Jackie Ferreira, Associate, Stikeman Elliott
Jacqueline (Jackie) Ferreira is an associate practising in the Employment & Labour Group. Her practice extends to all areas of employment and labour law, including employment standards, human rights, occupational health and safety, and terminations.
This is part one of a series of deskside chats with Associates at North American firms leading the way in innovation.
What does the word “innovation” mean to you?
In the simplest sense, I think of “innovation” as changing a process that currently exists.
It means constantly reflecting on the idea of “why am I doing this?” and – more specifically – “why is it that I’m this doing this task or researching this issue in a particular way?”
In my practice, I’ve found that being able to reflect on why we approach and resolve problems in the way we’re accustomed to is important. It ensures that we can recognize ways to improve the process, or, in other words, it ensures that we can be innovative.
As a young associate, conducting legal research is a large part of the job. How has Artificial Intelligence aided in your process? What are some of the key benefits you’ve noticed?
Artificial intelligence – and technology generally – allows the legal research process to become much more efficient and targeted.
Generally speaking, when our Firm requires legal research, it’s because we are dealing with unusual circumstances and want to know how our courts have interpreted, or are likely to interpret, the particular facts of a case when litigated.
In the past, we had to head off to the library and review textbooks or loose-leaf texts to know where to focus our efforts.
Thanks to ongoing advancements in technology and artificial intelligence, the vast majority of our materials are now digital, searchable, and provide intuitive ways of parsing through more resources in less time.
At the end of the day, this means better-informed answers for our clients in a more-efficient way.
What parts of your job would be very difficult, if not impossible to do without the use of AI?
At Stikeman Elliott, we are very fortunate to work with sophisticated clients who manage their businesses across a wide array of industries.
In the Employment & Labour Group specifically, we assist with complex corporate transactions, litigation matters, and a whole host of advisory work that ranges from routine to novel.
Without artificial intelligence, it would be very difficult to provide the quality of legal services that Stikeman Elliott is known for as efficiently and thoroughly as we’re able to now.
A common fear amongst young lawyers is that tools using artificial intelligence will one day replace them. What are your thoughts on this as someone who leverages AI in their day-to-day work?
In my experience, the use of artificial intelligence has provided unparalleled efficiencies and even removes – or at least reduces – the potential for human error in routine matters.
In my practice, I’m thankful that artificial intelligence has impacted the legal field because I can perform routine work more efficiently, and can then focus more of my energies and time on a broader range of thought-provoking problems.
This has given me many valuable learning opportunities at a relatively early stage of my career.
Last year, Stikeman Elliot was recognized as the highest-ranking Canadian law firm on Legal Expertise’s Most Innovative Law Firms list. What aspects of Stikeman Elliot do you think contributed to making this list?
In my opinion, at Stikeman Elliott, our creativity and solution-driven approach are key components of the firm’s continued high rankings of not only Legal Expertise’s Most Innovative Law Firms list, but also accolades relating to league tables, best lawyers in Canada, and rising stars – to name a few.
And while we certainly see the value of new legal technologies, and we invest significant resources into making sure we stay in the know, we also recognize that being innovative means being creative in the way we practise law.
We provide our clients with the highest quality and most pragmatic and creative legal solutions, and we leverage technology wherever it can enhance our practice and our ability to help our clients meet their business objectives.
How important is it to you to be forward-thinking in a field deeply steeped in tradition?
As a young lawyer, growing my practice at a law firm that is both forward-thinking and deeply steeped in tradition are equally important.
While working with new technologies provides a great opportunity for me to distinguish my practice from other lawyers in Canada, it’s also important to understand that technology can only add value to a base that has already been developed.
At the end of the day, our role as lawyers is to provide the best service possible to clients who have fact-specific problems requiring solutions.
Without a solid understanding of the law and its parameters, we would have no way of knowing where to begin when trying to come to innovative resolutions.
Has there ever been a time you were advocating for an innovative idea has been difficult? What did you learn from that experience?
While I haven’t yet had a difficult time advocating for an innovative idea, one example of a time where I’ve seen an opportunity to innovate was in the context of a large-scale restructuring.
For reference, the process of costing a restructuring from an employment-perspective involves an assessment as to the affected employees’ statutory notice entitlements.
In Ontario, these entitlements are based on years of service. It’s a very formulaic assessment.
At a high level, if an employee has a certain length of service, then they are entitled to a certain number of weeks’ notice of termination or pay in lieu.
As you might imagine, where there are tens or hundreds of employees affected, this process can require a great deal of time if it’s done as an individual assessment for each employee.
While assisting with one of these restructurings, I saw the opportunity to save a significant amount of time by instead developing an Excel formula that would produce these entitlements without having to look at each employee.
Thanks to this simple change, our group can now use the formula in our severance analyses so that we it’s no longer necessary to confirm each employee’s statutory notice period.
What role do you think young associates play in pushing firms toward adopting innovative solutions?
As newcomers to private practice, I think that young associates are uniquely positioned to find innovative solutions to traditional legal problems.
Since we are learning how best to deal with new situations each day, we have the ability to approach problems from a fresh perspective and to leverage our unique backgrounds to adopt innovative solutions.
In my view, everyone called to the bar in Ontario brings something new to the legal profession.
It is our role as young associates to speak up when we encounter a process that can be improved upon – and this is something that Stikeman Elliott encourages.
As long as we remain open to change, then innovative solutions should naturally follow.
The advent of technologies like artificial intelligence seems poised to make a large impact across multiple professions, including law. How do you foresee artificial intelligence will affect lawyers, and the practice of law in general, moving forward?
I think that artificial intelligence will affect lawyers differently depending on how willing they are to embrace it.
As to the practice of law generally, Stikeman Elliott embraces new technologies to improve efficiencies and to ensure the services we offer remain competitive with the rest of the market.
Personally, I think that firms that fail to embrace change will find themselves trailing behind when technologies that once seemed like unchartered territory become common practice.
I do not think that technology can replace thoughtful legal work, but I am excited to see the changes that artificial intelligence brings to the practice of law.
What excites you the most about incorporating bleeding edge technology into your work?
One of the reasons that I chose to be a lawyer was because it’s a profession that requires you to be continually learning.
Incorporating technology into my practice is exciting because it allows me to spend more time focusing on the aspects of my work that require thoughtful review and innovative solutions, and less time on those areas susceptible to automation.
What have been the greatest benefits you’ve received from using Blue J L&E?
The greatest benefit of using Blue J L&E is undoubtedly the amount of time that the software saves me.
I’ve found the process of using Blue J L&E similar to any other search engine I would might rely on outside of law – except that this software has been developed to give results based on past judicial rulings that would otherwise be unsearchable in the aggregate.
As a result, I’m able to add value to my practice by finding the answers our clients need in less time.
Is there a specific feature that you particularly like in Blue J L&E? How has this feature benefited you in your work?
The function on Blue J L&E that I’ve used most in my practice is the Reasonable Notice classifier.
I’ve used other software for this purpose before, but prefer Blue J L&E because it allows me to specify more details about an employee’s circumstances that can affect the reasonable notice assessment.
For example, in some cases – particularly those involving short-service employees – a critical component in the reasonable notice assessment is sometimes whether there was inducement present in the hiring process.
Most software does not allow you to input this information; Blue J L&E does.
Being able to input more criteria in the assessment can yield more accurate results – and obviously more accurate results are great for our clients.
What is one piece of advice you would give to summer or articling students with respect to innovation in the legal industry?
I would suggest that summer and articling students be aware of, but not necessarily worry about, innovation in the legal industry.
Being a student is an important time to learn about which areas of law are of interest and to dabble in as many different projects as the student can get his or her hands on.
Inevitably, students will learn something new every single day.
As long as they’re taking the time to reflect on what they’re learning – including what they did or did not like about how assignments were completed – opportunities to be innovative will present themselves.