Canadian Lawyer

May 2021

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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20 BUSINESS STRATEGY TOP 10 ONTARIO BOUTIQUES SPECIAL REPORT HOW WE DID IT To come up with our Top 10 Ontario Regional Firms list, Canadian Lawyer asked lawyers, in-house counsel and clients from across Canada to nominate firms worthy of being ranked. We took that list, created a survey and pushed that survey through all our channels to summon the widest participation possible. Respondents' rankings were based on firms' regional service coverage, client base, notable mandates, service excellence and legal expertise, and we included an opportunity for respondents to suggest a firm not already on the list. To be included, firms had to have offices in Ontario exclusively and offer a wide range of legal services. Voters ranked firms from one to 10, with first-place votes earning 10 points and points decreasing by one up to one point for a 10th-place vote. Points were added up and firms ranked accordingly. Valo LLP., another winning firm, says that the most significant trend to have emerged is "the move to embrace and enhance tech- nology in all areas of practice." Noticeable changes have been in areas related to litiga- tion: commercial, construction, insurance, and trust and estates. "Virtual hearings and examinations, virtual meetings with clients [have] caused a dramatic change in how we do business.," Russo says. "This has also led to increased focus on the importance of the right tech- nology and infrastructure to provide stability and safety." Cost efficiencies and saving time Maria Scarfo, managing partner at Blaney McMurtry LLP, says she believes that law firms will keep all the efficiencies that have been picked up during COVID and build on them. "The fact that we can have more remote hearings, that documents can be handled more electronically for legal purposes will just make it more beneficial to both law firms and clients," she says. "It will drive down some of the costs associated with providing legal services, and I think that the clients are going to continue to enjoy that, and I think lawyers will like it, too, because it can make them more productive." Lawyers at the winning firms say the use of technology won't necessarily work for all types of legal proceedings, but it will certainly cut down on much of the back- and-forth to court for brief appearances that Zoom or other video means could handle. "I'm especially talking about those short hearings that take about 10 minutes, but you have to travel to court, and then wait, and it takes up a lot of time," says Eagan. "I can see using what we've learned about technology during COVID-19 to deal with many of the court backlogs that we've had for a long time." Egan envisions a hybrid system devel- oping where some proceedings, like most trials, would be done in courthouses, while other types of hearings could be handled by remote and virtual means. Business better than expected despite COVID-19 While COVID-19 threw the legal system for a loop, especially in the early stages, most of the winning firms acknowledge that they hoped for the best and prepared for the worst and business was better than expected, picking up steam as 2020 went on. "We were surprised at what we thought should happen and what did happen," says Fogler's Slan. "Momentum built throughout the year on the corporate side, with low- interest rates helping," he says, and many matters that might have been litigated in the past were instead resolved by negotiation. Scarfo says she noticed the employment and labour law practice being accessed more by clients. Commercial real estate and leasing issues, for both the tenant and land- lord sides of the equation, also became more prevalent. Queries on insurance coverage for business interruption increased, as did estates and trust work. Scarfo has even noticed an increase in claims relating to long-term care homes related to COVID-19. What she has not seen as much as she first expected are cases dealing with bankruptcy and insolvency, thanks to patient lenders and creditors and government emergency relief. Adds Cohen from Torkin Manes: "The fears that we had ultimately never came to fruition and our revenue numbers rebounded. And, in fact, [they] not just rebounded, but accelerated dramatically in the fourth quarter, to the point where, we made up virtually all that we had [lost]." Egan says that, although his firm noticed some drop-off in the municipal law practice and construction law, "it came roaring back" "The fact that we can have more remote hearings, that documents can be handled more electronically for legal purposes will just make it more beneficial to both law firms and clients." Maria Scarfo, Blaney McMurtry LLP

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