Obituary: Max William Abrahamson (1932-2018)
26 February 2019
The Engineers Journal pays tribute to the life and work of Max Abrahamson, a construction lawyer par excellence, who wrote 'Engineering Law and the ICE Contracts', which became widely known as 'the engineers’ bible'. He consulted on projects in more than 60 countries, including EuroDisney and the Bahrain Causeway
A seminar given by Max Abrahamson was described by one attendee as being 'so far removed from anything that I expected that I expect I had the same impression as those who heard Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the first time. To say it was stimulating would be something of an understatement'.
The Engineers Journal pays tribute to the life and work of Max Abrahamson, a construction lawyer par excellence, who wrote ‘Engineering Law and the ICE Contracts’, which became widely known as ‘the engineers’ bible’. He consulted on projects in more than 60 countries, including EuroDisney and the Bahrain Causeway.
Max William Abrahamson, with his twin brother David, had a perilous birth in Portobello Nursing Home, Dublin, the danger increased by a fire in the home a few days after their birth, while they were still there in a makeshift incubator.
He was educated at Sandford Park and then went to Trinity College Dublin (TCD) in 1949, where he obtained a prestigious Foundation Scholarship in Law.
After graduating, he won a position as lecturer at TCD and he did this while beginning to set up a private practice in Fitzwilliam Square.
It was not easy at the start but Max succeeded and went from waiting in the early years in fear and trembling for the phone to ring, to working with clients in 65 countries around the world, advising on projects as diverse as EuroDisney and the Bahrain Causeway and being described as “one of the most experienced construction lawyers in the world”.
Very early in his career, he wrote ‘Engineering Law and the ICE Contracts’. The first edition was published in 1965, followed by three subsequent editions. It became a famous construction law textbook, often referred to as ‘the engineers’ bible’ and its publication opened up the world of working abroad to Max.
Max was always ahead of the time, interested in trying to reform the legal profession and move from an emphasis on the adversarial towards dialogue. He wanted to break down barriers between lawyers and barristers and he wasn’t afraid to be controversial. As early as 1971, Max read a paper at the Irish Association of Civil Liberty, entitled ‘An Ombudsman For Ireland’ in his desire to make law work for people.
Max developed a practice that was a blend of the academic and the practical. He lectured widely; in Kings College London, where he was visiting professor from 1987-1997, TCD, University College Dublin and China and he put a huge amount of thought and attention to detail into every word he wrote. He developed a theory, ‘the Abrahamson principles’ about risk allocation in construction contracts and dispute resolution.
From 1973, he practised in Dublin in association with the commercial law firm McCann FitzGerald, with whom he merged his practice in 1991. Max continued as a consultant with that firm until 2014. He was also a consultant to Baker & McKenzie, the international law firm.
In addition to his work closer to home – such as the Jack Lynch tunnel, the West Link toll bridge, the International Financial Services Centre, the first Luas project in Dublin, the Heathrow rail tunnel and EuroDisney – he advised on construction projects in China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Bahrain, Botswana, Lesotho and Pakistan.
In 1992, Max gave a seminar on the ‘New Contract System’, which was described in a letter to Max by one attendee as being “so far removed from anything that I expected that I expect I had the same impression as those who heard Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for the first time. To say it was stimulating would be something of an understatement”. This analogy would have pleased Max enormously, as he was passionate about music, particularly opera.
In 2012 he gave a lecture on the Public Works Contracts organised by Engineers Ireland. It drew an unprecedented crowd from many facets of the engineering world and other professions to hear from a man with more than 50 years’ experience in practice and lecturing in construction law, both nationally and internationally. No wonder he was referred to as ‘a legend’!
When Max retired from McCann Fitzgerald in 2013, there were copious mentions of the help and support he gave his colleagues and the wisdom he shared but, above all, people spoke about how privileged they felt to have worked with him.
He inspired many with his intellectual prowess but also his generosity both materially but above all, with his time. His good nature, integrity and sense of humour were known and felt by everyone, as well as his humble attitude to his success, which he often put down to his ‘good luck’.
He received honorary fellowships from Engineers Ireland, the Institution of Surveyors in Civil Engineering and the Chartered Institution of Arbitrators.
Max had many interests apart from law and his grandchildren, of whom there are six. He loved sculpture and wood carving and the carving he did of Napoleon Crossing the Alps was one of his proudest achievements. In the last few years of his life, when he was living in London, he often mentioned it to his daughter, saying: “I can’t believe I did that carving. I actually don’t know how I managed to do it”.
This last paragraph is an anecdote told by his daughter, Lynne. Max was very fond of anecdotes, always joking that he had entered the age of anecdotage, so it seems fitting to end this tribute to a wonderful man with something he would have approved of. We were leaving the Jewish cemetery at Dolphin’s Barn, walking across the grass together and I said: “People are always asking me when I’m going to settle down, but there’s plenty of time for that!”. Dad laughed and agreed. He never settled down in the sense that he kept on pushing for change in his profession, writing every day until his end, despite pain and fatigue.
His determination and desire for a better world will live on.http://www.engineersjournal.ie/2019/02/26/obituary-max-william-abrahamson-1932-2018/http://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/a-aaaaamax1.jpghttp://www.engineersjournal.ie/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/a-aaaaamax1.jpgCivilconstruction,legal,TCD