How does a business thrive for 200 years? And what’s the secret to future success? In honour of the 200th anniversary of Borden Ladner Gervais (BLG), we connected with the firm’s clients and leaders from across the country for answers to these questions and more. What we learned could be considered a blueprint for law firm success and a reminder of the issues that are top of mind for businesses coast to coast.
What does it mean for a business to turn 200?
Michel Leblanc, President and CEO, Chamber of Commerce of Metropolitan Montréal: Two hundred-year-old organizations are quite rare. I can think of the Chamber, Molson, BMO and McGill University in our community. What strikes me is the fact that for generations we’ve been able to renew our involvement, keep our business model up to date, and make sure that needs are met. It’s a testament to the agility and talent of those who came before us. Turning 200 should be highly celebrated, not only because it’s a rare achievement, but also because it means you have become a true pillar in the community.
What qualities does it take to last 200 years?
Robert Leckey, Dean, McGill University Faculty of Law: For an institution such as BLG or the McGill Faculty of Law, lasting 200 years takes an unflinching commitment to excellence. It takes the ability to project the shared values of the organization forward over time. It also requires an ability to adapt to changing circumstances. As the legal profession changes, as the role of technology increases, what's going to matter the most is the human touch, the ability to really respond to clients’ needs and the ability to maintain relationships. And BLG stands out. Its lawyers are well known for the courtesy and care they bring to all their interactions.
How would you describe your relationship with BLG?
Catherine Gaulton, CEO, Health Insurance Reciprocal of Canada: When the health care system was most stressed, during the pandemic, responsiveness to the needs of the people we all serve was a shining point in our relationship. BLG and HIROC came together frequently to think about what the health care system and its people and patients needed and how to respond. It was emblematic of a shared philosophy around service to those who, frankly, have bigger things on their plates and therefore need us to be there for them.
What are the issues you’re keeping an eye on right now?
Todd Croll, General Counsel and Corporate Secretary, Global Container Terminals: Vulnerability to cyber incursions, not only for our company but for every single one of our business partners and how that impacts our contracts with them. Also, the increasing importance of ESG in our organization, which is partly driven by the fact that we’re owned by institutional investors who are leading the way, but also as an organization trying to do the right thing. What does it mean to plan out a 10-, 20-, 30-year trajectory to reduce our carbonization? And, in our industry, how does that practically translate into reduced carbon?
Where do you see diversity, equity and inclusion playing a role in business?
Suzanne Davies, VP Legal & Corporate Secretary, Cathedral Energy: Decisions must be made in a way that's right for the business. But by subtly championing diversity, equity and inclusion, people do realize as time goes on that it probably is better for the business. Good governance drives good decision-making, drives sustainability. It is much easier to have those discussions now than it would have been when I started 16 years ago.
How does it feel to work with BLG?
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, CQ, former NFL player: As a young football player and philanthropist interested in business, I was lucky enough to find a legal partner who is not only prominent, but also very accessible, which is a real privilege. The advice I received, from both a legal and a strategic perspective, allowed me to focus on my main careers: football and medicine. I will always remember André [Dufour]’s motto, that BLG is like a football team. Granted, there are differences, but at its core, it’s all about team spirit, availability and being close to your clients. While business neophytes like me can sometimes be intimidated by big firms, once you’re through the door and you start meeting the people, you feel the proximity. This is what made the difference for me.
What were your most rewarding times at BLG?
Jack Hughes, Senior Vice President, Planning and Operations, Business Council of Canada: There's a lot that BLG is best known for, not only across Canada but around the world. But the most rewarding time for me was the pro bono work we did with the Veteran’s Review Appeal Board. I was among the many BLG lawyers who, with the full support and encouragement of the firm’s leaders, helped secure benefits which had initially been denied to injured veterans. It was a way to help people and use our skills for the greater good, whatever area of the law we were practicing in. It doesn't get better than that.
What advice do you have for the lawyer of tomorrow?
Vinay Mehta, Executive Vice President, Legal, Strategy and Corporate Secretary, Alectra Inc.: I've always thought of three attributes as being critical for young lawyers in private practice. I call them the ABCs. One is being adaptable—to adapt to changes in your client’s industry and their requirements. Second is being balanced. In private practice, you may only see a portion of a client’s business, but all those different perspectives from many different clients allows you to bring a broader and balanced view. But I think the most important attribute is being curious about what's happening with your client so you're always trying to understand their business, the industry, key stakeholders and current trends and challenges.
What are your hopes for the future of law?
The Hon. Louise Arbour, Senior Counsel, BLG: I hope we use our visionary skills, not simply our technical skills, to make a difference. As lawyers we have capabilities that allow us to address the more systemic issues that result in planetary and humanitarian crises. It's one thing to maximize small opportunities within the system. It's another thing to take a step back and look at the entire structure and contribute to addressing the whole problem, whatever it may be.
What’s BLG’s story?
John Murphy, CEO and National Managing Partner, BLG: BLG started as the dream of one lawyer in Montréal in 1823. For the past 200 years, our firm has worked hard to anticipate change and keep our clients one step ahead. Every day, our lawyers use their expertise and ingenuity to offer the best possible service and exceed expectations. We welcome every technological advance, every industry innovation, every new project as an opportunity to strengthen our client relationships. We've been doing this and contributing to our communities for 200 years, and we intend to continue doing so for the next 200. We are grateful for the BLG clients, alumni and colleagues who have shared their insights in this Q&A.
Contact: Tamara Costa
Learn more about BLG’s 200th activities, including its Future of Law series, at blg.com/futureoflaw