GEORGE CORSIANOS, SENIOR PARTNER CORSIANOS-LEE LLP
In the high-conflict, high stress world of corporate and commercial litigation, George Corsianos is a name you want to know. Being sued can be one of the worst seasons in a business person’s life. Having to sue a formerly-trusted partner, a once-reliable tenant or a no-longer-loyal customer is equally heartbreaking. George has seen it all in his litigation practice at Corsianos Lee Barristers and Solicitors.
“When our clients are in the middle of a stressful conflict that is affecting their businesses and reputations, they are naturally angry,” George explains. “I bring that anger down by offering reassurance.”
High-conflict legal disputes occur when one or both parties believe everything is on the line. Sometimes, it is. People build their reputations for integrity and honesty by following through on their word. Legal issues are public. The exposure can compromise any company’s moral high ground and undo the decades of hard work it takes to build a business with a solid reputation in the community.
“If you feel you have been wronged, you have to act because your reputation is on the line,” George says. “By breaking disputes down into a series of clear actions and events, and by defining appropriate recovery results, we can protect everyone’s rights. We use all the tools of the legal system, including the courts.”
While all lawyers are experts in one or more branch of the law, litigators like George are those who are specially trained to argue before judges when a case comes before the courts.
“That doesn’t mean we don’t try to settle,” George says, “but where the parties are too far apart, we have to go to court and if we are going to do that we have to be almost certain that we are right. Litigation is expensive and court takes time from everyone involved.”
When his clients are being sued, or have to sue someone else, George ensures they can focus on running their businesses while he deals with their legal conflicts.
“It’s about balancing the empathetic and the realistic,” George explains. “Clients like to work with me because I am a fierce advocate for their position but at the same time I give them practical advice in order for them to make an informed decision of how they should proceed with their matter. Everything is about assessing what happened to create the conflict in relation to what is documented and how expectations were based on that documentation.”
Assessment is central to how a legal matter is addressed from the moment a potential client walks into George’s office for a consultation.
“First, we listen to the story as the client tells it in terms of their expectations. Then, we compare it to the documentation that is available for review,” George says. “From there, we can determine who has been wronged and the appropriate damage to claim from the other party. From there, we decide what action to take.
Appropriate action depends on which side of the conflict the client is on. If he is representing the plaintiff, the party bringing the court action, then George assesses the weak and strong points of the case.
“If you do nothing, you cannot move forward at all,” George explains. “If you write a demand letter and give the other side an analysis of the legal situation, then you can proceed to a certain level. However, many times, a demand letter does not get the attention of the other side, and legal proceedings will be necessary to achieve this.”
When representing the defendant being brought to court, George says in certain cases, the best course of action is to wait.
“On the defense side it’s a matter of waiting for the evidence to come out and then deciding how to respond,” George says. “If there is documentation there, then our assessment will tell us whether the matter will calm down with a settlement, or if we’ll need to escalate fighting it in court to put the client’s side of the story at the fore.”
Assess, prepare and review are the three actions George repeats at every stage of his clients’ court battles. While conflicts have a tendency to become personal, many are rooted in the failure to adequately prepare the appropriate legal agreements and structures businesses operate from. That failure does not usually come from the intent to avoid a legal framework, but from unexpected events. Even positive events, like the rapid growth of a business, can challenge the abilities of shareholders and partners to live by their assumed understanding. In those kinds of situations, conflict is almost inevitable.
“There are informal agreements made between partners that are fine in the beginning. Then, you see litigation between partners start to happen five or six years down the line. These are very acrimonious disputes where the parties really can’t stand each other,” George explains. “It is essential that I do everything I can to keep my clients to focus on the day-to-day operations of their businesses and not worry about the legal procedures that are at play.”
Even in high conflict situations, George says there are always signs of hope that disputes can be resolved.
“I’ve seen family businesses pass onto the next generation only to see siblings argue all the time and be unable to make their new partnership work,” George remembers. “I have also seen siblings divide up responsibilities according to internal and external aspects of the company’s operations. They made decisions to work in a way that played to each of their strengths and talents. They resolved the potential for conflict by having completely separate areas of expertise to manage.”
The adage that ‘past difficulties bring future difficulties’ does not apply to issues of corporate and commercial litigation.
“They learn their lessons,” George says of his clients. “I know people work hard for their money, so I am reasonable about my fees and as a result of that consideration, I’ve been able to build long-term relationships with clients. We’ve started out with clients in litigation and they’ve stayed with us after that. We go on to do their corporate work concerning property purchases, creating and filing incorporation documents, drafting shareholder agreements and other documents."
For George, balancing the empathetic with the realistic has held great rewards. He is seeing clients survive hostile litigation and go on to thrive in stable business situations. With that evidence in plain sight, it’s easy to assess the success of his method.
Kate Baggott's technology and business journalism has appeared in the Technology Review at MIT, the Globe and Mail, Canada Computes, the Vancouver Sun, and on the Business to Business News Network
Kate is the author of two short story collections.
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