April 2002

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With more than 700 lawyers, Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP is one of Canada’s largest law firms. One of the practice groups based in the Hamilton office serves several large financial institutions in the area of mortgage recovery and debt collection.

In the late 1980s, a senior partner of the firm, Bill Walker, foresaw an impending economic recession. He felt that developing an automated mortgage and debt recovery system would permit the firm to better service its key financial institution clients, who would have larger volumes of debt recovery matters. Under Walker’s guidance, Mark Tamminga, who had just started with the firm and is now a partner, developed a case management and document assembly system that efficiently managed the debt recovery process and generated all the necessary documentation to complete a mortgage enforcement matter.

The software became a key factor in attracting significantly higher volumes of work from both existing and new clients. The practice grew substantially. The firm estimates that by 2000 it was generating approximately 100,000 documents per year using the software. For 2001, the estimated volume of documents would be closer to 150,000. There are six lawyers and approximately 35 staff who participate in the practice and operate the software in Hamilton, with a few additional users in other cities. For their mortgage enforcement practice, they maintain approximately 400 templates, with thousands of permutations, many of which contain very complex document logic and numerous references to database fields.

The System and the Practice Grow

After several software upgrades, Gowlings now uses Microsoft’s SQL Server 2000, an Access 2000 front end and the GhostFill assembly engine to handle document production needs.

The investment in technology, while considerable, has been essential to the continued success of the practice. By convention, fees on mortgage matters in Ontario are generally fixed; none of the Gowlings mortgage enforcement lawyers docket time. Gross revenues are simply a multiplication of the number of files by the fixed fees allowed. There is, therefore, enormous internal pressure to reduce cost. Without the systems in place at Gowlings, it is unlikely that the practice would be economically viable.

With the systems in place, Gowlings does very well indeed.