A Paradigm Shift

The ultimate judicial function of a surveyor is to help maintain a stable society through artistic measuring of land boundaries. Our most valuable service is keeping the neighbors out of the courtroom. Reasonable individuals and corporations that own land understand the economics of a legal fight. They are happy to employ a land consultant that can work through issues rather than pull the fire alarm and walk away.

The paradigm shift begins with adopting logic that neighbors only need one surveyor to resolve their issues and without litigation. This means our contracts should include verbiage that addresses resolution as a necessary part of the completed survey. We are well poised to assemble the evidence and guide the concerned parties cohesively to resolution before we finalize our survey. A strange phenomenon occurs when a lawyer is approached by an upset client. The client’s attitude and pocketbook trigger the lawyer’s “fight or flight” switch. Surveyors have adopted a binary switch as well. It flips between 1.) “I’m right/you’re wrong” and 2.) “That’s just a big ol’ mess out there, see ya later”. Can you see how the surveyor’s response professionally trips the lawyer’s trigger? Land owners view both surveyors and lawyers as costly but necessary evils. With those binary options who wouldn’t?

An important metric here is the definition of “fulfillment of services”. What are your services? Well, we know the courts have shown that deed staking doesn’t necessarily rise to the level of an accurate boundary survey. Conversely, harm is manufactured when the surveyor confuses ropes for robes and tries to self-adjudicate the boundary. When conflicting evidence emerges during the survey the most probable wrong action is to assert our professional opinion and walk away. Our services are uniquely paid for by one party but serve the adjoining owners including the public rights-of-way and overall cadastre. All of these interests have an authoritarian stake over our services. Are the stakeholders being addressed through your services?

A paradigm shift in the business model is on the horizon. The science of measuring has been automated. Just about everyone can physically perform measurements on a cadastral scale. The great postwar era “land development booms” that fueled construction surveying service companies finally died in 2008. Providing billable topo staking services is no longer a hot commodity in the world of UAV mapping, Lidar and machine control. The courts are screaming at us to understand that boundary retracement surveying includes more than just measuring. The delineation between a service business and a professional practice lies within the expectations of the contract. A service business delivers a negotiated quantity. Conversely the professional practitioner guides the client to remedy. A stable land cadastre requires maintenance. The fundamental operation is recovering evidence of the original marks and putting them to paper. If this retracement survey reveals serious conflict or abrasion with the owner’s actions, beliefs, or record then the owners as adjoiners have an opportunity to resolve or live with the discrepancy and a boundary survey can truly be finalized and recorded in perpetuity. The professional service lies within organizing impartial information and documenting the adjoiner’s authoritative resolution of the boundary. The economics of acquiescence may appeal to reasonable and corporate interests. Formalizing acquiescence or the adjoiner’s lawful resolution is a prerequisite to completing a boundary survey and maintaining the stability of a healthy cadastre. Providing the service of a collection of abrasive measurements is nothing more than a pig in a poke. The paradigm shift occurs when the professional awakens to this true function.

About the Author

Jason Foose

Jason Foose is a Professional Surveyor licensed in multiple jurisdictions.