In 2015, as an articling student at Davis LLP, Jennifer Saville got a rare opportunity: to have a front-row seat at the highest court in the land. Saville had helped Alexi Wood, a senior associate who specialized in administrative and regulatory law, as well as commercial litigation, prepare an intervention on behalf of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association. The CCLA had retained Wood to intervene in a case that, it felt, could expose young people to child pornography charges for possessing images of consensual, lawful sexual activity.
Wood, who is 44, wanted Saville, now 28, to be at her side when she appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada. “I depended on Jenn so much,” she says. “I wanted her there to pass notes to me.”
Saville was elated — and shocked. “This is never done,” she says. “Simply put: articling students don’t sit at counsel table at the Supreme Court.”
In the end, Wood and Saville’s submission carried the day, netting the pair an early victory. From that point on, the duo continued to work together and soon settled into a familiar routine. Wood, whose temperament tends toward exuberance, would get steamed up over a legal injustice of one kind or another and discuss it with Saville, who would help come up with a strategy to tackle the problem. “Jenn is my conscience,” Wood jokes. “I’m more like the foot under the table,” says Saville.
In the summer of 2017, Wood left the firm — which, by then, had merged with the global mega-firm DLA Piper — to found a litigation boutique with Phil Tunley, a veteran trial lawyer and human-rights advocate. Wood and Tunley hoped to run a lean, nimble practice, rooted in social justice. “It was my chance to create a firm the way I wanted to,” says Wood.
Saville was on vacation in Indonesia when Wood told her, via text message, of her imminent departure. “I sent a very explicit message back,” says Saville. She knew that her day-to-day life would not be the same without Wood. Not only did the duo finish each other’s sentences, but they also had a shared philosophy: that a responsible lawyer must both uphold the law and advance it.
Shortly after opening shop at her new firm, St. Lawrence Barristers LLP, Wood landed a high-profile case, one that also dovetailed with her social-justice values. She was contacted by former cast members of Toronto’s Soulpepper Theatre who made sexual-misconduct allegations against Albert Schultz, the company’s founding artistic director. (Schultz has denied all of the allegations.)
At the time, the firm was also growing. So Wood and Tunley decided to hire an associate — and they were delighted when Saville applied. “I told Phil that we could interview 1,000 candidates, and we’d never find one better than Jenn,” says Wood.
In December of 2017, Saville moved into an office within shouting distance of Wood’s desk. Together, along with co-counsel Tatha Swann of Levitt LLP, they launched civil suits against Schultz and Soulpepper on behalf of four actresses. With the #MeToo movement in full swing, a growing number of sexual-misconduct survivors are opting to launch civil suits instead of going to the police. And for good reason: this allows survivors to take control of the narrative and to work through the justice system with a lawyer by their side who represents their interests alone. This summer, the cases against Soulpepper and Schultz reached a settlement.
Wood may have an independent streak, Saville contends, but her choices always serve a higher purpose. Which is why Saville — who wants to build a career centred on innovative, ethically engaged litigation — can’t imagine what her career would look like had she landed a more conventional mentor. “Alexi is fearless, strategic and compassionate,” says Saville. “She is the lawyer I aspire to be.”