Most professions have “knowledge gatekeepers.” These prestigious few have accumulated valuable trade secrets that give them an edge over the competition. In the legal industry, they might know how to frame an argument to appeal to a certain judge. Or perhaps they’ve collected the most useful caselaw in a particular practice area. These doyens can choose to hoard their knowledge and protect their place at the top. Or they can share what they know for the betterment of the profession.
Monique Jilesen, a partner at Lenczner Slaght, is one of Bay Street’s most elite gatekeepers. But she’s never had a hoarder mindset. Her intuition, on the contrary, has been to spread her insider knowledge as widely as possible.
Over a two-decade career in corporate litigation, Jilesen has acquired an intimidating wealth of knowledge on a unique court in the justice system: the Commercial List. This division of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice hears the most complex business disputes in the province. (Think of Air Canada’s 2003 bankruptcy.) The judges have specialized knowledge in business law, which allows cases to move at a faster pace. That speed is crucial. “I was involved with the Air Canada insolvency,” says Jilesen. “If the court didn’t promptly deal with the order to give Air Canada bankruptcy protection, the entire fleet might have been grounded.”
Despite its vital role in the justice system, the Commercial List can be difficult to navigate. Resources on the court are scant. What does exist is scattered across a variety of websites or hidden behind newsletter paywalls. There are also peculiar unwritten rules. Consider, for instance, the “9:30,” an informal hearing with the judge. “The name just refers to the time that the hearing takes place, but people talk as if everyone would know that,” says Jilesen. “There are unwritten rules about what judges expect at this meeting, what lawyers will try to achieve and the procedure for managing it.”
A few years back, Jilesen had an idea. If she collected all the information she had on the Commercial List, she could publish it at a single online location. There would be no cost to access the website. It would be an act of public service.
With help from the firm’s director of marketing, Jilesen researched the logistics of creating CommercialList.com. Next, she sought permission from Lenczner Slaght, which both granted its approval and agreed to fund the development of the website. “It’s not hard to get the firm on board with modern and innovative ideas,” says Jilesen. “Plus, I’m on the management committee, so that’s handy.”
In January 2019, work on the site began. Most of the firm’s associates and partners contributed content, which included precedents, recent decisions and original articles that outline the court’s unwritten customs.
By summer, the site had launched. And, in its first two weeks, CommercialList.com saw more than 1,000 unique users, a number that has continued to grow. “Having these resources available to me makes things faster and more efficient,” says Jeremy Opolsky, a partner at Torys LLP. “It’s got a user accessible format and is always up to date.”
At Lenczner Slaght, Jilesen is still a go-to resource on this complicated court. And, of course, she is happy to answer her colleagues’ questions. “But I can also send a person to CommercialList.com for more information,” she says. “And I use it myself. Because it means I don’t have to go look things up somewhere else.”
This is a story from our Winter 2020 Issue.