After 22 years under Les Viner, Torys names new leader

Firm focuses on maintaining core relationships

After 22 years under Les Viner, Torys names new leader
Matt Cockburn

Matt Cockburn will become managing partner at Torys LLP on April 1, 2020, marking a new era for the international business law firm. 

“I lead by example — I like to think of myself as a very hands-off person who is always there to support people and help them with the initiatives that they want to pursue,” says Cockburn, a private equity lawyer who has been on the firm’s Executive Committee for eight years.”Not a top-down directive style, much more of a, ‘How can I help you and help you to help our clients?’ style.” 

Les Viner, who led the firm for 22 years, will step down at the end of March, after an “unprecedented” tenure. But, Cockburn says, the trajectory of the firm will continue smoothly in the direction charted by Viner. 

“We've never really been a firm that does big changes abruptly,” says Cockburn. “We're always prepared to evolve, but evolve in a very thoughtful and proven way.”

Torys, founded as a family business in 1941, is now known internationally. Much of that expansion was under Viner’s leadership — including the merger with a New York-based firm, and the  opening of a Calgary office, a Montréal office and a legal services centre in Halifax. 

“A lot changed under Les’ leadership in terms of what we look like as a firm. But in terms of who we are and how we practice, I don't think that has changed at all. And I think we would take the same approach for the next 20 years,” says Cockburn. “We need to be very mindful of advances in technology and how they affect our industry. We need to be very mindful of the economic pressures that our clients face,  and be prepared to work more efficiently to provide them great service . . . . but those will all be gradual.”  

Cockburn echoed Viner’s philosophy to focus on “the work and spirit of our people” and integrating new offices seamlessly thanks to a focus on relationships. For example, says Cockburn, no one lawyer is ever getting all the responsibility or accolades on a file — the firm acts as a team.

“I think the thing that makes us unique is our culture,” he says. “I think our culture is one of very low ego, a lot of respect for one another, a culture of collaboration. . . . . we have a long history here at the firm of having very deep and very broad relationships with our clients that last four decades. Our clients tend to be very, very sticky to our firm, because we invest in those relationships very, very heavily.” 

Going on five years, the Halifax office allows Torys to test new technologies in a methodical way, while keeping the focus on service, he says. 

“We've positioned ourselves so we can be nimble. But we're not going to be doing a bunch of wild technological changes just to try it,”  says Cockburn. 

“Steady as she goes.” 

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