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The Top 25 Most Influential of 2018

Cover Story
|Written By Tim Wilbur and Aidan Macnab
The Top 25 Most Influential of 2018

Meet the Canadian lawyers and judges who are making an impact

Canadian Lawyer’s Top 25 Most Influential in the justice system and legal profession in Canada is now in its ninth year. The Top 25 is always the magazine’s most-read and most-commented-on feature. Its popularity — both in terms of the number of nominations we receive as well as the number of votes in the public poll — highlights the engagement and pride that lawyers, judges and others have in their colleagues who make up the profession.

As we do every year, we put out a call for nominations to legal groups and associations representing a variety of memberships and geographies, last year’s Top 25 honourees, our readership and our internal panel of writers and editors.

We received several hundred nominations, which the internal panel whittled down to 177 candidates who met our criteria.

Once we had the long list of candidates, we posted it online and polled our readers for their votes — and you let us know in droves what you thought. A total of 10,452 people voted and commented on those whom they thought made their mark over the past 18 months. The final list of 25 honourees is based on that poll with input and the last word from the Canadian Lawyer editorial panel.

Being named as one of Canadian Lawyer’s Top 25 Most Influential highlights the important and significant work jurists have done in the last 18 months or so. Some of them may have steered big deals or made the most splash on the news pages, but it’s about their leadership and influence in a larger sphere. It is not a recognition of lifetime achievement. Inclusion in the Top 25 speaks to a level of respect, the ability to influence public opinion and to help shape the laws of this country and others; contribution to the strength and quality of legal services; involvement and impact within the justice community; and social and political influence and involvement.

The Top 25 is split into five areas of influence with five winners in each of the following categories: Corporate Commercial, including Litigation; Human Rights, Advocacy and Criminal; Changemakers: Leaders, Innovators or Catalysts; Government/Non-Profits/Associations, including Academic and the Judiciary; and Young Influencers: Lawyers 40 Years or Younger. Nominees were put in the category in which the individual most recently exercised their influence, which at times might differ from their main area of practice.

Once again, our list featured a naturally occurring gender balance and diverse cast of winners. We did not apply any editorial authority to shift the composition of the list in the name of diversity; the fact that so many accomplishments in Canada’s legal profession were achieved by lawyers from historically marginalized groups, reflected by voters’ choices, did that for us.

The technological modernization of the justice system is a topic on many a legal mind and trend that ran through the accomplishments of many of the winners. Yasir Naqvi was credited by voters as pulling Ontario’s court system into the future with his Digital Justice Action Plan, putting wireless internet in courtrooms, instituting the use of email and text for jury summons, as well as initiating a 2017 website that digitized the filing of civil claims. His technological focus while attorney general of Ontario was one of the factors that had his peers in the legal community vote him into the Top 25, even as Ontarians voted him out of the provincial legislature.

Born in 1979 and winner in the Young Influencers category, Usman Sheikh was heralded by voters as a futurist pioneer for his work in the application of blockchain and crypto-currencies. Sheikh is head of Gowling WLG’s Blockchain & Smart Contract Group. With Bitcoin’s rocket-propelled ascension in the financial markets, Sheikh’s perceived foresight as an expert in an emerging, possibly paradigm-shifting technology brought out the voters in a major way.

Looking to the future spelled success for lawyers on our list, but so did looking out for the community. Several voters left comments describing our winner in the Corporate Commercial category, Frank Walwyn, as a man for whom success as one of Canada’s top corporate and commercial litigators has not prevented a devotion to serving young racialized lawyers and those in the wider community. Walwyn, who was WeirFould’s first black lawyer and first black partner in its 168-year history, created a $25,000 award for U of T students in the Caribbean studies program, sits on the Judicial Appointments Advisory Committee and counsels students and young lawyers, with an eye to increasing the number of minorities in law.

Another theme among the winners was an interest in maximizing access to justice for Canadians. Winner in the Changemaker category was former Supreme Court justice Thomas Cromwell, who was chairman of the chief justice of Canada’s Action Committee on Access to Justice in Civil and Family Matters. 

Not only the winner of the Human Rights, Advocacy and Criminal category but also the leading vote-getter in the entire survey, Supreme Court Justice Rosalie Abella was described by voters as not just a judicial force in Canada but in the world. Her international esteem was demonstrated in a July Globe and Mail article that credited her speech advocating for the independence of the judiciary at Hebrew University in Jerusalem with the rescinding of legislation in Israel’s Knesset that would have given the country’s parliament authority to overrule Supreme Court decisions. 

Finally, we are proud of the regional diversity our winners represent. From Vancouver, Victoria, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, our winners hail from coast to coast.

While only 25 of the incredible nominees can make the final list, every single one of them has had an impact, and their accomplishments are many and varied — not to mention many of them done behind the scenes or on a pro bono or volunteer basis. It’s these lawyers and judges from across Canada and many different areas of practice that uphold the greatest ideals of the profession and are worthy of recognition.

In the following pages, we present the Top 25 Most Influential for 2018. They are listed with the top vote-getter in each category first, followed by the others in alphabetical order.

Want to add your own kudos? Disagree with the choices? Did we miss someone obvious? Email it to We’ll be doing it all again next year.


Human Rights, Advocacy and Criminal
Young Influencers


  • Where is the Category for Animal Rights Law

    Dear Tim Wilbur I am shocked that you have no category for animal rights law. Justice for animals is long long overdue in Canada and this area of the law is still neglected by lawyers and governments in this country. It is an absolute disgrace. Animal rights law is a quickly emerging area of the law, and one that will be increasingly important as things move forward. Look no further than the decline of the southern resident orca whale population off the BC coast and the federal government's recognition [albeit feeble] that something needs to be done to protect the surviving whales. Somewhat hypocritical given the feds just purchased the Kinder Morgan Pipeline. But something is better than nothing I suppose. Please, next time you do this ranking, consider including a category for animal rights law. Thank you.