be held for final costs?

All of these are items that are critical to have spelled out in detail before work begins or money changes hands. Any good consulting engineer will have processes in place for these items and can tell you precisely how billing is handled for projects they consult on.

4. What is the anticipated timeline for this project?

It’s crucial to get all project milestone deadlines firmly in writing before any work actually begins. Otherwise, your project could end up taking months longer than you had previously budgeted for.

5. Will our contract include an arbitration clause in the event of possible breach of contract? Who is responsible for the attorney’s fees?

Arbitration is a method of settling disputes without going through the process of a formal trial, and can often save both time and money. However, if there is an arbitration clause in the contract, you have likely waived your right to take any dispute before a trial, so consider carefully whether this is the route for you. Additionally, specifying whether the prevailing party has its legal fees paid for by the other party after dispute resolution in the contract will keep that from being an unpleasant surprise post-dispute.

6. Will you agree to a termination clause in the contract that we write together and agree upon before work begins?

A termination clause allows either party to get out of the contract without penalty under certain circumstances. Putting this in writing in advance would allow the hiring firm to terminate if the consulting engineer is failing to complete the work as agreed. It also lets the engineering firm terminate if the hiring party stops payment.

7. What sort of documentation can I expect to receive once the project has been completed?

If there are any documents that you require for your records at the end of a project specifically identifying items such as work completed and designation of liability, those should be laid out in advance. Putting a clause in your contract designating those materials as being sent within thirty or sixty days upon completion of a project will keep everything running smoothly. Additionally, the consulting firm’s level of professionalism and organization is easily determined by their answer to this question.

Asking these questions, and any others, will make sure that you are protected from the beginning through the completion of your project. If you need a reliable engineering firm to help with your project, call us at (702) 362-9200 to get started.