By Matthew C. Ryan
The Texas Board of Architectural Examiners (TBAE) is tasked with a broad mandate to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare. Almost all architects have their first encounter with the board in its role as a gatekeeper, governing the examination and registration process, and thwarting unlicensed practice. But the TBAE’s other main role is the investigation of alleged professional misconduct — this is the type of scrutiny that no architect wants to face. Whether a case involves claims of dishonesty, negligence, criminal convictions, or otherwise, the careful handling of your projects and clients can help serve as the stitch in time that saves nine.
"Methods to TBAE Success" is a two-part series featuring a handful of “lessons learned” to aid in maintaining a good standing with the TBAE.
Nothing comes to those who do not ask.
As with virtually every other issue that people spend time worrying about, if you do not ask questions, you will not receive answers. An insurance company cannot deny or extend coverage unless asked — and you might be surprised at a carrier’s decision on handling a TBAE inquiry. Further, an employer may be willing to foot the bill for such a defense, but your chances on this front will likely diminish rapidly the longer you wait to report the situation. As unsettling as the prospect of a TBAE investigation may be, hiding, procrastinating, or staying will almost never improve the situation.
Keep on the straight and narrow.
Using candor and following the Board’s rules can go a long way toward helping avoid conflicts with the TBAE and the investigations that will almost certainly follow. Understandably, architects are prohibited from engaging in any activity with the intent to defraud, deceive, or create a misleading impression. This is a dangerously broad standard, so err on the safe side when you assess the options available in your day-to-day practice.
Also: If a conflict of interest arises, it must be disclosed to the client in writing. Never accept compensation from more than one source on any given project.
Hell hath no fury like a client — or an ex-employee — scorned.
Just as with lawyers, claims and litigation may be accompanied by a professional grievance. Work on your “bedside manner” and find ways to settle all things related to the dispute when a case is resolved. Overall, choosing clients well and maintaining good relationships can help build an excellent bulwark against potentially costly disputes. Resist the natural urge to unleash your frustration when dealing with difficult projects and people and constantly look for ways to employ diplomatic and measured language.
TBAE representatives are just people like you and me.
Remember to respect the TBAE’s jurisdiction and its processes. Courtesy, patience, candor, and professionalism will almost always be repaid in kind. Keep in mind that the Board may not have been the source of the complaint. Also, be aware that the enforcement staff does not make the rules, but they are tasked with enforcing them and should be treated with respect. These are the very people who exercise prosecutorial discretion and may well decide whether and how to proceed with an investigation — if any.
Never permit the firing of “the unanswered bullet.”
Perhaps most importantly of all, if you are ever accused of dishonesty, neglect, or some other kind of misconduct — by a client, competitor, ex-colleague, or anyone else — never ever let that be the last word about it in your records. A later review of the file by a judge, jury, arbitrator, and/or TBAE investigator could leave the reader asking how you could have ever failed to deny being a liar, a cheat, or an incompetent. While it may sound just like a lawyer to suggest that you “paper up” the record, doing so creates a contemporaneous record that may serve as a powerful shelter if a grievance or claim later arises.
Avoiding complaints from the TBAE is and should be every architect’s goal. Learning to make peace, not war, in areas of practice and with the Board. Always keep registration information up to date, and be timely in your registration renewal process. Most importantly, learn the TBAE rules and be alert for changes to them. And to repeat, in closing: when in doubt, ask the Board.
I have never regretted reaching out to the TBAE staff for a thoughtful discussion of a rule’s application to a specific set of facts. This extra degree of care and precision may just serve as the proverbial ounce of prevention that helps you avoid the pound of cure.