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Civil Litigation, Construction

Litigator Isabelle Eckler invigorated by complexity of cases

Toronto litigator Isabelle Eckler once contemplated becoming an architect but instead, she defends them against professional liability claims.

Eckler joined Shibley Righton LLP as an associate following her call to the bar in June 2015. She’s appeared before the Ontario Superior Court of Justice and conducted two trials in small claims court.

“I find this area of the law really interesting,” she tells AdvocateDaily.com. “I know I’m a junior, so everything is new but there is a level of complexity to the cases I deal with. They often involve more than just one straightforward issue.

“Liability in multi-party construction actions is often difficult to determine, and requires an understanding of very technical evidence,” she adds.

Both of Eckler’s parents are architects in their own firm and she initially applied to architecture school herself. She was accepted but decided to pursue urban and environmental studies instead.

That eventually led to law and her parents are relieved, she says.

“The field of architecture has its challenges. They sometimes design projects that either get changed for various reasons, or that don't get built,” she says. “My parents are happy I went on my own path.”

Eckler holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Environmental and Urban Studies from the University of Toronto, and a Master of Science degree in Urban Studies from University College in London, England.

It was while studing in England that Eckler discovered she was drawn to the law courses much more than the ones dedicated to planning or policy.

“I had considered the law before but I knew I wasn’t ready for it.”

She returned from London and enrolled in York University's Osgoode Hall Law School. There, she was awarded the WeirFoulds LLP Prize in Administrative Law and was named to the Dean’s Honour List.

She says one of the highlights of law school was her participation in Osgoode’s Innocence Project Intensive program. It’s an optional, for-credit program in which students are given the files of applicants who claim to be falsely convicted.

The goal is to see if there is new evidence — DNA or witness testimony, for instance — that would warrant a new trial. Eckler was given a fascinating murder case.

“It was an incredible process combing through all of the documents and transcripts. But ultimately, I had to tell the client we weren’t able to take his case.”

After articling at Shibley Righton, Eckler accepted a job at the firm. She found a mentor in partner Charles Simco.

“I’ve learned so much from him, not even just legal issues but how to deal with colleagues and other counsel and clients. Those are the practical things they don’t teach you about in law school,” she says. “School doesn’t fully prepare you for actual practice, so you do a lot of learning on your feet.”

Eckler says she loves many aspects of being a lawyer. She enjoys developing positions, conducting research to support them and then figuring out the best way to present her arguments.

“Representing and helping clients is what drew me to the law,” says Eckler, who grew up in Toronto and counts travelling and exploring the city’s food scene among her hobbies.

“Lawyers have to guide clients through the litigation process. It’s uncharted territory for those not familiar with it.”

Though the learning curve has been steep, Eckler says she’s invigorated by the challenge. Lawyers practising in her field for 30 years tell her there is always a curve ball you don’t see coming.

“I think that’s what I’m going to love the most; constantly handling the new and the unexpected.”

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