Constitutionally, flatwork contractors are office-averse and field-inclined. Given the choice between sorting through pages of fine print and getting splattered head-to-toe with concrete, they'll opt for the latter every time. Paperwork, after all, is just a nuisance. Placing and finishing concrete is what they do.

There's a good reason why World of Concrete draws best in Las Vegas: contractors are inveterate optimists who are ever-confident in their abilities to improvise, adapt, and overcome. Although this on-the-edge lifestyle may be survivable if all goes fairly well, it can turn quickly catastrophic when a significant problem develops. When a dispute erupts, I'm always surprised when the client and I must spend our first meeting mutually discovering what his contract means.

Rule No. 3a: Structure your proposal to become part of your contract.

In your proposal's Scope of Work, state precisely what you will and won't provide. In your proposal's Terms and Conditions, state precisely each change that must be made to the plans and specifications. In your proposal's Warranty, state precisely what will and will not constitute a defect, and precisely what remedy will be required in each case. When in doubt, always be too thorough and too explicit.

Rule No. 3b: Understand the entire contract offered to you before the Scope Review Meeting.

To prepare properly for the negotiation phase, you must obtain and appreciate fully every document that is incorporated in your contract. If you are to be tied to the general contract, for example, demand a copy and read it. Also, commit to memory the key points in the following standard references: ACI 301-05.1, ACI 301-05.4, ACI 301-05.5, ACI 301-05 (pp. 35–42), ACI 117-06.1, ACI 117-06.2.4, ACI 117-06.2.5, ACI 117-06.4.4–4.8, ACI 117-06 (p. 69), AIA A201, ASTM C 94, and ASTM E 1155.

Remember that Rule No. 1, described in the October issue, means that the floor's design is inherently suspect for both its effectiveness and its constructability. As a simple matter of self preservation, you must scour the plans and specifications for every unrealistic expectation, and then provide the appropriate replacement language or detail in your proposal.

As a final check, send the entire proposed contract to both your attorney and insurance company for approval. If this preparation effort is too challenging, then hire a consultant to walk you through it the first time.

Rule No. 3c: Be creative in using the RFI process to compel the designer's formal recognition of the technical problems you've identified.

Because the RFI should be in the form of a question, first state the likely consequences of the detail, and then ask whether those consequences will be acceptable. The following example is illustrative: The specified control joint spacing will result in no less than 27.3% of the floor panels developing mid-length shrinkage cracks in at least one direction. Will these cracks be acceptable?

Rule No. 3d: At the Scope Review Meeting, push hard to incorporate your entire proposal into the contract.

Tactically, it's much easier to modify a contract by adding amendments than changing the original text. Purposely structuring your proposal as an incorporable exhibit makes it much easier for the general contractor to acquiesce to your required changes.