Varela, Lee, Metz & Guarino (VLMG)

Bennett J. Lee

Founding Partner

Bennett Lee advises his clients on the full gamut of matters relating to construction contracts, and is also regularly called upon to act as an arbitrator in complex construction disputes. Clients say "Bennett Lee is a highly skilled professional with good business judgment." "He demonstrates a mastery of the unique elements of design and construction law, which coupled with his depth of experience in high-profile projects, best positions the client for a positive outcome." "One of the best trial lawyers I have worked with."

- Chambers and Partners, 2022

Bennett Lee is managing partner of the firm's San Francisco office. He represents general contractors, design engineering firms, construction managers, and owners on a wide variety of issues arising from industrial, transportation and commercial construction projects, including power and hydro plants, office buildings, roadways, hospitals, prisons, schools, dams, mass transit systems, tunnels, and pipelines.

Bennett counsels and advises clients on contract preparation, administration and termination. He has extensive experience in claim preparation, prosecution and dispute resolution on federal, state, municipal and private contracts.

Bennett is a recognized expert in federal government contracting on issues ranging from compliance, bid protests, to claim preparation, pricing, and dispute resolution.

He has significant litigation experience before both federal and state courts, and domestic arbitration associations, on a wide variety of suretyship and construction law issues.  Bennett has also arbitrated cases internationally, including before the ICC, DIAC, DIFC, and ad hoc arbitrations in Dubai, U.A.E.

In the first four years of his career, Bennett was a commissioned officer in the United States Navy where he served as a judge advocate and Special Assistant United States Attorney.


Chemical Processing Plant Represented design-build contractor seeking recovery of its contract balance and retention from private owner of chemical processing plant using a technology never constructed in the United States.  Multi-party arbitration ensued that included the general contractor, owner, and subcontractors.  Following five weeks of hearings, owner settled general contractor’s claims by paying over 80% of what contractor was seeking.  General contractor also spent approximately half of what other primary parties expended in legal fees and costs.

Construction Claims Bankruptcy - Mr. Lee represented general contractor on a shopping mall construction project.  The single-asset owner filed for bankruptcy protection while owing the client and its subcontractors over $25 million.  The owner’s failure to pay spawned scores of lawsuits among and between the general contractor, the bankrupt owner and its subcontractors.  He coordinated the defense of the multiple lawsuits, as well as assisting in the negotiation of the ultimate settlement of this matter with (a) the owner’s principals and bankruptcy counsel; and (b) the subcontractors.  The client recovered 100% of the principle amount owed, all statutory interest plus a substantial portion of the client’s legal fees.   

International Arbitration - Mr. Lee and partner Nicholas Merrell represented a project owner in Dubai, U.A.E. who developed a high-rise tower.  Due to defective engineering and construction, a retaining wall collapsed during construction of the building’s foundation, which flooded the entire project site.  The resulting property damage and two-year delay in construction caused millions in damages to the client.  Very favorable settlements were obtained.

Multi-Project Fraud Claims involving Public Works Owner - In a series of high profile disputes, Mr. Lee was lead trial counsel representing a Bay Area public works contractor and its performance bond surety in four litigations throughout northern California seeking recovery of contract balances and extra work claims totaling over $25 million.  The contractor faced counterclaims from the owners for alleged defective work, false claims, and delays.  Through very favorable settlements obtained through aggressive litigation victories, the clients were paid over $20 million in total.

Business Tort Litigation – Mr. Lee successfully defended an ENR 20 company accused of unfair competition and wrongful business practices.  In winning several critical dispositive motions and through effective depositions of plaintiff’s damages experts, the original $84 million demand was resolved for a nuisance amount.

Bid Protest– Represented second-low bidder protesting low bidder’s compliance with request for proposal and California public procurement law on $35 million port renovation project in Crescent City, CA.  Following a bid protest hearing, successfully argued that client be awarded project outright without any opportunity for a re-bid.

Disputes Among Business Partners – Represented joint venture partner in the failed development of what was to be the largest solar project in the world.  Mr. Lee commenced federal court action seeking damages for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and various business torts.  Successfully negotiated a multi-party settlement.

Federal Contracting Assistance - Assist multiple clients transitioning to federal government contracting by (a) providing training in FAR compliance and contract administration, (b) preparing subcontracts suitable for use on federal projects, and (c) assisting clients with a host of small business program issues.  Mr. Lee has extensive experience in preparing and prosecuting requests for equitable adjustments on federal construction projects. 

Wrongful Death – Mr. Lee and partner Garrett Dillon represented design professional in two lawsuits where the professional engineering firm was accused of negligently designing a construction zone’s multi-lane roadway that was the site of two separate traffic accidents resulting in fatalities.  The estates of the decedents sued client, among others, for over $15 million in damages citing to the traffic design’s allegedly improper design speed, curve radius and embankment, and warning signage.  Client led a group of defendants in demonstrating that the decedents’ unsafe driving was the main cause of the fatal accidents.  Also, through motions practice on a series of complex defense and indemnity issues, Mr. Lee successfully mitigated its exposure through securing insurance coverage from other defendants.  In a negotiated settlement, the client contributed nothing more than its costs of defense in successfully resolving the multi-party litigation.


  • Speaker: “The Death of Design-Bid-Build: Mitigating Risk for the General Contractor in Today’s Procurement World,” Construction SuperConference, Las Vegas, Nevada, December 2016.
  • Speaker: “Are Construction Lawyers and Consultants Becoming Commoditized?,” Construction SuperConference, San Diego, California, 2015.
  • Speaker: "It’s Getting Hot in Here – Today's Energy and Power Construction Market," Construction SuperConference, Las Vegas, Nevada, December 2014.
  • Panelist: “Nip-Tuck: Does Construction Arbitration Need a Facelift?”  Construction SuperConference, San Francisco, California, December 2013.
  • Program Co-Chair: "Construction Damages: An In-Depth Analysis," American Bar Association Fidelity & Surety Law Committee Mid-Winter Meeting, January 2013.
  • Moderator: “Government Contracting Abroad,” Construction SuperConference, San Francisco, California, 2012.
  • Speaker and Author: “Legal Ethics in the Representation of Joint Ventures,” ABA Mid-Winter Construction Forum, Houston, Texas, January 2012.
  • Panelist: “Strategic Alliances for Success,” Construction SuperConference, San Francisco, California, 2011.
  • Chapter Co-Author and Speaker: “Payment Bond Claims Handling and the Law of Bad Faith,” (co-authors: Charles Langfitt and Robert Niesley), The Law of Payment Bonds, 2nd Edition, Editors: Kevin L. Lybeck, et. al., 2011.
  • Speaker: “Integrated Project Delivery: Changing the Way We Build,” Microdesk Event, San Francisco, California, February 2011.
  • Speaker: “Determining Acceptable Risk in Today’s Hyper-Competitive Marketplace,” Construction SuperConference, San Francisco, California, December 2010.
  • Speaker and Author: “The New Reality in Getting Paid: Strategies for Managing Receivables From Owners With Thin Wallets,” Pearlman Association, Seattle, Washington, 2010.
  • Speaker: "The Risks and Rewards of Program Management as a Project Delivery Method," Construction SuperConference, San Francisco, California, December 2009.
  • Lecturer: "Federal Government Contracting Course," Federal Publications, Fall 2009.
  • Book Chapter Co-Author (along with Charles W. Langfitt, Robert C. Niesley): "Performance Options Available to the Surety," Law of Performance Bond, Second Ed., Editors: Lawrence Moelmann, Matthew Horowitz & Kevin Lybeck, Summer 2009.
  • Speaker: "Managing Risk in Today's Marketplace," Construction SuperConference; San Francisco, California, 2008.
  • Author: "Recent Developments in Standard Form Construction Agreement," From the Ground Up, Fall 2007.
  • Speaker/Author: “Why Is Identifying, Capturing And Measuring A Loss Of Labor Productivity So Difficult?” SuperConference; San Francisco, California; 2007.
  • Speaker/Author: “How to Enter and Thrive in the Dynamic Gulf Construction Market,” McLean, Virginia; 2007.
  • Speaker/Author: “Strange Bedfellows: How to Participate in a Public-Private Partnership Without Losing Your Shirt,” The Contractor and Construction Manager Issues - SuperConference; San Francisco, California; 2006.

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