Fifth annual Canadian Law Awards honours groundbreaking litigation and innovative firm initiatives

The awards gala took place last Thursday

Fifth annual Canadian Law Awards honours groundbreaking litigation and innovative firm initiatives

*With files from Lauren Johnson 

From groundbreaking litigation to innovative firm initiatives, last Thursday, the Canadian Law Awards showcased the best the legal profession has to offer.

The fifth annual Canadian Law Awards took place in Toronto in front of more than 570 attendees. Hosted by Key Media, with editorial partners Canadian Lawyer and Lexpert, the awards celebrated the top law firms, in-house legal teams, individual lawyers, and their most outstanding deals, cases, and initiatives.

The Canadian Law Awards honoured several significant pieces of litigation that advanced the law in 2023.

McCarthy Tétrault’s Michael Feder and Gillian Kerr accepted the award for Commercial Litigation Team of the Year for their work on Canada (Privacy Commissioner) v. Facebook, Inc., 2023 FC 533. The case concerning Facebook’s exposure of user data to Cambridge Analytica was the first in the world to go to the merits. Feder said the ruling holds the privacy commissioner to a high standard when suing organizations regulated by federal privacy law.

“It also confirms that an organization's data-safeguarding obligations end once it discloses the information to a third party, which was not clearly decided beforehand,” said Kerr.

Crawford Smith, partner at Lax O’Sullivan Lisus Gottlieb LLP, took home the award for litigator of the year. Lax O’Sullivan represented Rogers in the Competition Bureau’s unsuccessful challenge of the telecom’s acquisition of Shaw Communications.

“It was a real privilege to be part of that. It was a huge team effort.”

The Canadian Law Awards celebrated the long-term contributions of two industry veterans with the Dye & Durham Awards for Lifetime Achievement in the Legal Profession.

Sheila Block, senior trial and appellate counsel at Torys, was the private practice recipient.

“It comes after 51 years of practice, and it's quite meaningful to be leaving the practice of law after all that time and to be taking this with me as a recognition of a legal life well spent,” said Block, who is also a member of the Order of Canada.

“I’ve just had tremendous support from my firm… This is a place where people collaborate, where they’re collegial, where there’s no competition, where we all work together.”

Christine Chen, from the University Pension Plan Ontario, and Jacqueline Dinsmore, co-managing partner at Caravel Law LLP, were named the 2024 Female Trailblazers of the Year.

Chen said the award was a recognition of all the women and their allies who came before her and paved the way.

“What does it mean to be a woman-in-law? Today is our moment. There's been a lot of work. There's a lot of work to do. But I think there's momentum and an inflection point.”

Her message to other women lawyers: “Believe in yourself. Trust your gut.”

“I hope that everyone feels like they can see themselves in these roles and be inspired to work towards that,” said Chen.

After receiving her award, Dinsmore said that while much still needs to change for women, the legal profession has come a long way, and she is happy to help lead that transformation. Law firms are getting better at allowing women to balance a career, family, and personal life, she said. “But again, we can do a lot more. And I'm excited to be at the forefront of that.”

In addition to celebrating the legal profession’s individual excellence, the Canadian Law Awards illuminated significant work happening at the organizational level.

The LEAP Legal Software Award for Best Use of Technology in a Law Firm went to Torys LLP. After accepting the award on behalf of his firm, Sukesh Kamra said Torys has been innovative and boundary-pushing in its technology use this year. Kamra is leader of the firm’s knowledge and innovation team.

“It's trying to find the practical use cases where we can actually leverage legal technology to practice more efficiently and be productive,” he said. “There's so much hype right now around automation technologies and generative AI that it's really important to find that specific use case and measure how technology can actually help you in the practice.”

LEAP Legal Software sponsored the awards gala as an event partner. LEAP Chief Executive Officer, Malcolm Muthulingum, said the legal industry has a long way to go when it comes to implementing the latest technology. With the proliferation of AI and generative AI, he said LEAP is working with the sector to ensure law firms understand the technology and properly implement it.

Charlene Theodore is the chief inclusion officer at McCarthy Tétrault, which took home the award for Diversity Initiative of the Year for their various action groups: Pride Action Group, Gender Action Group, Race Action Group, and Abilities Action Group.

“Our action groups really are the driver of the culture in the firm,” said Theodore. “They're led by equity partners because they’re owners of the firm and the owners of the firm take accountability for diversity. And they are the vehicle by which we actually activate the culture across the firm.”

“The key to our action groups is that it empowers all of our people to get involved, and it's not a top-down approach,” added Tzen Yi-Goh, McCarthy partner and chair of the Abilities Action Group.

The Singleton Urquhart Reynolds Vogel LLP Award for Construction, Infrastructure and Transportation Law Department of the Year went to Infrastructure Ontario. After receiving the award, general counsel Eric Tilley discussed some of the challenges his team faced while setting themselves apart from their competitors over the last year. As others in the industry have experienced, rising inflation and material costs have been “particularly troublesome,” especially from a “fixed cost perspective,” he said. It has also been a challenge to get more projects to market with a shrinking labour force, he added.

Tilley said it is important to celebrate the industry’s hard work.

“There's a lot of people in that room who have been spending a lot of time trying to help push infrastructure projects and construction projects in the province and across the country. It's worth celebrating, for sure.”

A full list of the award winners can be found here.

 

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