Toronto-based firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon is launching a first-of-its-kind fund to provide subsidized legal services to support the rapidly growing Canadian technology startup market.
“The rationale is very clear to us, emerging technologies is the future of the economy in Canada,” said Blake Cassels counsel Marc Shewchun, one of the leaders of the firm’s new initiative. “Not being a part of that is foolish.”
The brainchild of the firm’s information technology group, co-headed by partner Christine Ing, the program is set to launch in the Toronto-Waterloo region of Ontario that currently has close to 5,200 startups and nearly 200,000 workers in the technology space.
The program, dubbed Nitro, has earmarked C$1 million (roughly $756,000) to subsidize the legal costs for 30 to 40 startups in an effort to make a strong commitment to the technology scene in Canada. That averages out to about a C$25,000 ($18,890) subsidy per startup.
Asked about the Nitro name, which to a U.S. audience could bring to mind memories of a popular wrestling show and former contestant on “American Gladiators,” Shewchun noted that it has a somewhat different connotation for those in his sector.
“Nitro is a fuel, it’s an accelerant,” he said. “For us, it signifies what this program is about. It’s pouring fuel on the fire. It’s helping startups accelerate their growth.”
Shewchun said that the subsidy offered by the Blakes Cassels fund will remove for startup clients one of the biggest barriers of accessibility—the cost of legal services—to Canada’s largest law firms, a group known as the Seven Sisters.
“Cost should not be a factor in a decision to use Blakes,” said Shewchun about his firm, where he worked from 2004 to 2008 before rejoining its ranks in January after nearly a decade as an executive at several startups in Toronto. “We should be able to provide our services at an affordable rate and what’s affordable depends on where the startup is in their life cycle.”
Startups in their infancy with limited cash in the bank may need discounts and deferrals of attorney fees, Shewchun said. As those small companies enter different stages of their life cycle—the endgame for Blake Cassels being the cultivation of larger enterprises as future clients—the firm will alter and adjust its fee structure accordingly.
“Nitro will provide top-tier legal advice at pivotal moments in the development of these companies,” said a statement by Blake Cassels chairman Brock Gibson. “We want to be there to see new companies succeed. We will do this by providing exceptional work supervised by experienced people.”
The booming technology sector in Canada has within the past few years encouraged law firms up north to ramp up their efforts in crafting fee arrangements and other initiatives that help startups flourish, rather than stifle innovation.
In 2013, Blake Cassels snagged a prominent group of four life sciences and technology lawyers from Canadian rival McCarthy Tétrault. Earlier this year, Blake Cassels partnered with legal innovation group Law Made for a competition that challenges legal innovators worldwide to develop strategies and technology to better service its clients.