Recognized as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2021):
By Richard Yerema and Kristina Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Dec 3, 2020)
Here are some of the reasons why Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP was selected as one of Greater Toronto's Top Employers (2021):
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon increased its mental health benefit coverage to $3,000 per year and arranged to have a counsellor onsite at its Toronto office on a biweekly basis to further facilitate employee access to mental health resources -- additionally, the firm hosts seminars and podcasts on topics such as stress management, healthy eating and physical fitness
- In 2019, Blake, Cassels & Graydon spent approximately $1.5-million in training and development for employees across Canada, from onboarding initiatives for new recruits to orientation programs as employees advance in their careers and national professional development seminars with programming on a variety of topics
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon offers employees across the firm opportunities to contribute ideas to improve client service or efficiency through the unique "BrightIdeas@Blakes" initiative
Blake, Cassels & Graydon steps up its pro bono work
When the pandemic struck in March, leading Canadian business law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon (Blakes) was quick to start helping different organizations in the community, consistent with its long history of commitment to pro bono work.
“Because the pandemic creates more isolation and has a more significant impact in disadvantaged communities, it is more important than ever that we use our legal expertise to support organizations which are focused on helping people in need,” says Mary Jackson, chief officer, professional resources, at Blakes. “In fact, one of the first calls Blakes made was to Pro Bono Ontario to ask how we could help. We immediately encouraged our lawyers to volunteer for the free legal advice hotline run by Pro Bono Ontario.”
For Jackson, pro bono work (done without charge) is very much part of the fabric of the firm. Over 15 years ago, Blakes established a formal policy where a certain number of pro bono hours per year are treated like billable hours, thus supporting and encouraging lawyers to invest their time in pro bono work. Each year, Blakes lawyers provide the equivalent of over $5 million in legal services through pro bono work. “Our lawyers and law students get a sense of fulfilment from doing this work,” Jackson explains.
Another organization, the Canadian Civil Liberties Association (CCLA), was looking for assistance with a bail courts monitoring program to examine potential reforms to the bail system, and Blakes was happy to jump on board, says Nicole Henderson, a partner in the Blakes Toronto office. “It was an opportunity to provide engaging work done pro bono for dozens of our summer students across Canada.
“One of the challenges of the pandemic and working remotely was finding ways to ensure that students were meaningfully integrated into the firm,” notes Henderson, who helped with the project and has been involved with numerous other pro bono endeavours at Blakes – including one called 160 Girls, which achieved a landmark victory in 2013 whereby Kenyan law enforcement officials were ordered to investigate and prosecute crimes of sexual violence.
“The students had the opportunity to work virtually with one another and with lawyers in the firm on this project with the goal of improving the equity in the justice system,” she says.
Blakes also partnered with Pro Bono Students Canada in the development of a Toronto clinic to assist trans-identified clients navigate changes to their identification, including name and gender marker changes. Blakes lawyers also support such clinics in Calgary and Victoria, with plans to expand to other cities. The firm recently established a three-year commitment to the project. Lawyers participating in the project find they are inspired by the people they meet at the clinic who are navigating challenging circumstances.
Amid the pandemic and the stresses and isolation that have come with it, “Blakes continues to look after our own internal community as well as the broader community outside the firm,” says Henderson. “In addition to encouraging our lawyers to participate in pro bono work, the firm made sure to provide all employees with the tools that they need to successfully work remotely and ensure we continue to stay connected.”
Moreover, Henderson notes that Blakes already had a robust policy around mental health, offering regular seminars and having increased its mental health benefit coverage to $3,000 per year. The firm regularly communicates with staff to remind them of existing mental health supports as well as new ones, including the availability of its in-house counsellor for virtual sessions. Blakes has made a substantial commitment to training its leaders and managers on supporting the mental health of employees.
Recognized as one of Canada's Top Employers for Young People (2021):
By Kristina Leung, Stephanie Leung, and Jing Wang, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Jan 18, 2021)
Here are some of the reasons why Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP was selected as one of Canada's Top Employers for Young People (2021):
- Every year, Blake, Cassels & Graydon hires first-year associates from its articling class and other law firms, who undergo a dedicated orientation program -- young lawyers benefit from the firm's work allocation system, which facilitates equitable distribution of work assignments and provides opportunities to gain a broad range of experiences, including connecting with multiple partners and senior associates
- Both summer and articling students receive a mentor (who ensure students are integrated into their respective practice group) and are invited to Coffee Talks, typically led by members of the student committee, which discuss workload, capacity and other topics of interest
- Summer students at Blake, Cassels & Graydon are paired with a junior lawyer who acts as their host and participate in a professional development program, which features exposure to different practice areas -- after each rotation, students are asked to identify legal professionals who can evaluate their work performance, with feedback discussed at a meeting with the student, the director and a member of the firm's student committee
Blake, Cassels & Graydon supports youth from Day 1
Every year, Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP (“Blakes”) invests in its future by recruiting well over 100 young people through internships, co-op placements and its law student programs. While each Blakes office runs its own recruitment process, all go above and beyond to get to know every applicant and provide support to new recruits.
In 2020, the firm’s offices in Montréal and Calgary had to run their law student recruitment cycle during the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite restrictions, both offices made sure that every candidate was able to get to know the firm, meet as many lawyers as possible, and feel supported throughout.
“We ran a full virtual recruitment during the summer in Montréal and the whole Blakes team really rallied together to ensure that the process felt seamless and was a positive experience for all candidates,” says Julie Brisson, director of students, associates and professional development in the Montréal office.
She adds: “Students were worried about what a virtual recruitment process would be like. We were forced to be creative, and we consciously multiplied touch-points at every level throughout the process to ensure candidates got a clear sense of who we are and what we have to offer so that when it came time to make a decision, they felt confident Blakes was the ideal place for them to start their careers.”
In addition to offering internships for young people who are not studying to be lawyers, Blakes runs the largest law student program in Canada. Across Canada, 92 summer students and 83 articling students were hired in 2020.
In all Blakes offices, summer law students and articling students are given the opportunity to thrive by working with leading practitioners on high-profile, thought-provoking and challenging files. Everyone, says Brisson, is provided with a great deal of support at every step in their career at Blakes: “One of our guiding principles is the power of our people. People are our most important asset and everyone at Blakes genuinely cares for each other.”
All summer and articling students are assigned mentors. The onboarding program is robust and includes training not only on substantive law but also soft skills, such as time-management and resilience, Brisson notes.
Training does not end after an articling student is hired back as an associate. Under normal circumstances, all first-year lawyers from across Canada attend a national training week program in Toronto. There, they are given more training and extensive professional-development programming. When the associates reach their “mid-level” years, they gather once again for more training and networking.
In addition to summer law students and articling students, Blakes also hires a large class of interns for administrative positions. Jill Marenger, a 26-year-old client relations and business development coordinator in the Toronto marketing department, was hired on an eight-month co-op placement in 2017 as part of her bachelor’s degree program at the University of Waterloo.
“From the start of my internship, the Blakes marketing team provided me with many different mentors within the department to help show me the ropes,” she says. “I felt I could freely ask any question and that they were always receptive and wanted to help me succeed.”
In 2019, Marenger accepted a full-time position with the firm. She notes that she continues to feel very supported by her department specifically – and more broadly within the firm. “Over and over again I’ve seen our team kind of act almost like a family – your work family.”
Recognized as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2021):
By Kristina Leung and Stephanie Leung, Mediacorp Canada Inc. staff editors (Mar 1, 2021)
Here are some of the reasons why Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP was selected as one of Canada's Best Diversity Employers (2021):
- For over a decade, Blake, Cassels & Graydon has provided support, mentorship, client development, networking opportunities, and personal and professional resources for its female employees through the "Women@Blakes" network -- the network maintains an internal website, publishes quarterly newsletters, and organizes seminars and events, including an annual women's client event
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon maintains a strong focus on creating diverse pipelines for recruitment and supports University of Toronto's "See Yourself Here" event for high school students who identify with communities that are underrepresented in Canadian legal education and the profession, such as individuals from low-income backgrounds, students whose parents did not attend university, students of colour and LGBTQ+ students
- Blake, Cassels & Graydon provided dedicated mental health training for leaders in light of the pandemic to help them communicate with employees who may be struggling with their mental health and compounded by uncertain times, in addition to moving the firm's on-site counselling program to telephone sessions
At Blakes, diversity expands everyone’s potential
Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP (Blakes) has a strong commitment to diversity and inclusion. The firm is dedicated to providing a workplace environment rich in perspectives, backgrounds, identities and cultures. Blakes commitment was evident in its decision to hire Kyle Elliott as manager, diversity, inclusion and outreach initiatives, in March 2020 in the firm’s Toronto office.
In this role, Elliott is actively assisting in the recruitment of law school students from diverse backgrounds to the practice of business law at Blakes, as well as encouraging undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds to consider a career in business law.
He also has a key role in the promotion of Blakes internal diversity and inclusion initiatives. “As a first-generation Black lawyer,” Elliott notes, “this is something that’s fundamentally important to me.”
Elliott graduated from Osgoode Hall Law School in 2017 and was the first person in his family to go to university. During his time in law school, he held senior roles in the Black Law Students’ Association at Osgoode and today Elliott continues to give back by acting as the director of communications for the Canadian Association of Black Lawyers.
He originally joined Blakes as a legal professional practising in the firm’s inSource team, conducting due diligence and document review. After speaking with members of the recruitment and human resources team, he decided to make the leap to his current role and assist with helping to make the firm as inclusive as possible.
Elliott notes that it was an easy decision since the management team at Blakes, which already had a longstanding commitment to diversity (it has been included in Canada’s Best Diversity Employers 11 times since 2008), was clearly enthusiastic about this new role.
“Having an inclusive workplace really allows us to tap into the full potential of our people,” he says. “By providing our people with a workplace that enables them to be their true and authentic self, everyone is able to do their best work.”
The firm has a myriad of internal groups and programs to support diversity and inclusion.
“Blakes is always looking to roll out new diversity initiatives,” says Elliott, “and has a robust roster of professional development and educational offerings that focus on issues like unconscious bias, inclusive leadership, cultural awareness and competence, gender and cultural blind spots, anti-racism, and how to be an ally.”
The firm is also open to new ideas that can help to promote inclusiveness within the firm. In 2019, Blakes partner Alyssa Shivji approached Blakes management with a proposal for a new group mentorship program for diverse junior associates. Alyssa cleverly named the initiative “Diversi-Tea.”
Diversi-Tea provides a safe space for diverse associates to meet monthly as a group to discuss topics of interest and to receive advice and mentorship from senior associates and partners. The initiative was so successful that it was expanded to include summer and articling students in late 2020 and will expand in 2021 to include associates from all years of practice.
According to Shivji, the program is “especially helpful for first-generation diverse lawyers who don’t have lawyers in their families, as it helps them to navigate the norms and expectations of law firm culture and gives them a safe place to seek advice.”
Blakes is involved with numerous community-based diversity programs and organizations. The firm participates in Law in Action Within Schools, which pairs high schoolers with mentors – Blakes lawyers with whom they meet monthly – and offers several internships that focus on equity-seeking groups.”