Matti Lemmens, an experienced litigation partner, joined national law firm Stikeman Elliott’s Calgary office in 2023. She has a varied commercial litigation practice that balances trial and arbitration work, encompassing a range of complex legal matters. Lemmens speaks with Benchmark editor Michael Rafalowich about changes in the litigation landscape, including the rise of technology and its benefits, and offers her advice to young litigators starting their careers.


Can you briefly describe your practice and how it has evolved over the course of your career? Are there any specific areas on which you have spent more time concentrating?

ML: As a person of action and a corporate litigator, I aim to deliver above and beyond my clients’ expectations. I employ litigation strategically to achieve their goals. My time is generally spent in court at least several days each week, often more when I am in trial.

When I started my career, it was the Great Recession. I seized every opportunity to work on new and emerging matters, not only to gain more experience in litigation, but also to expand my knowledge of the corporate world in general. The financial crisis afforded me many opportunities to understand corporate finance, and I was engaged on numerous insolvency and shareholder disputes at the time.

A few years after the economy emerged from that crisis, Alberta and the rest of the world entered a period of economic uncertainty, between dipping oil prices locally and political unrest in international regions. Disputes often arise from changes in conditions, whether they be economic or political. I was able to work on varied international arbitrations arising from everything including the changing politics in the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region to disputes regarding oil operations in Mexico and Asia.

My passion is being at the forefront of ever-changing political and economic conditions. More recently, I have advised on disputes arising from Alberta’s evolving regulatory landscape in the electricity, oil and gas sectors. I have also continued to work on international arbitrations, including one of the last investor-state disputes under NAFTA.

Out of all the firms operating in Calgary, what particularly drew you to Stikeman Elliott?

ML: The Stikeman Elliott litigation team leads some of the most sophisticated, complex files in Western Canada. Their profile has been refined over the past decade in Calgary, with the firm’s work being centered on high-level, high-stakes corporate commercial disputes. The litigation team is well-sized to service very large mandates with all team members if necessary, and yet small enough to be nimble and lean on smaller disputes.

The firm has top talent in all areas of practice and represents market- leading clients in the most significant and complex litigation matters in the province—which is a level of sophistication that fits well with my practice and the expectations of my clients. Our clients require the best legal service, which usually means drawing upon the skills of multiple areas of practice. For instance, to negotiate settlement agreements, I will call on the expertise of the tax and corporate teams to handle those aspects of a matter.

You’re on the Board of the ADR Institute of Canada, how do you feel that the rise of arbitration and mediation has impacted the dispute landscape?

ML: At the ADR Institute of Canada, we are seeing significant growth in the
number of legal practitioners engaging in mediation and arbitration, both as counsel, and as mediators and arbitrators. Mediation and arbitration
can easily provide for modified procedures and schedules to enable quick resolution or decisions in disputes, which is very attractive for many
clients. Oftentimes, the longer that litigation can take, the more difficult
and entrenched the parties can become, missing opportunities for earlier resolution along the way while being too focused on a particular application or step in the litigation process. With the convenience of mediation and arbitration, including through digital means, more disputes can be resolved with less expense and time, providing more satisfactory resolutions and certainty for clients. It is becoming more commonplace, especially in high- value commercial disputes, to mediate and arbitrate instead of going to the courthouse, as it also enables parties to maintain the confidentiality of their disputes.

You’re leading the first digital trial at Alberta Court of King’s Bench, with nearly 1000 exhibits entered electronically – how is technology impacting disputes in Alberta and what can we expect in future years?

This trial was a great opportunity to showcase how important digital information is in corporate trials. We live in a digital world every day, reading emails, using track changes on documents and excel spreadsheets with formulas, among other things. To conduct a corporate trial by paper loses critical metadata from those documents, such as authors for comments, time stamps, showing original attachments to emails and the connections for formulas. Consider for example, a complicated projection on earnings, and simply printing that excel spreadsheet for a judge; they will not be able to understand how that information was created or used by the parties.

Digital trials are the future of litigation. Not only does it mean everything can be stored easily on a hard drive or USB, and avoiding boxes of binders, but it also provides greater flexibility as a case evolves in the courtroom. There is no need to have the office prepare multiple copies of documents and run them to the courthouse because they can simply be emailed in seconds, put up on the screen for the witness to scroll through while they testify, and finally emailed to the judge for later review while it is top of mind.

You have a certificate in International Intellectual Property Law. Is there an increasing demand for IP litigation in Alberta or has this practice been called into service more on an international level?

Alberta has a growing technology sector, and with that, comes IP litigation.
I have been involved in international arbitrations involving confidential information and trade secrets in the oil and gas sector, but have also been seeing more disputes arising in Alberta, related to copyright in software and a variety of different types of data, including mapping and compilations of data.

What advice would you give to young litigators just starting their careers?

Try everything. You will only discover your dislike of something after you try it at least once. I have witnessed young litigators really shine in the courtroom once they overcome a certain level of anxiety. It can be daunting at first to start a career focusing on disputes because every day can seem adversarial, but it does not need to be. Some of the best relationships that a litigator can develop in their career are with opposing counsel. It is also good to remember to be yourself, because there is a place for all sorts of personalities in litigation, from outspoken to reserved and measured litigators.