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Lawyers start to go ‘green’

Tax rebates, state laws encourage specialty

What used to be a niche – addressing the legal issues surrounding “green” buildings as a project goes from blueprints to finished job – is becoming a mainstream focus for attorneys, says the first Spokane lawyer to earn LEED accreditation in his profession.

LEED stands for leadership in energy and environmental design. It’s one of many “green” standards for building and measuring the environmental impact of construction.

Lawyers are a late arrival at the LEED game. The first and primary players have been architects, mechanical engineers and construction professionals.

Ryan Yahne, 31, has been involved in construction law for five years; during the past two he’s worked at Winston & Cashatt, a Spokane law firm.

“I saw a number of attorneys, mostly on the East Coast, becoming accredited in this area, so I thought it would be good to know this specialization inside and out,” Yahne said.

He’s the only Spokane lawyer with that accreditation and one of just 10 in Washington. Idaho and Montana have no LEED-accredited attorneys, Yahne said.

Washington’s emphasis on environmental issues has made the area of sustainable building and design a major concern among designers and property owners.

Green standards are already required in many government buildings. State laws and tax benefits encourage private builders to adopt energy-saving standards or LEED certification, Yahne said.

“It’s becoming more and more a focus in Spokane,” he said.

Attorneys are becoming part of the entire design and contract process to ensure that parties know who’s responsible for LEED performance, he said. Recently on the East Coast, an owner who failed to qualify for tax rebates on a LEED project ended up suing the contractor and reaching a settlement.

The contract did not state who was responsible for meeting the objectives, Yahne said.

The Green Building Certification Institute estimates 351 attorneys are LEED-accredited nationwide.


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