About five years ago I met a lawyer from the Vancouver area who told me he lived on an island “off the grid.” In other words, he generated all his own electricity. I was impressed, awed even, that someone so close to a city that provided ample electricity with easy access would choose to take this difficult (and likely expensive to set up) route to powering his property. At the time, clean, renewable energy was neither in fashion nor easy to procure. Let’s not even talk about the cost.
Things sure have changed in the last few years. Canadians’ attitudes about the environment, fossil fuels, greenhouse gases, energy use and generation, and even recycling have dramatically changed. Green business is booming and a new language and economy are growing out of that. And that’s good news for lawyers, particularly those who are looking for new and innovative areas of practice as well as interesting and enthusiastic clients. Our cover story looks at the growth of practices relating to the clean technology sector. Windmills and solar panels used to be the purview of the granola set, but they’ve gone mainstream and Canadians are innovating and coming up with new products and new methods for better, more efficient, and more economical ways of generating renewable energy. The B.C. government has put out a call for proposals on clean ways to generate energy for that province, and the sector is buzzing. Lawyers, along with these entrepreneurs, are learning a new industry and it’s building lots of excitement.
There’s also carbon trading and the growth of that new market, which is providing new and interesting work for lawyers on the finance side. Judging from the carbon-trading markets in other parts of the world, this area is just getting going. Construction and real estate are also changing in this new reality. The green lease is in; read all about it in this month’s real estate column on page 21.
But it’s not just about the new opportunities for your law practice. The green revolution is hitting everything from IT to office supplies. Using less power and even less paper makes good business sense. It’s good for the environment but it also saves money, and in many cases improves internal processes, making your firm attractive to clients looking for legal counsel that reflect their ethos about the environment. There are lots of ideas about what your firm could be doing better in our 10 tips to green up the office on page 48, and a couple case studies about greening your IT in Gerry Blackwell’s technology column on page 27.
While advances are being made and Canadian consumers and businesses are mostly becoming better environmental citizens, there are still many battles to be fought. In this month’s managing partner interview, Devon Page, the recently appointed executive director of Ecojustice, talks about his organization’s continuing struggle to ensure federal and provincial legislation protects this country’s animals, waterways, earth, and sky.
Our IP story on page 53 also looks at ways regulators are trying to make sure consumers don’t get “green washed” with false claims of environmentally friendly products. There’s a need for vigilance on many levels.
I do hope readers find our mix of “green” stories to be enjoyable. It was definitely extremely interesting putting this issue together.
— Gail J. Cohen
When gathering my thoughts to put together this issue of Canadian Lawyer, I went through a series of ideas for a cover story that quickly got shelved. Then, I started thinking about human rights law and the part it plays in our lives both as Canadians and citizens of the world. I am a voracious consumer of news and much of my news-reading time over the last few months has been spent focused on the situation in Zimbabwe, the land of my birth, where the rule of law and respect for human rights has all but disappeared. With that in the back of my mind and the editorial calendar (and its looming deadlines) at the fore of my mind, I realized that human rights law, particularly in the form of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, has really shaped labour and employment law in this country.
But with that focus on human rights, many labour and employment cases end up mired in the massive backlogs that plague many of the country’s human rights systems. As one lawyer points out in our cover story, “Signs of change,” by the time many cases wend their way through the system so much time has passed that the resolution may end up being meaningless in many ways. In other situations, the length of time leads complainants to drop or settle their complaints without feeling they’ve got any justice. Ontario and British Columbia have revamped their systems. Neither has been met with unqualified enthusiasm, although Ontario’s is still in its infancy. There is a glimmer of hope from most labour lawyers that these new systems will work out better for both employees and employers caught up in the process.
Success, however, does remain elusive and the workings of human rights commissions and tribunals across the country remain a mystery to most ordinary folks. Ezra Levant highlights in his Back Page column how the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal heard a complaint against Maclean’s magazine brought by an Ontario man about something in a publication originating in Ontario. Although Levant has had his own run-in with human rights tribunals (over complaints about publishing Danish cartoons portraying the prophet Mohammed) and does not hide his disdain for them in general, he does have a point. Why should a case that has nothing to do with B.C., other than there are Muslims in the province who may have read and been offended by the complained-about article, be heard before a tribunal there?
The Ontario Human Rights Commission wouldn’t proceed with a similar complaints against the magazine (neither would the Canadian Human Rights Commission), but in an odd twist, while the Ontario commission’s press release said it wasn’t within its jurisdiction to deal with the contents of magazine articles, it cast judgment anyway, saying it “strongly condemns the Islamophobic portrayal of Muslims, Arabs, South Asians and indeed any racialized community in the media, such as the Maclean’s article and others like them, as being inconsistent
with the values enshrined in our human rights codes.”
As Canadians, we understand the value of protecting human rights but the process has become so convoluted (see the chart of Alberta’s on page 58), and some may even say unfair, that a comprehensive and massive overhaul is likely necessary before the parties who get embroiled in these systems, either as a complainant or respondent, feel that justice is being served. Will Ontario’s most radical change thus far be the one for the rest of the country to follow? Perhaps. But perhaps even that is not enough and the next province to try will build on Ontario’s mistakes. Time will tell, but the systems of human rights tribunals and commissions across this great country need some serious work — and I don’t mean tinkering.
A survey came out the day I sat down to write this editorial that showed 45 per cent of law firms in Canada and the U.S. plan to hire more lawyers in the next year. That’s good news for lawyers, particularly associates, in my view. In Canadian Lawyer’s managing partner interview each month, I query law firm leaders on some of their challenges and economic forecasts for their firms. Almost universally over the past few months, they’ve told me that associate retention is one of their greatest challenges but also that they need new lawyers, particularly in business law firms.
This month, the outgoing chairman of Blakes, Jim Christie, tells me: “We continue to have a need to attract and recruit lots of students, young lawyers.” Last month, from Alberta, Jerri Cairns of Parlee McLaws said: “I see that strong economy as continuing to drive demand for sophisticated, effective, and practical legal advice to clients to assist them in their ongoing successes and business endeavours.” And in February, Borden Ladner Gervais’ Sean Weir also noted the need for a strong pool of young lawyers, which BLG goes to great lengths to attract and retain. “We invest a lot in education and programs and do a lot of intensive training from new associates to junior partners,” he said.
As I said, all good news for lawyers. A few other tidbits about the legal business scene have been gleaned from these interviews. The best news is Canadian law firms don’t foresee laying off any lawyers even though the general economic outlook isn’t particularly rosy. What will see a shift are the areas of practice expected to grow over the next year. “I think we are starting see a change in the nature of the work our clients are asking us to assist on: obviously less big-ticket M&A, although there continues to be a reasonably good stream of mid-size M&A work; more restructuring and insolvency-related work; and I think we’ll see an increase in litigation as we go forward,” says Christie in this month’s interview. He’s already seeing the growth there. That’s backed up by the above-mentioned survey, conducted by Robert Half Legal, that reports bankruptcy, litigation, and ethics and corporate governance are the hot specialty growth areas.
Both Christie and Weir, though, noted that Canada’s business environment is pretty crowded, and any major growth in legal work is unlikely to come at home. “International growth is huge for us. Now 25 per cent of the firm’s revenue is from offshore sources,” said Weir. BLG doesn’t have overseas offices; however, Blakes does and counts on them for its growth as well. Not only does Blakes have a China office with both Canadian and Chinese lawyers but, at home, has a strong practice group that supports its growing Chinese client pool.
And while no Canadian firms are going this route yet, the newest booming market appears to be the Middle East. For example, in early April, it was reported that U.K. magic circle firm Allen & Overy had launched a major recruitment drive in order to add up to 20 associates and partners to its United Arab Emirates’ office. Dubai is also a hotspot. Many European law firms are also starting to look at the emerging markets of Eastern Europe, such as Romania and the Ukraine, as their next lands to conquer. Already a number of U.K. firms have expanded into the region. And, mark my words, once India opens its borders to foreign law firms, there’ll be an explosion of growth in that legal market.
Lots to think about and many opportunities are out there for lawyers at all stages of their careers. The unstable global economy doesn’t seem to be hurting the legal profession very much, which is good news if you’re a lawyer!