Paul Hancock digs through the documentation to solve complex construction litigation challenges

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    Paul Hancock, an associate with Goldman Sloan Nash & Haber LLP, resolves legal challenges in key practice areas including commercial litigation and shareholder disputes. He also focuses on construction lien and breach of trust actions, where he has successfully represented owners, general contractors and subcontractors. He is 36 years old.

    Hancock grew up in Northern Ontario, gaining personal experience in the construction industry by working for a civil engineering firm as a soil and concrete technician during the summers through high school and university.

    His intent after law school, he says, was to practice commercial litigation. When he articled at a litigation boutique firm where half of the principal’s practice was construction lien and breach of trust work, however, he found his passion. “I really enjoyed the construction files I worked on during my articles and decided that I should continue to practice in the area of construction law.”

    Despite a strong mentor, like most litigators, his early years were what he calls baptism by fire, where Hancock learned on his feet and developed skills through practice. “I was given carriage of multiple files and conducted discoveries, argued motions, prepared Scott schedules, met with clients, and generally ran files.”

    Hancock’s prior experience on construction sites helped him discuss files with clients, he says, particularly the technical aspects. However, despite his existing knowledge, many cases required long hours not only learning the case but also reviewing documents to understand what the cases were really about.

    During his early years of practice Hancock took over a carriage of seven inter-related actions in a highly contested piece of construction litigation. “As I successfully navigated those files, I was given more and more complex construction litigation files and developed a penchant for locating relevant documents in the voluminous records that are generated on construction projects and coherently setting out clients’ positions.”

    One of Hancock’s greatest challenges is document management because the construction industry as a whole appears to be taking longer than others to move to digital files, he says. He notes that even when certain correspondence or documents are sent via e-mail, the inability to be able to organize and easily search through electronic files sometimes results in massive amounts of documents having to be reviewed manually in order to locate relevant material. This not only leads to increased legal fees, but also the client spending excessive time locating information.

    “I try to address this problem by being proactive in document management. I explain to clients very early in the process of the need to assemble documents in not only a logical order, but also in a format that allows one to easily sift through voluminous records. I try to review work in progress to ensure that clients are assembling documents in a logical format so as to avoid asking a client to redo work after already spending 10 or 20 hours assembling documents.”

    Hancock says the subtle differences and nuances from project to project means that every case has the potential to involve a novel point of law or to involve a different section of the Construction Lien Act so he is constantly learning.

    Despite the burden of paperwork, and the challenges with such a fluid and complex industry, Hancock says he finds the work of solving problems and clarifying issues for clients satisfying. Untangling a web of set offs and extras so the parties have hard figures as to the amounts at issue and therefore, the ability to make informed business decisions, is rewarding.

    He also says he is inspired by his clients, some of whom are “immigrants who came to Canada with nothing and were able to become successful entrepreneurs in the construction industry.”

    Hancock says a lot of the successes he is the proudest of are cases in which he was able to resolve litigation at its infancy through prompt disclosure and creative solutions, saving his clients time, money and stress.

    “From a technical stand point, I am very proud of recently obtaining a declaration that security posted by a pre-existing mortgagee to vacate a lien be deemed to be posted by the owner. It was a unique challenge that required a careful analysis of not only the Construction Lien Act, but also reverse engineering the events that gave rise to a mortgagee with no liability posting security and resulted in my client now having the ability to look to the full amount posted as security.”

    Beyond his work with clients, Hancock is an active mentor to younger associates and articling students at the firm and he is very involved with his church. He was recently asked to be a guest speaker for a local homeowner association on the issue of infill construction in Toronto.

    Hancock feels fortunate to be in the construction law practice group at GSNH LLP, where he is surrounded by great mentors and has the opportunity to succeed. “My main goal is to continue to grow and develop my practice and to become more active in the construction law legal community, whether that be through seminars or papers.”

    He would certainly recommend a career in construction law to young people because the work always presents new and interesting challenges and the bar is relatively small and cordial.

    “Construction is a tough industry, but, generally speaking, clients are firm, but fair. If you put in the work, manage expectations, and are a straight shooter you can develop a successful practice in this area.”

    You can reach Paul Hancock by email at hancock@gsnh.com, or by phone at (416) 597-788.

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