By Nelson Mah, Meridian Credit Union
Brennan Carroll is a partner in the Toronto office of the law firm Borden Ladner Gervais LLP (BLG), where he’s spent his entire career practicing Commercial Real Estate Law. He is a part of the commercial leasing, health sector services and public private infrastructure groups and has over 18 years of experience in providing advice for all types of commercial real estate transactions, including leasing, purchasing, sales and financing.
Brennan grew up near Chatham, ON, and became focused on a career as a lawyer in high school. He attended King’s College at the University of Western Ontario for his undergraduate studies in political science, which was a natural fit as a springboard into law school. After earning his LLB at the University of Western Ontario in 1999, he was admitted to the bar in Ontario in 2001.
Never having had an office job before, Brennan found it difficult to land a summer internship placement at a law firm during law school. But through hard work, perseverance, and some luck, he landed his first office job at the Ministry of the Attorney General, which provided exposure to a new office culture and the public sector. For landing that important first job, Brennan’s advice is “be persistent, be positive and apply, you never know what may happen.” Brennan spent the following summer interning in research with a law professor. These diverse internships provided a foundation for him to understand how different groups view legal issues. It also provided Brennan with an opportunity to better grasp how groups arrive at resolutions.
Brennan articled at BLG and assisted in an acquisition involving one of Canada’s largest pension funds and a large Canadian real estate company. He found the real estate component of the assignment to be a good fit, as it was interesting and challenging. Brennan never looked back from it; he is now a partner with the same group.
“There is no typical day. Every day is different and that makes it exciting. My day can include reviewing purchase/sale agreements, easements, leases, and finance decisions. For development deals, I review joint venture structures, limited partnership agreements, and cost share arrangements,” he says.
“I often have a supervisory role on matters and work closely with colleagues within our group, including four associate lawyers, three law clerks and a title search team,” he continues. “Our team is integrated with the municipal law group and we often collaborate on files. Although my practice is very much real-estate focused, I also get the opportunity to work with experts in other fields, such as the infrastructure and healthcare sectors.”
Brennan has a passion for complex, challenging, and high pressure engagements. One that he enjoyed working on recently was last year’s $1.3 billion sale of Hamilton-based Stelco Holdings Inc., a leading Canadian integrated steel company, to U.S. investment firm Bedrock Industries. The engagement involved a complex real estate transaction. Brennan enjoyed working under pressure to complete the transaction with a large team, and multiple parties and interests, including the court appointed monitor, federal, provincial and municipal governments, and a large unionized labour force.
On the role of mentors, Brennan says he did not have a single mentor, and instead utilized the mentor-by-committee model. “You observe, work and discuss your thoughts with various people and you take away the pros and cons and key aspects from each person. You can’t copy them because it’s not you. Take what skills you find useful and mould them for yourself,” he says.
Reflecting on his time at university and BLG, Brennan says a key success factor is business development and it’s something they should teach more of in school. “Network with your classmates and after graduation, be active, continue to go out and network.”
When choosing a university program and career path, Brennan believes it’s important to “talk to younger and older people in the industry, since they will give you a different perspective. Stay curious, show energy, don’t be scared of asking stupid questions. If you are genuine and honest, no one will find the questions stupid.”
For job seekers, his advice is to be confident and contribute. “Don’t be afraid to show pride and bring your personality and experiences to the table. Everyone has their best story about themselves — know it and use it in interviews. Show that you are determined, and show what makes you unique,” he says.
Brennan is a long-time ULI member, having joined when the Toronto District Council had just formed. He joined on the recommendation of a developer client and continues to be an active volunteer.
Brennan is very supportive of the organization, commending its open-minded nature and ability to present different ideas and perspectives through its programming.
He began volunteering with the Young Leaders Group Committee (now ULI Connect Under-35), where he helped program events, create site tours and develop workshops with the legal community. Brennan was also an instrumental part of the ULI team that assisted the John Howard Society in sourcing and negotiating its new headquarters. He currently serves on the Membership Committee and helped to create the Urban Leadership Program, a program in which 30 participants work in teams with industry leaders over an 8-month period to develop proposals aimed at resolving Toronto land-use issues.
Brennan credits ULI with helping build his professional network and enhancing his knowledge-base through meeting and interacting with different members. “You get to see and understand other people’s perspectives and this helps you understand what solutions work,” he says.
Outside of the industry, Brennan encourages young professionals to consider joining a sports team or other group activity because it’s good for business development, you have fun, you observe how different personalities interact and you never know who you’ll meet.
“Get more involved, get out more, be positive, and try to have a diversity of experiences,” he says.