What’s the first thing a big company does when it gets slapped with a multi-million dollar lawsuit? That’s an easy one: it calls the best litigator in its Rolodex. Once a litigator arrives on the scene, her job is to mount a powerful defence on behalf of the organization — either in negotiations, if a settlement is possible, or in the courtroom.
Rebecca Wise, a senior associate at Torys LLP, is one such litigator. Her practice focuses on securities and employment lawsuits, almost exclusively on the defence side. Her clients are often investment firms who face allegations of financial mismanagement or companies whose public disclosure is alleged to contain misrepresentations. Millions of dollars may be on the line. Here, Wise tells us how she gets her clients out of hot water.
How do financial-mismanagement cases usually start?
Cases often begin when an investor lodges a complaint, either with the investment firm directly or with the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada — which regulates Canadian investment firms and advisors — relating to losses sustained in an investment account.
“The investor,” says Wise, “might be saying, rightly or wrongly, ‘I’ve had my investments with this firm for years and I told them I wanted to be conservative. But the investments in my account were too risky and now I’ve lost money. I want the firm held accountable.’” Not all complaints, Wise notes, have merit. “Sometimes, people lose money on their investments and neither the firm nor the broker is to blame.”
Complaints made to the regulator may result in a regulatory investigation and, in some cases, an enforcement proceeding. Some complainants may choose to commence a lawsuit — either alongside a regulatory complaint or instead of one — against the firm and/or their investment advisor. In either case, Wise represents the firm in mounting a full defence.
What happens if a client faces a civil lawsuit?
When a civil lawsuit begins, Wise launches her own investigation. She speaks to the relevant investment advisor and reviews documents to determine whether the allegations have any merit. The information gathered from this investigation forms the basis of the statement of defence Wise files in response to the lawsuit.
Following that, both sides enter the discovery process, in which they exchange documents and orally examine each other’s witnesses. (Wise usually works with a junior associate or a student on these cases.)
Since mediation is mandatory for most civil cases in Ontario, that is the next step. Both sides come to the negotiating table with a third party present to help resolve the dispute. “If a resolution is proposed and it makes sense to settle,” says Wise, “then mediation can be quite helpful.” If mediation fails, Wise is off to the courtroom.
How often do such cases go to trial?
“Not often,” says Wise. The exorbitant cost of going to trial is a major deterrent. But if a case does proceed to trial, Wise handles the whole shebang: she preps for the trial, calls witnesses and makes a case before the judge.
How many files are you typically juggling?
At the moment, Wise has carriage of close to 50 files spanning everything from employment to securities litigation. But most of them take years to resolve. “To give you a sense, I’m still working on cases from when I was a summer student,” she says. “That was eight years ago!”
The good news is that, at a given moment, only five to 10 files are active. And because they tend to go on for a long time, she can plan things in advance. “There’s more predictability in your schedule, so you can plan your life better.”
What do you like most about your job?
“I like the people I work with, both my colleagues and my clients. But in terms of the substantive work, I like working on cases that have new, challenging issues.”
What sort of person would do well in litigation?
Someone who enjoys thinking critically about issues and isn’t afraid of a challenge. Also, someone who is collaborative and diplomatic. “You work both with colleagues and opposing counsel. Sometimes it’s very adversarial, but lawyers are always civil to each other.”