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.


Wrongful Default Termination – Mr. Lee was lead counsel representing general contractor in a complex arbitration proceeding against the owner of a casino and hotel situated on tribal property.  In a contested arbitration hearing, the general contractor successfully challenged the propriety of the owner’s termination of the prime contract for alleged default, fully defensing owner’s affirmative claim, while recovering contractor’s wrongful termination damages in the tens of millions of dollars. 

Wrongful Default Termination – VLMG represented general contractor challenging the propriety of a default termination against the United States in connection with a contract for the construction of roadways and improvements in a national park in Wyoming.  Following a trial before the C.B.C.A., where Mr. Lee served as lead trial counsel, the Board granted the contractor’s appeal converting the default termination into a termination for convenience. 

Claim Preparation – Mr. Lee represented general contractor in connection with the construction of a 2.25 mile stretch of the historic road corridor in the City of San Francisco.  The Project consisted of creation of dedicated bus rapid transit lanes, including overhead contact system, streetlight and signal poles replacement, as well as precursor underground work including sewer replacement, water line replacement, and green infrastructure work.  Mr. Lee spearheaded the effort preparing mid-project claims seeking over $70 million in additional compensation based on differing site conditions, as well as significant procurement delays resulting from the owner design changes.  The claims were favorably settled without the need for litigation.

Early Case Victory – Mr. Lee and VLMG successfully defended an ENR Top-10 EPC contractor against a Fortune 500 oil company in an action seeking damages associated with a fiery explosion at an oil refinery.  The underlying project involved relocation of a refining facility in California and repurposing it into a modified facility in another state.  The owner claimed damages in excess of $120 million.  VLMG prevailed on multiple summary judgment motions before the United States District Court for the District of Wyoming, which resulted in a complete defense of the entire case, a favorable judgment, and a finding that VLMG’s client was entitled to attorneys’ fees.  The owner appealed the judgment to the 10th Circuit, where VLMG prevailed on all issues, resulting in affirmance of the judgment.  A favorable out-of-court settlement followed shortly thereafter.

International Airport Dispute – Mr. Lee represented international design firm in connection with a US $17 billion international airport in the Middle East and a series of disputes involving the design and construction of the project.  Successfully defended against claims alleging defective design brought by the owner and general contractor resulting in a very favorable settlement. 

Design Professional Representation – VLMG represented lead design firm (ranked as one of ENR’s top design firms nationally) in a contentious lawsuit brought by professional sports team seeking indemnity for one of the largest Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) class-action settlements in history based on alleged access violations at a $1 billion sports stadium.  Following summary adjudication in the design team’s favor, the client obtained a favorable settlement. Mr. Lee worked hand-in-glove with the client’s legal and insurer teams to develop an effective litigation strategy.


  • 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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