By Caren Burmeister, Contributing Writer
Chip Bachara built his reputation as Jacksonville’s Construction Lawyer of the Year from the ground up.
Bachara has been swinging a construction hammer since he was 10 years old, working every summer for his father, Henry Bachara, stacking wood, painting and nailing down roofing felt paper.
“I intended to follow in my dad’s footsteps and be a builder,” Bachara said. “My parents wanted me to go into anything but construction.”
They didn’t need to worry.
Bachara was proud of his father’s reputation, which earned inclusion in the Florida Housing Hall of Fame. But Bachara had bigger plans: construction law.
“I knew that’s all I wanted to do,” he said. “I wanted to do commercial construction and for a bigger company.”
A board-certified construction lawyer and founder of the Bachara Construction Law Group, he has been named multiple times in Florida Trend’s Legal Elite, Florida Super Lawyers and Best Lawyers in America.
In 2012 and 2017, Bachara was designated as Jacksonville’s “Construction Lawyer of the Year” by Best Lawyers, a peer-review publication.
The economy was suffering when Bachara graduated from The Bolles School in 1978. Despite his parents’ wishes, he got a bachelor’s degree in building construction from the University of Florida.
Four hard hats hanging from his office wall remind him of his early jobs. He briefly worked for JEA, then accepted a project management position with The Haskell Co.
Within a year he was accepted at Mercer University School of Law. He graduated from that Georgia institution in 1986.
Bachara’s first job doing legal work for Blosam Constructors would lay the foundation for his legal career. Twice, legal adversaries in construction law cases witnessed his diligence and depth of knowledge and asked him to join their team: Bedell, Dittmar, DeVault & Pillans hired him in 1987, and Baumer, Bradford & Walters brought him on in 1993.
After two decades, Bachara opened his own law firm in 2007, which employs four lawyers. Representing government agencies, private developers, owners, contractors and insurers, Bachara said the firm is the only one in Jacksonville that focuses only on construction-related disputes.
The office, on the 18th floor of 1 Independent Drive, has a bird’s-eye view of the St. Johns River and the Main Street Bridge.
A large, bold abstract painting done by his son and daughter hangs on the wall across from Bachara’s desk. Now in their early- to mid-20s, they painted it as children, taking their teacher’s advice to each work on one half of the canvas then switch sides so the piece appears to have been done by one person.
It’s a pleasant distraction for Bachara as he tackles some of the region’s most complex construction disputes. The most complicated involved his representation of one of six subcontractors sued by Berkman Plaza II after the partial collapse of its parking garage in 2007, which killed one construction worker and injured two dozen others.
Initially, Bachara was asked to resolve insurance coverage issues for the Harsco Corp. Eventually his role expanded into what, if any, liability that corporation held in the garage’s collapse.
While the collapse was primarily attributed to a structural engineering flaw, Harsco — which had designed the layout drawings for the building’s shoring and reshoring — ultimately paid $325,000. That was a significant reduction in Hasco’s legal exposure in the $60 million lawsuit, Bachara said.
He also helped the Jacksonville Port Authority recover $10 million last year, working with Jacksonville’s general counsel in a case against contractors and engineers responsible for the flawed pavement at the Dames Point container terminal.
His office partnered with Jacksonville’s lawyers again in a legal dispute over the completion of the Duval County Courthouse, refining a litigation process that divides duties based on the lawyers’ greatest strengths.
“We are best at reviewing expert witnesses and reporting and knowing what the law is,” Bachara said. “We join forces with in-house counsel to make a very effective team.”
The Bachara Group also represents clients in bid protests, administrative complaints and with mediation and arbitration services. Bachara advises clients it’s often more cost -to identify and repair the source of the construction problem than to fund a costly legal chase over who is at fault.
“The approach we like to take is, let us help you find out what’s wrong, how to fix it and how much it will cost,” he said.