In his thirty-plus-year legal career, Ed Diggs has worked for just two organizations. In private practice, he became the first-ever Black attorney to progress from summer associate to partner at the well-known international law firm K&L Gates. During his sixteen-year tenure, Diggs carved out a niche litigating construction cases.
The other fifteen years (and counting) have been in-house at the engineering and construction company Bechtel, where Diggs manages prosecution and defense of construction claims in both domestic and international forums for the company’s energy global business unit.
At this moment in his career, there is a lot to look back on for the senior counsel and manager of claims at Bechtel. For a lawyer who’s done about everything in the building space, his expertise came as something of a happenstance.
“I’m going to be honest. I just sort of stumbled into construction law,” Diggs says frankly. “At K&L, we were required to rotate through various practice groups. Construction law wasn’t something they taught us in school or anything that I even knew was out there as a possibility. But the work immediately resonated with me. That’s what I try to impart to the next generation: Find what you love. You may not even know what it is, but you’ll know it when you find it.”
Diggs has a career’s worth of knowledge to impart to those looking for mentorship. There’s one piece that the senior counsel feels strongly about. Some lawyers who are more toward the beginning of their careers seem to be unwilling to seek out constructive feedback.
Diggs says he’s not sure if it’s because they see it as a critique of their character or intelligence, but that if lawyers truly want to grow, they need to actively seek out ways in which to practice better.
“There’s a discomfort that can accompany constructive feedback, and I understand that,” Diggs explains. “It’s tough for lawyers to accept, and no one wants to be told they’re not doing something well. But the more open you are to growing in your practice, the better off you’re going to be and the faster you’ll develop.”
One of the other lasting lessons he has taken from his time working across multiple business lines for an internal client is to seek everyone’s opinion at the table. “I found that sometimes the quietest person in the room usually has the most knowledge on the issue,” he reflects. “Unless you take the time to extract that knowledge, you might be missing out in a big way.”
“Ed Diggs shines in his role at Bechtel, not only from a lawyer, but as a business-minded leader,” says Clare M. Gallagher, vice chair of the labor and employment practice at Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott LLC. “Ed’s collaborative style and comprehensive understanding of the legal and business process inspires business partners and legal professionals to bring their absolute best to every situation.”
Diggs believes that in the future we’ll look back on this moment as a challenging one for people in the building industry. A possible recession, the impacts on the industry of the war in Ukraine, supply chain issues lingering from the COVID-19 pandemic, and rising prices have created one of the most challenging times in modern history for many in construction.
When asked his view of the future state of the oil and gas industry, he says: “There are so many different things you have to factor in. This is an exciting time in the energy industry as both governments and industry are looking at ways to balance energy transition with energy security. We see companies adjusting their business models and implementing new technologies and innovations as they work to find solutions to the global climate and other challenges. It sure makes for exciting times for the kind of work that I do.”
While the future remains unknown, Diggs advises lawyers to spend more time learning their practice than worrying about the next role. The senior counsel says he’s met more than his fair share of young and ambitious attorneys throughout his career, and while there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, ambition can often inadvertently eclipse true mastery of one’s purview.
“If your hunger and ambition come at the expense of providing sound and thorough legal advice, you shouldn’t be practicing law,” he says. “Sound and thorough counseling is based on comprehensive knowledge of subject matter. I know you might be looking for that next role, but sometimes you need to be a bit more patient and use that time to master your trade.”
Diggs provides this advice because he’s asked, not because he’s trying to talk down to the next generation of legal leaders. Given his tenure, his board work, and his continuingly evolving mastery of construction law, he’s hoping to provide a foundation for future lawyers to build on.
It’s a historical moment, and Diggs wants those who come next to be able to tackle the incredible challenges of the future.
Serving the Community
Throughout his professional career, Ed Diggs has devoted extensive time to organizations and nonprofits that align with his own values and passions.
Along with a host of bar associations, Diggs has served on the National Executive Board of the Boy Scouts for Southwestern Pennsylvania, the board of local PBS affiliate WQED, and the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Most important to Diggs, however, was his work with Three Rivers Youth, a local nonprofit organization that provides group homes and other services for at-risk children who were wards of the state.
“You could see the direct benefit that you were bringing to these kids who were dealing with extraordinarily difficult circumstances,” he explains. “Every child deserves to have a safe environment to go home to.”