OBA Insurance Law Section – Spotlight Interview with Sandra LeBrun

  • March 24, 2022

In an interview with Insurance Law Section member-at large Harold Geller, Sandra LeBrun, in-house counsel at Aviva Trial Lawyers (Ottawa Office), talks about her career path, her involvement in the insurance bar and broader legal community, her most memorable court appearance, her advice for junior lawyers, and more. 

Year of call? 2012

Where do you practice? I am in-house counsel at Aviva Trial Lawyers (Ottawa Office).

Are you from this area or did you move here?  Why? I am originally from Montreal and came to Ottawa for law school. After forming a great group of friends in law school I decided to article in Ottawa and never looked back (except for the occasional trip home to visit family and enjoy Montreal’s culinary scene, which I do miss!).

Size of firm (in house counsel’s group)? Aviva Trial Lawyers has more than 90 lawyers across Canada, making it one of the largest in-house legal departments in Canada. I was the first recruit for the Ottawa legal team, which opened in August 2021.

Describe your career path since graduation? I summered and articled at one of Canada’s largest national firms at the time, Heenan Blaikie LLP (which, as many will remember, eventually collapsed spectacularly). During my articles, I was contemplating transferring to the firm’s Montreal office. I returned to law school to complete my civil law degree so that I could do so. As it turned out, I did not quite enjoy civil law and decided to stay in Ottawa after all.

I knew that I wanted to be a litigator, but I did not know how to narrow that down further. At the time, various insurance defence firms were hiring. Having enjoyed my insurance class in law school, I decided to apply to some firms and briefly worked at a boutique insurance defence firm before joining the insurance defence group at a national firm (where some of my former Heenan Blaikie colleagues had ended up). Several years later in 2021, I pivoted to my current role as in-house counsel with Aviva Trial Lawyers.

Why did you choose to move from private practice to in house counsel? The choice was largely driven by circumstances. First, more and more insurance companies have been going in-house for some time now. This meant less work for insurance defence lawyers in the firm setting. Further, the lower hourly rates for insurance defence lawyers in the firm setting (as compared to colleagues working in other fields at the firm) made climbing the corporate ladder more challenging. These factors (along with the appeal of a more balanced lifestyle and no billable hours) made the choice pretty easy.

Describe your practice? My practice focuses on a wide range of insurance and tort liability matters including personal injury (such as slip and falls and motor vehicle accidents), property damage claims, product liability claims, subrogated claims and coverage issues. I have also represented various parties in professional liability matters such as real estate agents, engineers, insurance brokers and mortgage brokers.

Has your practice changed over time or always been insurance related? The bulk of my practice has always been insurance-related, but I have dabbled in plaintiff personal injury, medical malpractice and commercial litigation matters over the years. Variety is the spice of life and makes for a better-rounded lawyer!

Describe your local insurance bar – what is the most notable characteristics that you note that differ from come from away lawyers? Collegiality. The Ottawa insurance bar is a small one. Over time, you come to deal with many of the same people. As a result, there is a familiarity within the Ottawa insurance bar. Knowing opposing counsel on a file can make it easier to pick up the phone and have the discussions required to resolve matters.