Sean B. McNelis knows the world of real estate development and construction law well. He has practiced construction and real estate law exclusively for more than 27 years and is one of the first Texas lawyers to become Board Certified as a Specialist in Construction Law. His personal focus is on complex contract negotiations/drafting and pre-litigation dispute resolution amongst all parties to a construction project. His firm, McNelis + Associates, PLLC, practices both the business and litigation sides of construction law and is recognized by the construction industry, the firm’s clients and its peers as one of the premiere construction law firms in South Texas. “Representing project owners, developers, contractors, design professionals and suppliers in all manner of construction and related real estate law matters is what we do. We work diligently to remain at the forefront of this practice specialty,” McNelis said.
McNelis + Associates is a boutique law firm staffed with high-level legal talent. Tom Countryman heads up McNelis’ litigation team. Countryman came to the firm after serving as a senior litigation counsel at Norton Rose Fulbright, LLP for over thirty years and being involved in some of the highest stake nation-wide litigation resolved during that time. At Norton Rose, Countryman helped commercial clients secure a substantial number of verdicts and settlements worth multiple millions of dollars, including what currently stand as the two largest taxpayer verdicts in Texas property tax litigation history. McNelis says, “Tom is absolutely brilliant at dissecting the intricacies of a complex legal dispute, determining what needs to be done to best position the case for settlement or a judgment, and then moving those pieces across the board to secure the most favorable outcome for our clients.”
McNelis also singles out Devin Gabriel, a Stanford graduate with a long family history of involvement in the San Antonio legal community, as being another key component of the firm’s Litigation practice. Countryman adds “Devin is, without question, the most cost-effective researcher I’ve ever known, and that is saying quite a lot. As important, his willingness and ability to engage the firm’s lawyers on strategic issues – oftentimes as ‘Devil’s Advocate’ - makes him a particularly valuable colleague and resource.” With McNelis + Associates, PLLC’s decades of construction and litigation expertise, there is no area of construction law or level of complexity that the firm can’t successfully handle.
Exclusivity – A Key to Success
McNelis sees his firm’s focused commitment to construction and real estate law as key to its ability to acquire and maintain clients in those industries. “Specialization breeds expertise, and it is expertise that enables our firm to offer our clients the best legal guidance and outcomes. We each gained experience – and learned much – from a variety of San Antonio’s most-established law firms. We apply the same high standards of expertise, professionalism, client service and community involvement in our practice, but in a more nimble, responsive and cost-effective package,” McNelis says.
McNelis ensures that the firm’s expertise and ability to act and react nimbly to client needs are paired with a commitment to professionalism at all times. “Our firm’s core values include the recognition that its attorneys are leaders within a noble profession and we require that all employees conduct themselves with integrity, professionalism and respect in all matters. When both sides of a dispute experience our firm’s employees implementing a passionate, result-oriented approach to client service while holding to the highest standards of the legal profession, good things follow,” he says. Not infrequently, the firm receives referrals from opposing counsel and their clients following the conclusion of a legal dispute.
McNelis cites a focus on being proactive, not reactive, in the pursuit of client goals and a concentrated expertise in construction and real estate law as the mainstays of his firm’s success. Tim Small, Credit Manager for Hill Country Electric Supply, confirmed that McNelis + Associates’ clients agree: “We have worked with McNelis + Associates, PLLC for well over a decade and are consistently impressed with their subject matter expertise and client-centered approach to providing legal services,” he said.
Managing Through Trust and Accountability
McNelis manages the firm with confidence in the professionalism and service-oriented mindset of both attorneys and staff. “We trust our team to make the right decisions at the right time and we empower them to do that. Everybody is held accountable for what they do, but we trust their judgment,” he emphasized. “We each recognize the particular expertise and judgment of each of our various team members as a firm asset, so we are quick to seek out each other’s insights and opinions.”
A key element of McNelis’ management style is the ability to hire real talent at both the support staff and attorney level, and in keeping them personally invested in the success of the firm’s clients. From answering the initial phone call to securing a final judgment, McNelis wants the firm’s clients to immediately recognize that they are in the care of an exceptional team of legal professionals where every individual employee is empowered to make decisions and act in the client’s best interest to the fullest extent of their abilities without asking for permission or requiring inefficient oversight. To help achieve that thriving environment, the firm actively invests in its employees’ development, including offering financial assistance and/or bonuses to its staff to pursue paralegal certificates (two employees are currently taking advantage of this opportunity) course. Office manager/legal assistant Shauna Jenschke and legal secretary Amanda Joy Canales are both currently pursuing paralegal certification with the firm’s financial assistance and incentives.
"In many ways, our firm is like the emergency room of a hospital in which we are asked to move quickly and with precision to save the lifeblood of a business and its owners."
Anticipating the Future by Creating the Future
Businesses are under tremendous pressure to achieve efficiencies by automating processes and procedures, and the practice of law is not entirely immune from that pattern. McNelis says, “The automatization of services is accelerating throughout the business community, particularly in the service sectors. And while I do believe that the nature of our profession involves far too many nuances and far too much human interaction and judgment to ever be fully automated, the need to become more efficient and value-conscience will only increase among law firms.”
To meet that challenge, McNelis + Associates has married its expertise in construction law with technology to develop proprietary software that will fully automate the lien and bond claim process for contractors and suppliers in the construction industry here in Texas. The web-based service, called “LienStarTX,” is in the final stages of being developed with an international software design team to be delivered to the construction industry as a subscription-based service in early 2020.
“By automating what is otherwise a relatively complex process for perfecting lien and bond claims on public and private projects, we will be able to offer a uniquely efficient and accurate tool for clients to secure payment for their labor and materials on construction projects throughout the state. It will be akin to a TurboTax for the construction industry,” McNelis said, “albeit with the focus on collecting funds rather than paying them over to the IRS.” McNelis’ inspiration for the software was developed after years of watching clients – and even lawyers – struggle with the intricacies of the lien perfection process in the face of significant civil and potentially criminal liability for recording invalid or fraudulent liens. “I credit my forum mates in my San Antonio chapter of Entrepreneurs Organization (“EO”) for pushing me to make this much-needed web-based software program a reality,” says McNelis, as well as EO’s global reach. In fact, the source code for LienStar is being drafted by a software firm based in India whose owner is an active EO member of the Mumbai chapter. McNelis adds that the entrepreneurism is a rising force in San Antonio that is evidenced by the robust membership of EO’s San Antonio’s chapter and the increasing number of new start-up companies.
Representing the Guys in the White Hats
“In many ways, our firm is like the emergency room of a hospital in which we are asked to move quickly and with precision to save the lifeblood of a business and its owners. Sometimes that involves the high-stakes negotiation of a complex contract and supporting documents for a large commercial or public construction project with pressing deadlines. Other times, it means litigating or arbitrating a bet-the-company dispute involving sophisticated delay claims and damage models. Whatever the circumstance, we understand our mission is to act to successfully resolve each issue for the client and get them patched up and back on the way to profitably running their business. We never forget that, in reality, we represent people more than companies. The practice of law truly is a service, and we recognize it as such. If there is a secret to our firm’s success, it’s that model,” McNelis says.
McNelis is quick to conclude that most of the firm clients are top-of-the-line construction industry professionals. “We represent the contractors wearing the white hats; we’re not the firm for the guys with the black hats. We recognize that all construction disputes involve some degree of dust and dirt but, in the end, a potential client who intends to act unethically or improperly is not the client we will represent. Our passion is in representing and securing justice for businesses that share our values of professionalism and ethics - the good guys. That’s what we do, and that’s precisely how we do it.”
McNelis + Associates, PLLC thanks A.H. Beck Foundation Co., Inc. for the use of their new facilities and equipment for this photoshoot.