In 2017, Saskatchewan’s largest law firm, MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman, will merge with Manitoba’s leading firm, Aikins MacAulay & Thorvaldson, to form MLT Aikins LLP in what is being billed as Western Canada’s law firm. CBA National caught up with Don Wilson (pictured above), managing partner of MLT and incoming managing partner of the new entity to ask him what was behind the tie-up.
CBA National: What were the main drivers for the mergers?
Don Wilson: There were two imperatives in our growth. One, we wanted to stay in Western Canada because we felt that was our sweet spot. Those were the people and businesses we understood. Secondly, we decided we would never grow in any fashion that jeopardized our culture. Lots of firms talk about it; we actually live it. We have this team approach to things. Nobody says “my client.” We all operate out of the same profit pool. We don’t have a head office mentality. So we wanted to be careful and measured in doing it because of culture.
N: So why Aikins?
DW: Well we have known and respected Aikins forever. I’ve certainly talked to their managing partners and senior people over the years. It sounds counterintuitive, but we also felt the best way to solidify our credibility of the claim of Western Canada’s law firm, was to add the fourth western province to our team. We felt the best way for us to grow in Alberta and BC was to do this with the preeminent Manitoba firms. Obviously they dominate in Manitoba, we have continued strength in Saskatchewan. Aikins also has significant contacts in Alberta and BC and now we can go to those marketplaces with 250 lawyers with wide variety of bench strength and expertise. From Aikins’ perspective, about a year and a half ago when they heard about our BC move, they were looking at redesigning their playing field. They loved the Western Canada firm concept.
N: Why is that western identity so important?
DW: The Canadian economy is, generally speaking, a commodity based economy right across the West. Everyone in Canada understands the oil patch largely in Alberta. But I don’t think they fully understand that commodities go way beyond that. There’s obviously forestry, uranium, potash, hard rock mining of all sorts. There is a common thread to the businesses in these provinces.
Canadians are a trusting bunch when it comes to our legal institutions.
On the surface at least, recent surveys show that we still have a healthy dose of confidence in our justice system, with roughly 6 out of 10 Canadians generally satisfied.
Dig a little into the anecdotal evidence, however, as the CBA’s Reaching Equal Justice report did in 2013, and you’ll hear a different story.
The most common complaint one hears from users that have been through our justice system is that it’s confusing, complex and difficult to navigate. Some have described it to be “untrustworthy and broken,” or expressed deep frustration with remedies that “are not meaningful.” Unfortunately people often have unrealistic expectations of legal outcomes, in part because they don’t always have a good grasp of how our justice system works.
Christine Duhaime founded the Digital Finance Institute, a think tank for financial technology, law and policy, and is one of Canada’s most visible lawyers specializing in financial crime and anti-money laundering. CBA National Senior Editor Yves Faguy caught up with Duhaime to discuss the issues emerging at the intersection of law, fintech and digital currencies.
CBA National: What’s most interesting to you about fintech and law right now?
Christine Duhaime For one, there’s the “blockchain,” which is this really interesting distributed ledger system where transactions don’t go through a middleman – or a financial institution, or a central bank – but where you’re tracking the transaction online. So we can actually track the transaction, see it, know who the parties are, and cover the anti-money laundering compliance side of it. So eventually, you wouldn’t really need FINTRAC (Canada’s financial intelligence unit), if you think about it, because if we move towards a digital currency and a blockchain, every single transaction of every single person is going to be online.
N: How are the financial services and legal industries going to change as a result?
What is it that lawyers do?
“They help people navigate complexity and manage enterprise legal risk," according to Daniel Katz, an expert on emerging legal technology and one of the speakers at a conference put on by LegalX and Thomson Reuters in Toronto this week.
A follow-up question to that is, how does one put a dollar figure on a lawyer’s work, other than relying on the billable hour? Unfortunately for clients, it’s the complex nature of legal services that makes it so hard to ascribe value to what lawyers do. For the unsophisticated client in particular, it’s almost impossible to separate the wheat from the chaff.
But in the age of data analytics, that is all quickly changing. There are several tools already available on the market that help companies control their legal spend. Last year, AIG launched a legal consulting company that harnesses the insurer’s own internal data to sell it to corporate clients to help them set competitive pricing for legal services. Increasingly, law departments are looking at past case performance to select law firms and lawyers, says Toby Unwin, co-founder of Premonition LLC, a Florida outfit that uses artificial intelligence to determine the effectiveness of trial lawyers.
Of all the technological advances that could disrupt the legal profession, one of the most intriguing is the decentralized autonomous organization (DAO).
DAO is the latest phenomenon to emerge from another phenomenon: the blockchain.
For those not yet versed in the technology, blockchain is Bitcoin’s core innovation. It serves as a secure digital ledger that records legal rights and so can verify transactions, publicly, without the need of a middleman (such as a lawyer). The fact that it’s public, in theory, makes it far more difficult to carry out fraudulent transactions (some will say impossible, but they might have also said the Titanic was too technologically advanced to sink).
By skipping the middleman, blockchain can help speed up business processes by making it easier for parties to complete transactions and enforce contracts, without involving lawyers. It’s why proponents call it a trust machine.
Yves Faguy is the senior editor of National Magazine. / Yves Faguy est le rédacteur principal du magazine National.