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How Canada’s Leading Environmental Law Firm Transformed Its Approach to Discovery with Everlaw

As Canada’s leading environmental law firm, Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers has a unique and renowned history that spans 50 years. Described as a “bluechip environmental law firm” by a judge of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice, Willms & Shier’s 18 attorneys deliver a full range of legal services in the areas of environmental, Aboriginal, and energy law, handling some of Canada’s most complex environmental matters. 

To scale its impact, however, the firm recognized that it needed to leverage more powerful technology to handle today’s burgeoning digital evidence with greater efficiency, so they could cut to the core of a matter more quickly, and deliver superior client services more effectively. 

Through successfully leveraging Everlaw’s cloud-based ediscovery platform, the firm was able to do just that, gaining greater control over their discovery data and centralizing their case knowledge in a platform that is so intuitive it has been embraced firmwide. 

Through their use of Everlaw, Willms & Shier is able to:

  • Collaborate across the case team to capture key insights during document review

  • Ensure access to powerful technology firm-wide

  • Handle large document reviews in a matter of days

  • Respond to document requests in hours

  • Take on data-intensive matters with tight deadlines with confidence

  • Continue to deliver the exceptional results clients expect

Willms & Shier Testimonial Card - Customer Support

Leaving Legacy Solutions Behind

Willms & Shier's desire to modernize their approach to litigation came after years of reliance on a legacy discovery system that was becoming increasingly untenable. 

“We were using a system that was extremely outdated,” said Jacquelyn Stevens, a partner at the firm and a certified specialist in environmental law by the Law Society of Ontario. 

Jacquelyn’s practice covers a wide range of environmental civil and regulatory litigation, with a special focus on brownfields and land contamination, cross-boundary migration of contamination, environmental due diligence, and more. These are matters that require applying complex legal skills to a complicated and often large set of data, in as timely a manner as possible. But when Jacquelyn needed assistance during the document review process, with Willms & Shier’s legacy system, she says, “There wasn't anybody to call up and say, ‘Hey, I've got a problem. I don't know how to do this.’”

When it comes to the repercussions of the documentation challenges, the biggest issue is the time factor. Traditionally, there was a reliance on physical notes, sticky notes, and non-digital processes. Every stage of the litigation process, from discoveries to pre-trials, necessitates a further review of documents, which was cumbersome given the use of non-digital processes, and added costs for clients. The law firm was looking to streamline its processes.

One of the firm's members had been exposed to a more modern system at another law firm. This experience highlighted the gap between the capabilities of the firm's existing system and what was possible with more advanced solutions. 

The pressing need to upgrade wasn't just about keeping up with the competition; it was about efficiency, data protection, and leveraging technology to provide better services to their clients. 

The shift was crucial in ensuring the firm continued to scale its services while staying at the forefront of environmental law, equipped with the best tools to serve its clients.

But was there a specific tipping point for the firm to make the shift? Overall, it wasn't just one file or incident. It was a culmination of factors. One of the significant concerns was the realization that their existing system would no longer be supported. This posed a considerable risk, as there were documents within that system essential to ongoing cases. If the system were to crash, it would spell disaster. Thus, the urgency to find a new system became paramount.

“We just had to go looking and find what else was out there,” said Jacquelyn.

Amid this backdrop, the introduction of Everlaw seemed truly transformative. Everlaw became the chosen solution because it ticked all the boxes in terms of usability, features, and costs. The fact that the program was intuitive and didn't require extensive training to use basic features was another selling point. Within a short time, associates were efficiently using Everlaw.

Rapid Adoption of Impactful Technology

Everlaw's adoption saw an immediate and dramatic increase in usage of ediscovery tools across the firm. Compared to the days when the previous system was used, the uptake has grown nearly 10X, according to a firm member. Where in the past law clerks were the ones primarily responsible for managing the firm’s discovery tool, today, Everlaw's features are now being tapped into by a wider range of staff members.

Training was described as easy, with a mix of virtual training, one-on-one sessions and self-guided materials. Everlaw's online resources, including videos, articles, and instruction sheets, proved invaluable. Associates felt empowered to seek out answers independently.

As a result, the firm has transformed how it handles documents. The platform's tagging, annotating, and review features have dramatically increased efficiency in the document review process. The process of producing documents for clients has also been streamlined. Further, Everlaw assisted in creating a model where the firm can recoup costs. The transition to a cost recovery model has been without friction Jacquelyn says, with clients recognizing the added value.

Performing at the Highest Levels with Everlaw

With the best tools in place, Willms & Shier can continue to perform at the highest levels. When asked to produce or exchange documents, the firm can move with speed and accuracy. 

Being able to quickly review documents, work collaboratively, and compile insights within the Everlaw platform “has been a game changer,” Jacquelyn explained. 

The firm’s attorneys can now move through thousands of documents in a matter of days, she said. Issue tags can be applied “right up front” when a new matter comes in, with notes, highlights, and references added during the review, so that key information can be captured throughout the document review process and easily shared across the case team. 

“You're doing that as you go,” rather than piecing together your case narrative later, Jacquelyn said. “That has been a real improvement.”

Willms and Shier Testimonial Card - Speed - Parchment

With a powerful tool at their disposal, the team can also move more quickly when responding to production requests and can act confidently when an urgent, data-intensive matter comes in.

“If there’s a request for an exchange of documents, the response time is hours, instead of days,” Jacquelyn said. “The ability to go into Everlaw, find the documents, grab them out and produce them, lets us move far more efficiently and quickly.”

Everlaw facilitates quick turnaround times and provides support when the firm must meet urgent deadlines. “We have matters that come in and the client needs something tomorrow,” Jacquelyn explained. “Knowing that we have the speed there to be able to process and deal with large amounts of data quickly, allows us to meet more demands on a broader scale. We aren’t having to say, ‘Oh, actually, we can’t get to that until next week.’ We can be confident that documents will be ready in the time needed.”

As the firm grows its litigation practice, the firm’s attorneys benefit immediately from Everlaw, ensuring that the team can work efficiently. 

Ultimately, while still early in its integration, Willms & Shier has introduced greater efficiency, security, and speed through their use of Everlaw. Their new approach to discovery has become an intrinsic part of their legal processes, from document upload and review in Everlaw through to document exchange and trial preparation.

Today, Everlaw has become a key partner in Willms & Shier’s litigation practice, Jacquelyn says. “The relationship is key. I know that if I ever need them, my account team is there. I can just send a quick email and know that someone will get back to me as soon as possible. Knowing that our partners are there to support us, whenever we need them, and even if we don’t need them — that’s incredibly important.”