Winners said that with the profession's demands, they seldom stop and acknowledge their success
For many of the 2023 Lexpert Rising Stars, Thursday’s awards gala was an opportunity to pause and reflect on the hard work that got them there.
More than 450 were in attendance at the Liberty Grand in Toronto to celebrate the 81 winners. The Rising Stars showcases the leading lawyers under 40 from law firms, in-house legal departments, and other practices. For the Rising Stars, the evening’s well-deserved recognition gave them a rare break from an often thankless grind.
“Working as a lawyer, regardless of what area or industry you're in, it's a lot of hard work for a very long time,” says Dave Stern, a Rising Star and partner at Blaney McMurtry. “There's not a lot of accolades, generally, in the legal field. To win something like this – and certainly, for my firm that has done whatever they could to put me on this type of platform – has been an amazing experience.”
He says honouring lawyers and their firms that have devoted years of time and energy is essential for the whole industry.
“It's great to get together with the people who've done so much for you over the years and celebrate this night out,” says Rising Star Mohammad Ali Raza, a partner at Cox & Palmer in Halifax.
“A lot of people in the legal profession work very hard,” says Paul Daly, chair in administrative law and governance at the University of Ottawa and a Rising Star. “Recognition is sometimes hard to come by. We're always striving to do better for our clients, for ourselves and for our families. That can be hard.”
“It is nice to have some recognition from people who've sat down and thought about what makes a good lawyer,” he says.
Award-winning business journalist Amanda Lang hosted the event. Delivering the keynote address was Nicole Verkindt, tech entrepreneur and angel investor, who was once named Canada’s Woman Entrepreneur of the Year by Startup Canada.
Singleton Urquhart Reynolds Vogel partner, James Little, had a table of ten colleagues joining him to celebrate his achievement. He needs the support because he has a trait that many lawyers do: being too close to your own successes to fully appreciate them.
“A lot of people in our business have some version of imposter syndrome,” says the construction and infrastructure lawyer. “But this kind of thing is really special. It's really one of the first major awards for me. I work really hard for this kind of thing. But at the same time, it's shocking. Because there are so many fantastic nominees and so many fantastic winners.”
“Our profession is sometimes a difficult one to be in,” says David Kramer, senior legal counsel at Suncor and Rising Star. With all the hard work, evenings to celebrate it are “really nice,” he says.
The Rising Stars all highlighted the mentorship and guidance they received from their firms and colleagues and the crucial factor it played in getting them to the stage Thursday night.
“No one gets this award without a strong support system,” says Zafar Jaffer, a partner in Gowling WLG's Calgary office and a Rising Star. “People you work with, friends, family support systems – they play such a key role in this. To be able to share the evening with those special people who mean something to you and are so happy to see you walk that stage and get that award is really special.”
James Fu, a partner at BLG with a human resources law practice, says his inclusion as a Rising Star is owed to his family, mentors, and clients.
“Family first, always. That's how we all get here,” he says. “Second is the mentors. I think we all stand on the shoulders of giants.
“Without our clients, we are essentially sailors without a ship. It's not just a win for myself and the firm. It's also a win for our clients who have placed their trust in us.”
McCarthy Tétrault business law group partner Chrystelle Chevalier-Gagnon says she owes the award to the firms for which she’s worked and her mentors, who “taught me everything I know.
“I'm definitely trying to pass it on with mentoring younger associates to hopefully do the same for them.”
Ryan Baxter, a McInnes Cooper partner from Halifax, says he owes his success to his mentors and the law firm, “who have instilled a very significant sense of integrity in the practice of law and the importance of doing right by your clients.”
Lexpert thanks event partner Fasken; innovation partner Dye & Durham; and silver sponsors LEAP, Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, and Norton Rose Fulbright. Organized by Key Media, Lexpert Rising Stars’ supporting publications were Canadian Lawyer, Law Times, and Canadian Lawyer InHouse.
We would also like to thank the advisory panel for their time devoted to selecting and awarding excellence.