Toronto, Burlington and now . . . Elliot Lake.
What started as a plan to semi-retire in the town he grew up in has turned into a whole new opportunity for lawyer Doug Elliott to expand Cambridge LLP’s base into Northern Ontario.
“It started out as semi-retirement, but I’m calling it pseudo retirement now,” says Elliott who leads the firm’s class action practice. “When I was thinking about retirement planning I decided I wanted to come back to Elliot Lake where I grew up, but my partners wanted me to stick around so we decided to explore the idea of opening an office here.”
Elliott, who is known for his work on landmark constitutional cases such as same-sex marriage, has also been counsel on large class actions.
Elliot Lake is located in the district of Algoma between Sudbury and Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. From the Toronto island airport, it’s a one-hour commute to the courthouse in Sudbury or Sault Ste. Marie.
Unlike most urban centres in Canada, Elliott says Northern Ontario is underserviced by lawyers and Cambridge has quickly discovered the demand for service is high.
“I think the district of Algoma has more lawyers dying than coming here. I thought there might be a business case and we looked into it and were convinced that it could work, especially as we already had a multiple office law firm so we’re used to using technology to manage multiple locations and moving lawyers around to service clients,” he says.
What has surprised Elliott is the reaction from the firm’s associates who have shown interest in working in the northern office.
“If you’re looking for a job as a young lawyer, the idea that you’re going to be posted to Elliot Lake might seem like you’re being punished; but on the other hand, if you’re working a firm in southern Ontario and you have an opportunity to work in Elliot Lake for a week or two, it’s being seen as a reward,” says Elliott. “That’s how our associates view it. They can spend a week or two here with their family and it’s five minutes to the beach. They’re practically fighting to get up here.”
Elliott is now the only practicing litigation specialist in the district of Algoma.
“It shows you how challenging it is to attract lawyers up here. We’ve been quite busy. We have in our law firm a certified specialist in estates — Adam Cappelli — and there are no such specialists in estates in the North at all. In civil litigation there were only two other litigation specialists when we opened our office and now they are retired,” he says.
A co-op student from Lakehead University will start with the firm’s Elliot Lake office Sept. 2.
“She’s going to be working with a team of lawyers from across Ontario on some of our big national class actions, a much broader range of legal experiences than you would ordinarily get if you’re working in an office in Elliot Lake where you’re typically doing small-town solicitor work,” he says.
Elliott is pushing his partners to open an office in Thunder Bay as well.
“Thunder Bay is a little better serviced, but I think the same model applies that we could offer certain specialized services such as class actions that the local bar there may not be able to offer as well,” he says. “Having that network of lawyers across Ontario just makes us stronger.”