Michael Ford (post until Oct. 31/19)
Civil Litigation, Commercial Litigation, Construction

Clients get substance, not flash, with Vickerman as their advocate

If she were independently wealthy, Toronto litigator Jessica Vickerman would likely be a lifelong student, following her wide-ranging curiosity from subject to subject.

Without a fortune to bankroll unlimited studies, she’s got the next best thing, a career she loves — in professional liability and construction law — where she is constantly learning.

“Every case that comes across my desk is interesting, they all have some factor that makes them stand out,” Vickerman, an associate with the Toronto office of Shibley Righton LLP, tells AdvocateDaily.com. “Every file is different. Although they’re all within the litigation framework, they all have a diverse set of facts.”

She has been with Shibley Righton her entire career, joining the firm’s Toronto office in 2009 after articling there. When she started, she focused on insurance defence. When that group folded a couple years later, she moved over to the firm’s professional negligence department, which was growing.

It was Vickerman’s first exposure to that legal field, one she had not explored during her law studies at the University of Western Ontario. But the more she learned about it, the more she liked it.

“It was a fortunate circumstance for me that they happened to need help just as I was transitioning to something new,” she says. “I was lucky to get involved because it’s an incredibly interesting area.”

She is also expanding her practice to focus on insurance claims from car rental and leasing companies, a niche area that follows naturally from her earlier work in insurance defence.

“It’s a bit wide-ranging, but that’s what you get in a litigation practice,” she says.

While Vickerman’s preferred practice area has evolved, she always wanted to be a lawyer.

“There are no lawyers in my family, I’m the first. But I knew from a young age that’s what I wanted. I felt that I would be well-suited to it,” she says. “I love reading and writing. I love talking to people and I’m naturally curious in terms of wanting to know all the details.”

These skills stand her in good stead for her practice area, which is focused on professional liability, dealing particularly in cases involving architects, lawyers and accountants, as she is often required to dig into the minutiae of these professions. Her clients, as well as hired experts, help her understand the complexities of any given case or situation.

Vickerman has become particularly well versed in the terminology and technical details of the construction industry.  

“I never anticipated learning as much as I have about various aspects of construction,” she says, recounting one time when she spent a three-hour examination for discovery on a very specific aspect of roof flashing.

“I felt bad for the court reporter that day,” she says, “because I’m sure they found it to be a bit dry.”

Vickerman’s construction cases range from custom-built homes, residential and commercial work and condominiums. Previous cases involve a building that collapsed, and one destroyed by fire mid-build.

“We’ve really had a bit of everything,” she says.

Vickerman’s clients are professional liability insurance providers, but the parties with whom she interacts on a given case typically extend beyond that, from the professionals themselves to experts, and affected parties.  

“There are so many moving parts through various files,” she says.

In a construction case, for instance, there are often a number of parties, including engineers, developers, sub-trades, and general contractors.

“They’re multiparty, for the most part, and so that’s interesting as well because you get to learn about the project as a whole — all the various disciplines that went into it,” she says.

Vickerman is a litigator, but she enjoys negotiating out-of-court settlements where appropriate.

“I am particularly interested in being able to resolve matters out of court because of the flexibility it affords in coming to an arrangement that may not be possible otherwise,” she says. “But obviously not everything can be resolved that way.”

When matters go to court, her approach is to be “practical and prepared.”

“I’m not out there to be flashy,” Vickerman says. “I’m there to clearly and confidently advocate my client’s position.”

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