Jonathan Buysen and Angela Crimeni are two young stars in the Vancouver office of national firm Stikeman Elliott who are poised to be next-generation leaders, deemed so by several established market players in British Columbia. Benchmark editor Michael Rafalowich queries Jon and Angela on their respective careers and market observations.


Can you discuss your respective ascents to partnership level? Jon, you attained partnership upon your return in 2021, while Angela, you were promoted also in 2021. Could you offer some general advice to associates striving for this career milestone? How has Stikeman Elliott supported you as partners?

JB: The best advice I received early in my career was to focus on my skills as a lawyer. There are obviously other components to building a successful practice (client relationships, developing a book of business, etc.) but the critical first step is to ensure that you are able to deliver exceptional legal services.

The skills that one needs to develop are also broader than the pure legal skills. One also has to learn how to organize a file and manage a team. I find these other skills are often overlooked but they are fundamental to one’s success.

I have been fortunate to have mentors who have supported and guided me in developing these skills. I cannot overstate the importance of finding mentors whose practice you want to emulate and learning from them.

AC: I have spent my entire legal career at Stikeman (starting as a summer student in 2011). I feel fortunate that I found a such an excellent firm at the outset of my career that aligned with my interests and had lawyers invest in my growth and development.

Similar to Jonathan, my advice to an associate striving to attain partnership is to focus on developing the skills to become an excellent technical lawyer that delivers excellent and timely work. If you become someone that your colleagues and clients can depend on – your responsibilities and roles on files will naturally expand and before you know it, you will be running files yourself and ready to progress to the next level. The other piece of advice I have is to make sure that you make your partnership aspirations known to the other partners in your group/firm. If you are clear about your goals, it will hopefully motivate people around you to help you achieve them.

Some young litigators are eager to specialize while others prefer the generalist approach. What is each of your views on this?

AC: I think it comes down to personal preference. If you are attracted to a specific area of the law or only like certain types of disputes, then it might make sense to specialize and try to become an expert in that specific area. For me personally, what I love most about my job is the ability to take a novel and complicated commercial legal problem and try to get the best resolution I can for my client. The specific subject matter of the commercial dispute does not matter. What I’ve seen from my mentors is that if you have excellent analytical and advocacy skills, you can successfully and effectively apply those talents to almost any litigation dispute that might cross your desk. So, I’ve found it to be very rewarding to have a broad commercial litigation practice.

JB: I have a broad commercial litigation practice, so am a generalist in that sense. However, most of the cases we act on are complex commercial matters, which often involve novel legal issues and facts. I find those cases to be the most interesting as it requires creative and innovative thinking to essentially solve a legal problem that no one has solved before. So, being a generalist in that sense, is ideal as it brings us the most challenging issues. Plus, when I come across issues that require specific expertise (tax, etc.) I am fortunate to work at a large firm with direct access to skilled lawyers with the necessary expertise.

Given the growing emphasis on diversity and a fresh perspective in litigation, could you provide insights into how Stikeman Elliott actively promotes diversity and your roles in shaping diverse teams? From your standpoint, what measures should a law firm take to authentically achieve this vital component of legal service delivery?

JB: It starts with creating an environment where everyone can be their authentic selves. I am openly gay and have worked in environments where that was tolerated – but not accepted. Stikeman was the opposite. From my time as a student onward, I was actively encouraged not to shy away from being open and honest about that side of myself at work. It seems like a simple principle, but it is essential. To truly have a diverse team, the diversity has to be encouraged and celebrated and we do that here and do it well.

We continue to build on this strength as well. Recently, I have been involved in founding an internal group that connects all the LGTBQIA+ employees across the firm to create a space where we can engage with each other, talk about issues that may impact our members and finds ways to give back to the community.

AC: Diversity initiatives are only as successful as their most vocal and supportive advocates. Recognizing the importance of having different perspectives at the table makes your team stronger and your work product better. I’m proud to say that at Stikeman, I am surrounded by colleagues who actively support diversity initiatives and champion for a more diverse and inclusive environment. As a personal example: I have two small children and the firm was unwavering in its support as I navigated two maternity leaves and re-integrations back to the office. With the firm’s support, I was admitted into the partnership within six months of returning from my first maternity leave.

What are some of the advantages and the challenges you see for young litigators these days?

AC: Young litigators have grown up with the internet. They are innately technologically literate and able to quickly and efficiently become fluent in the latest technological advances. They can leverage that inherent aptitude
to make things like legal research and discovery more efficient and effective. For example, we now have document management tools which allows us to manage, organize and understand huge amounts of data. Technology literacy is becoming an essential component of commercial litigation – and I am fortunate to be able to rely on young litigators to ensure we are keeping up with latest technological advancements.

But technology can also be a curse just the same. The sheer speed at which these tools are developing can be overwhelming. In addition,
with the prevalence of e-mail, text-messaging and other electronic forms of communication – the volume of relevant documents in litigation is expanding and we are spending more time than ever dealing with document discovery issues.

JB: The impact of COVID on how we work is a big challenge, especially for students and junior lawyers. In my early development, I learned so much through osmosis: listening to senior lawyers discussing issues in the hallways, hearing the debriefs after a day in court, talking with counsel on a break during court, having a casual chat in the coffee room, etc. COVID introduced a new era of working from home, and with it a lot of the osmosis learning disappeared. I am a big advocate of a return to the office and encourage our team to work in the office as much as possible because I believe it will makethem better lawyers and us a better team overall.

Are there any specific [public] cases that you’ve led or been involved with in some capacity that stand out for their novelty or uniqueness?

JB: I have been fortunate to have been involved in a few such cases – some of which are private arbitrations and cannot be discussed. I acted as co-counsel for the Vancouver Canucks in a contract dispute with a sponsor (Vancouver Canucks v. Canon, 2013 BCSC 866). The case was unique in that we were able to establish that a binding contract had been entered into through an exchange of emails – even though the formal contract had not been drafted or signed.

AC: The first cases that come to mind are the cases where we act for the City of Vancouver in defending challenges to municipal bylaws designed to address specific public policy concerns. One such example is the challenge advanced by a resident group to the City’s decision to amend its primary Zoning and Development By-law to facilitate a streamlined approval process for the construction of temporary modular housing on underused or vacant lands in the City (2018 BCSC 72). The amendment was intended to address the City’s homelessness crises. We were successful in defending the by-law and related development permit. Numerous temporary modular housing sites have now been erected around the City using the same procedure.

Would each of you care to give a shout-out to any other partners (within Stikeman as well as at other firms) that are roughly of your vintages and worthy of recognition?

AC: Aside from present company, Sinziana Hennig is a partner in our Toronto office with a broad commercial litigation practice and Katy Allen is a partner at Lawson Lundell LLP in Vancouver focusing on labour and employment. Both are excellent lawyers and worthy of recognition.

JB: I could give a shout-out to numerous lawyers within Stikeman and at other firms who impress me. I am most impressed with counsel who are smart, creative, and levelheaded. To name a few people who have those traits and consistently impress me: Aaron Kreaden, a partner in our Toronto office, and Nicole Toye a partner at Harris & Company LLP.