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Jeffrey W. Coleman, Coleman & Erickson, LLC
Jeffrey W. Coleman, Coleman & Erickson, LLC

The POWER 30: Jeffrey W. Coleman

Jeffrey W. Coleman’s original plan for his career was to design large structures. But what happened starting in 1978 led him to law school.

He was working for the design and construction firm Ellerbe Becket when, strangely, some large buildings began to collapse. In 1978, the Hartford Civic Center Coliseum collapsed, and during the reconstruction Coleman was the on-site structural engineer and, later, the on-site construction representative for Ellerbe.

Next, the Rosemont Horizon in Chicago collapsed; the Kemper Arena roof collapsed in Kansas City, Missouri; and the Hyatt Regency walkway collapsed in Kansas City and killed over 100 people.

The structures were all less than 10 years old. A 1984 congressional study involving then-Sen. Al Gore concluded that the buildings were built too quickly. Coleman came to believe it would be more rewarding to be an attorney working with the engineers, and he graduated from William Mitchell College of Law in 1984.

Since then he’s worked with architects and engineers in construction, first with Ellerbe and later in private practice. He was there when professional liability insurance for his clients became problematic, and that’s when he forged a relationship with Lloyd’s of London.

He went on to write “Legal issues in Concrete Construction” and serve as president of the American Concrete Institute, ending his term in April 2021. He is the only lawyer to serve in that position. One of his ACI initiatives included work to reduce carbon emissions associated with the production of cement.

Another of Coleman’s initiatives is a roundtable forum for executives in the industries to come together. The group is also discussing the low-carbon and carbon-neutral options available to them. “They are remarkably willing to share, given that they are competitors,” Coleman said.

In addition to working on the front end of projects, Coleman is there when things go awry, leading to mediation, arbitration or litigation. Local cases include a defense verdict after an eight-week trial over construction of concrete tanks for the Great Lakes Aquarium.

He’s also mediated resolution over multimillion-dollar claims against construction of a marina in Florida and a stadium at an unnamed university. Coleman also was counsel to a major architectural/engineering firm in defense of a multimillion-dollar claim against the engineer and architect arising out of construction of a Methodist Hospital project on a former landfill site. That was also settled in mediation.