Businesses are challenged by other aspects of the generalization of new technologies. (Photo: 123RF)
LEADERS OF THE LAW. The rise of digital technologies, the shift to sustainable finance and new regulations are fueling the growth of specific areas of expertise in law firms.
In September 2021, the Quebec government passed Bill 64 (now Bill 25), which significantly increases the requirements for protecting personal information collected by businesses and provides a more granular framework for how it is collected and used. In 2018, the European Union did the same with its General Data Protection Regulation.
“These new laws are driving demand for our data governance services,” notes Me Éric Bédard, managing partner for the Quebec Fasken region. The data portfolio is one of the greatest corporate assets today. You must ensure that this information has been lawfully collected. »
Errors in this regard or security deficiencies in data protection can generate litigation risks for a company, but also reduce its value at the time of acquisition. In recent years, Fasken has hired lawyers specializing in this field, but also some computer engineers who help, for example, to check the legality of the algorithms used by clients.
Businesses are also attracted by other aspects of the generalization of new technologies, such as the advent of artificial intelligence or fintech with its flood of crypto assets and mobile payment methods. “We are seeing overwhelming demand growth in these sectors,” said Mr. Karl Tabbakh, McCarthy Tétrault’s Regional Managing Partner for Quebec. Last April, the company also announced the hiring of Lori Stein as co-head of its Toronto-based fintech group. This lawyer — a former Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt and investment fund Periscope Capital — has advised multiple crypto exchanges and helped Wealthsimple launch Canada’s first regulated cryptocurrency exchange in 2020.
Since new information technologies are very transversal, they create upheavals in many traditional areas of law, such as intellectual property, data management, governance or taxation. “These innovations raise new questions,” explains Me Pierre Allard, Managing Partner of BCF Avocats d’affaires. This is the case, for example, with the taxation of digital giants or the famous non-fungible tokens that raise intellectual property issues. Better known by their English acronym NFT, these tokens are used to certify the authenticity of a digital work on a blockchain. This can then be traded like any other crypto asset.
Adaptation to sustainable finance
Some changes are proving to be more temporary. For example, Mr. Allard notes that the conflict in Ukraine tends to revitalize the resource sector in Canada. “We have a lot of low-density deposits that are mainly exploited when raw material and energy prices are increasing, as is currently the case,” he specifies. Especially since Russian aggression against Ukraine is pushing several Western countries to look for suppliers to replace Russia. »
At the other end of the spectrum, the shift towards sustainable finance and the emergence of environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria are also generating their share of demands. “We are seeing more and more funding with rates linked to the achievement of ESG targets and public tenders where the amounts paid to project managers vary based on reductions in energy use or greenhouse gas emissions,” explains Me Bédard. Companies we advise issue green bonds and funds specializing in ESG investing. It moves a lot. »
Me Allard also notes that this is an increasingly important issue for businesses here. “Some see this as a promising niche; Others recognize that if they want to stay at the heart of large companies’ value chains, they need to meet their needs in this regard,” he explains. This awareness also applies to BCF. The Firm’s directors received training on social responsibility last April to ensure they remain up to date in this area.
“Law firms are used to building up specialist knowledge quickly in order to be able to react to new requirements from different contexts,” recalls Mr. Tabbakh. We’ve done this many times in the past, whether with the advent of the internet or e-commerce, or more recently following the legalization of cannabis in Canada. And we will continue to adapt. »
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