Steve Dykstra

Steve Dykstra is a Canadian-trained lawyer and legal recruiter. He is the President of Keybridge Legal Recruiting, a boutique recruitment firm that places lawyers in law firms and in-house roles throughout North America. You can contact Steve at steve@keybridgerecruiting.com. You can also read his blog at stevendykstra.wordpress.com, follow him on Twitter (@IMRecruitR), or connect on LinkedIn (ca.linkedin.com/in/stevedykstra/).

Posts by Steve Dykstra

Canada View From Up North Many judges suffer from a grave condition called T.S.S. (Tightened Sphincter Syndrome). You don’t have to conduct an intimate examination of a judge’s nether regions to determine if he/she has T.S.S. You can pretty much guess from the symptoms: constant grumpiness, a dour expression, words chosen to make onlookers feel the immense gravity of court proceedings, decisions pronounced as if only a fool would dare appeal them, etc., etc.

Sadly, T.S.S. is not fatal, but it does make everyone who comes into contact with an infected judge feel flu-like symptoms.

Justice Joseph Quinn of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice does not suffer from T.S.S. Whatever the opposite of T.S.S. is, this dude (and I say “dude” with the highest respect) has it. Take this sentence from his epic ruling in The Hearing Clinic (Niagara Falls) Inc. v. 866073 Ontario Limited: “Fridriksson has taken everyone on a hideously time-consuming and obscenely expensive journey down his private yellow brick road to the outskirts of the Emerald City where, it appears, he has a residence. It was not a worthwhile adventure.”

Find me another judge who invokes The Wizard of Oz to stick a broomstick up a deserving plaintiff’s butt. This case is delicious for so many reasons….

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The Canadian Bar Association (CBA) is the prime industry group for Canadian lawyers coast to coast. In essence the CBA is an advocacy group that also provides its members with continuing legal education and networking opportunities. It has 37,000 members, so it speaks for a lot of Canadian lawyers.

Let’s move half a world south to the Lago Agrio region of Ecuador. An energy giant, Chevron, apparently caused a bit of nuisance there. The indigenous villagers in the region sued Texaco (which Chevron subsequently purchased) for causing extensive pollution and won a local judgement for $9.51 billion. I haven’t taken a trip to Lago Agrio, but I suspect from the size of the judgement we aren’t talking about a few puffs of black smoke.

The plaintiffs are now chasing Chevron’s assets all over the world, including Ontario. Chevron hath protested with vehemence that its Ontario assets should not be at risk. The Ontario Court of Appeal ruled last year that the Ecuadorian plaintiffs “deserve to have the recognition and enforcement of the Ecuadorian judgment heard on the merits” in Ontario. Thus, the C.A. has at least opened the door for the plaintiffs to realize on Chevron’s Ontario property in satisfaction of the multi-billion dollar judgement. Here’s the shocker: Chevron has appealed to the Supreme Court of Canada.

This is where the CBA comes in….

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One thing I remember best from law school. Professor Ron Delisle said, “Justice must not only be done, but must also be seen to be done.” It’s a bit of an unwieldy sentence, but it encompasses some of the most important concepts in a free society.

Like rule of law. No one is above the law.

Like transparency and independence within our justice system. Our trials are, for the most part, held in open court. We have appellate courts to review the work of judges below them. The Prime Minister can’t tell even the lowest judge how to rule on a case.

Like freedom of the press, which provides oversight and an independent voice to challenge those in power who abuse the system.

The system isn’t perfect, but it works pretty darn well most of the time.

Let me ask, how does a country built around those lofty concepts allow lawyers to regulate lawyers?

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What’s all the fuss with Trinity Western law school? For those who don’t know, Trinity Western is a private university in British Columbia. Its stated mission is to change lives “through its whole-person, Christ-centred approach to education.”

We don’t have very many religious four-year colleges and universities. Trinity Western is one of the few I can name. The U.S., of course, has a long history of religion-affiliated colleges. The Catholics have Loyola-here and Loyola-there, the Jews have Brandeis and Yeshiva, Muslims have Zaytuna, the Protestants have Bob Jones, etc.

Trinity Western is our country’s Bob Jones. Every student has to sign a long covenant (we’ll call it “The Covenant”) that includes the following promise:

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Most of you know that Lexpert “ranks” Canadian law firms and lawyers every year. I thought it would be interesting to take a totally unscientific look at the Lexpert rankings and see if anything monumental comes out of it.

Here are the rules for reading this column:

1. It’s all meant in good fun. Don’t send me nasty emails if you don’t agree with something I write.

2. Read Rule #1 again.

A little background for those of you who don’t know. Lexpert has a methodology for divining the best law firms and lawyers by practice areas. I have no idea what the methodology is and I don’t care. I think all ranking methodologies are next to useless. What is important is once you declare you’re going to rank something, and put those rankings into a glossy magazine, people (lawyers and clients) put some stock into them. Lexpert could use a Capuchin monkey to pick names out of a hat and a lawyer would still brag to her mom if she was named one of Lexpert’s leading attorneys.

Lexpert has four categories: Most Frequently Recommended, Consistently Recommended, Repeatedly Recommended, and Everybody Else. Okay, it doesn’t use Everybody Else, but you get the drift. You’re either in one of the Recommended categories, or you’re on the outside looking in…

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Everybody in the Canadian legal profession knows that international firms Baker & McKenzie, Norton Rose and Dentons have set up shop in Canada. Baker & McKenzie has actually been in Toronto since 1962. Norton Rose absorbed the venerable Ogilvy Renault in 2011 before conquering the west by merging with energy powerhouse MacLeod Dixon in 2012. Dentons made its Canadian play in 2013 by merging with another long-established firm, Fraser Milner.

But how many people realize that there are several other prominent U.S./international firms working somewhat under the radar in the Canadian market? Powerhouses like Paul Weiss, Shearman & Sterling and Skadden Arps all have small Canadian offices where they service mostly American clients. Similarly, Dorsey & Whitney, Hodgson Russ, Dickinson Wright, Fragomen, and Clyde and Co. all have small Canadian presences.

By my count, that’s eleven U.S./international firms that have a real footprint in Canada, which leads to this question: why aren’t there more? Canada is a G8 nation with a strong economy. Our citizens are warm and friendly. We wear deodorant. Why have you forsaken us, international law firms?

Here’s what I dug up:

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David Bowie said it this way:

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes

(Turn and face the strain)

Ch-ch-Changes

I know you’ll be humming that song a couple hours from now (and thanking me for it). But, it underscores that clients are demanding ch-ch-ch-change from the legal profession on both sides of the border. We can’t ignore it any longer. We need to turn and face the strain head on. We need to meet the challenges of globalization and technological innovation and transform our industry.

It looks like Canadian lawyers are making an attempt to join the twentieth century — sorry, I mean the twenty-first century. The Canadian Bar Association recently released its Futures Initiative report that sprung from two years of consultations by lawyers and legal profession experts. The Futures Report makes twenty-two recommendations for helping the Canadian legal profession break away from its horse and buggy business model (developed by Gen A) to join a world where you can watch video of a horse online before purchasing it with Bitcoins…

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I have a great strategy for passing the bar: write it in Ontario. The Law Society of Upper Canada (our governing body) doesn’t publish official statistics, but it is anecdotally reported that 90% of takers pass in Ontario. Contrast that with New York, where approximately 30 to 40% of takers fail in any given year. That’s a bloodbath.

The system has changed a bit since I wrote, but let me take you back in time to 2002. I had just graduated from Queen’s law school in picturesque Kingston, Ontario. I then had to face something called Bar School. That’s four months of sitting in a stifling classroom during the beautiful and inviting months of May, June, July, and August. Don’t feel bad for me — you’ll see why in a second….

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I discussed in a past column that one of Canada’s finest law schools, McGill, costs about $4,000 per year. Isn’t that crazy? I bet many Biglaw partners have spent more than $4k on a single client lunch (tip included).

McGill’s microscopic tuition highlights the two main differences between U.S. law schools and Canadian law schools: first, almost all Canadian schools are waaaaaayyyyyyyyy cheaper than their U.S. counterparts. Second, the top students from all our law schools can get Biglaw jobs in Canada. We have only about twenty law schools, but each of them regularly place students with big firms across the country.

There is an implication for Canadian schools as a result: our schools don’t really need to differentiate themselves from their competitors. They can get by with similar course offerings and limited specializations.

The U.S. law school universe is vastly different….

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Raise your hand if you’ve been to Marshall, Texas. It’s on the eastern edge of the Lone Star State, not far south from Springdale, Arkansas, where Jim Bob and Michelle are raising 19 kids (and hopefully no more), and just west of Monroe, Louisiana, where the Robertsons play whack-a-duck every fall.

I see a few hands raised. Vacationing in Marshall, perhaps? No? Visiting family? No?

Then, I bet you’re patent litigators….

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