YOUNTVILLE – A Napa law firm is looking to capitalize on the increased demand for legal services surrounding green buildings and construction, with attorneys obtaining LEED accreditation.

Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin, with offices in Yountville and Southern California, anticipates on providing clients with ample council on LEED legalities.

“Now that the industry is moving in this direction, it’s definitely an advantage to have an attorney know what is in the paperwork,” said Teresa Chen, a LEED Accredited Professional and an associate with Alvarez-Glasman & Colvin. Her accreditation includes a specialty in operations and maintenance, which involves green conversion projects rather than new construction.

As building projects increasingly become incentivized or mandated to be green, it’s important to have legal experts familiar with the process to guide clients from the outset of building projects, according to Ms. Chen.

In California, out of 18,000 LEED accredited professionals, only 105 identify themselves as having a primary practice area in the legal field, according to the Green Building Certification Institute, which provides the exams and awards LEED credentials. Most LEED accredited professionals work in the design, development, consulting, construction, and architecture fields, Ms. Chen said.

Green building and LEED certification may be part of the construction lexicon these days, but the field is still evolving, said Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, founder of the firm and also Yountville’s town attorney.  Disputes on the execution of construction, and whether the building lives up to its environmental billing, can quickly arise, and it isn’t always clear who bears responsibility.

“We see the trend occurring in both the public and private sector,” he said, noting that the town of Yountville is currently in litigation with a developer for that very reason.,

California’s 2010 Green Building Standards Code, known as CALGreen, went into effect in January of this year, providing a minimum standard that cities must adopt. Cities can also add more stringent regulations on top of the state mandates, creating a complex web of regulations.

Those varying regulations, coupled with at-times vague understandings of responsibility and execution of design, behoove attorneys to become experts and clients to have council from the very beginning, Ms. Chen and Mr. Alvarez-Glasman said.

“One of the main legal challenges lies in preparing an agreement that accurately represents the expectations and responsibilities of the individuals in a project,” Ms. Chen said. “Specificity is the key, whether we’re talking about a building design contract, professional services agreement with a contractor and subs, landscape care contract, a green lease, an agreement with a vendor of green office supplies, or a contract for green cleaning services.”

The process becomes more difficult when converting older buildings for LEED certification versus constructing new buildings, Ms. Chen said.

“Where it’s an existing building conversion, the zoning may not apply to the goal of the building,” she said. “Specific obstacles come up because of the specific contexts – if a landlord wants to operate a green building, a tenant has to agree.”

According to McGraw Hill’s 2011 Green Outlook report, 25 percent of all new construction nationwide will be green projects, and such construction could increase property value by as much as 50 percent.