The law firms with the most innovative ideas

By: September 10, 2009

Which firms are adopting the technology of the 21st century?

Ahead of the curve: McMillan

McMillan likes to think of itself as a proactive outfit. The firm has long been at the forefront in adopting new technologies to help improve their practice. As far back as 1987, years before PCs became a desktop staple, McMillan lawyers were using computers. This was before Microsoft Word — or even Word Perfect — caught on, so the machines ran a now obsolete word processing system.

“It’s not technology for technology’s sake,” says John Clifford, a partner at the firm. “It’s a question of efficiency. It’s really being aware of the best available technology and adopting it, if we think it makes sense for our business.” McMillan was the first Canadian firm to do away with switchboards and use voicemail. (Firm lore has it that a third-year associate initially brought forward the idea.)

They have since added voice over internet protocol, or VOIP, meaning phone lines run over the internet. Now, when a lawyer receives a phone message, it’s automatically copied to both their computer and BlackBerry, making it easier to forward later to clients. McMillan was also the first Toronto firm to use wireless technology throughout their offices.

Legal tweets

Toronto law firms have started to make their way into the Twittersphere. To date, Osler has the most followers on Twitter. As of press date, the firm had tweeted 126 times since it joined the site in December 2008. Posts range from promotional (Osler Ranked #1 for Canadian M&A Transactions, Jan 23rd) to useful (A Guide to the Responsibilities of Corporate Directors in Canada, April 20) to fun (Calgary Stampede Expects 1.2 Million Visitors, July 2nd). Here’s who else is popular on the social networking site:

Number of firm followers

@Osler_Law: 591 [Ed. note: now with 2,624 followers]
@gowlings_law: 333 [Ed note: now @gowlings with 2,275 followers ]
@ogilvyrenault: 181 [Ed note: now @nortonrose_ca with 2,548 followers]
@BLGLaw: 172 [Ed. note: now with 2,472 followers]
@TorysLLP: 122 [Ed. note: now with 2,055 followers]

Antiranking_gBig ideas

It’s all too easy to put one’s head down and focus on one particular area of law. Great for putting in hours, but not so great for keeping things in perspective. We give shout-outs to three firms that encourage their crews to look up every once in a while and take a broader view.


Summer students at Faskens have the opportunity to broaden their horizons by leaving Bay Street for more exotic locales. Each student spends four to six weeks at a secondment of their choice. Past placements include Shibolet & Co. law firm in Israel, the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law in Austria and the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Bennett Jones

Learning shouldn’t stop just because you’ve graduated law school. Many firms offer inhouse courses to sharpen the skills of young lawyers in everything from securities to civility. Special mention goes to Bennett Jones where students attend Bennett Jones University — a week-long boot camp to bring them up to speed on life in the real world of law.


Every firm talks about the importance of well-rounded employees. At McMillan, they do something about it, bringing in leading movers and shakers for talks on a wide variety of subjects. Past speakers include humanitarian Stephen Lewis, pollster and pundit Allen Gregg and economist Jeff Rubin.

Best blog: Cassels

Easily the most adventurous in their online presence, Cassels allows their summer students to blog about their experiences at the firm.

Posts discuss everything from intimidating workloads (“soon enough, close to 3000 documents were placed before me in my office. The boxes were too heavy for me to carry”) and the daily highs and lows (“Triumph: Finding the Starbucks machine on my floor. Defeat: Realizing that I had been spilling coffee all over the place on the long walk back to my desk”) to haircuts suitable for the office (“I asked for something called ‘Business Shag,’ which was interpreted as ‘make me look as much like Zac Efron as possible’”).

Other firms use the internet for more traditional purposes: to promote their legal expertise. Stikeman Elliott has a blog devoted to securities law. Torys, Osler, Gowlings and Ogilvy all offer downloadable podcasts on any number of legal topics.

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