Canadian Lawyer

September 2021

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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Page 10 of 51 9 Firm embraces 'right to be bold' Last spring, Montreal's NOVAlex, the only "B Corp"- certified law firm in Quebec, announced it had doubled the number of lawyers in its practice since the beginning of the pandemic, in part by merging with a boutique business law firm, Mile Wright. This growth points to the success of the firm's novel business model of matching every hour of paid legal services with one hour of pro bono work for eligible low-income individuals, non-profits and social enter- prises. Here, NOVAlex partner and CEO Ryan Hillier — who co-founded the firm with COO Sophie Tremblay in 2016 — describes his firm's pathway to innovation. Tell us about your business model What we're really proud of is that we have been able to achieve the one-to-one ratio that we'd set out to accomplish in the beginning. On top of servic- ing blue-chip clients, we've given back thousands of pro-bono hours: nearly 4,000 last year, and this year that will be closer to 7,000. Fast-growing scale-up companies, publicly listed companies, and even large multinationals are looking to us to help them with their legal needs in Quebec. Our work includes litigation and dispute resolution, mergers and acquisitions, financing, labour and employment law, and we now do trade- marks and IP, white-collar and compliance work, municipal law, as well as media and defamation law. We're slowly building a 360-degree, multiservice team through recruitment or integration with niche firms like Mile Wright. How did NOVAlex come about? Sophie and I started out in a tiny, three-room office in Old Montreal; the name of the game for us has been attracting top-tier lawyers from prominent law firms and legal departments, and we've grown to 26 today. To see lawyers set aside the luxuries of Big Law to come practise in a different setting, doing blue-chip work but also having a daily contribution to society through our model for social impact, has been very encouraging for the future. What pro bono work do you do? We've represented several sexual assault victims in both civil and criminal proceedings, assisted a number of non-profits with their employment and governance issues, and our business law team has helped many social entrepreneurs hit the ground running at the initial stages of their ventures. How would you describe your firm's culture? Our slogan is "The right to be bold." We're trying to reinvent the private practice of law, putting our law- yers and our employees at the centre of our decisions. We've taken what we've liked from our Big Law experi- ences [Hillier came from McCarthy Tétrault LLP and Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, where he met Trem- blay], including the rigour and the type of work we were doing for clients. But we're also bringing a more human, value-focused approach to our relationships that I think a lot more lawyers are looking to have as part of their daily routine. Lawyers increasingly want to find purpose in what they do. Judge fails in bid to appeal reprimand A former Quebec court judge has failed in his attempt to overturn a reprimand he received over comments suggesting a 17-year-old victim of sexual assault might have been flattered by the interest shown in her. In August, the Supreme Court of Canada refused to hear an appeal from Jean-Paul Braun, who retired from the bench in 2018. Braun's remarks about the victim's attitude, weight and appearance were recorded in court in May 2017 during the trial of a taxi driver who was convicted of sexually assaulting the teenage girl. Anti-corruption unit apologizes for MNA's arrest Quebec's anti-corruption unit apologized in person at a news conference to independent legislature member Guy Ouellette for his arrest in October 2017 for allegedly leaking sensitive documents about an investigation to the media. Ouellette, a former Liberal Member of the National Assembly of Quebec, was never charged, and the warrants used to search his home have been struck down. He is suing the Quebec government for $550,000 over that arrest. New language bill creates 'charter free zone' The Quebec Community Groups Network has concerns about a new language bill, claiming that Bill 96 represents a significant overhaul of Quebec's legal order. QCGN's Marlene Jennings told reporters that the bill would modify 24 provincial statutes and the Constitution Act of 1867, and that its pre-emptive use of the notwithstanding clause to side-step certain constitutional challenges creates a "charter-free zone" between citizens and the province. Q&A Ryan Hillier Partner and CEO NOVALEX Years in law: 14 Career highlight: Taking the entrepreneurial plunge with Sophie to start an impact-driven business law firm. Career lowlight: At the beginning of my career, I practised in insurance defence and medical malpractice law. Along the way, I conducted a few plaintiff examinations that stand out as having been particularly difficult to get through, given either the immense physical pain or emotional suffering the deponent had endured. Thankfully, I was able to count on several mentors who taught me how to do my job well while also showing empathy for the opposing party.

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