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Legal Innovation at Fireside 2019

A happy camper at Fireside.

A “happy camper” was an accurate description of me this past weekend. I was a guest at this year’s first-ever Legal Innovation Summit, which was part of the Fireside 2019 conference. The experience was extraordinary.


Fireside is an annual, invitation-only, off the grid, all-inclusive retreat for 450 of the world’s most inspiring innovators, investors and influencers. It takes place at Camp Walden, a beautiful 750-acre summer camp with a pristine private lake in the middle of nowhere – Palmer Rapids, Ontario, near the town of Bancroft.

This year’s conference offered three entrepreneurial streams: tech, cannabis and legal. And over an extended weekend from September 5 to 8, it offered speaker sessions, workshops, impromptu discussions, idea exchanges, quiet conversations, and comradery around campfires.

The retreat’s focus is on developing and nurturing person-to-person relationships. Being disconnected from digital reach enables participants to get their faces out of their phones, and connect in person to a community of individuals whose purpose and passions are about doing things differently – the essence of entrepreneurship.

Legal Innovation

The Legal Innovators Summit, co-hosted by Mitch Kowalski, Sean Bernstein and the Legal Innovation Council enabled top legal innovators from far and wide to connect for a casual weekend of intense legal design thinking and service delivery innovation.

Lively debates ensued on subjects such as delivery models, innovation outside Canada, professional skill sets, lawyer/client relationship value propositions and variances, millennial lawyers, breaking barriers between industry professionals, law firm and law company operating structures, collaboration combinations, better access to justice, and fixing law schools.

These and other topics spilled out into informal group conversations while curled up on couches, in dining halls, at picnic tables, on long walks, around fire pits – you name it. The best part? No one was interested in admiring problems. Instead, we tackled issues with no holds barred in an effort to spark ideas and hatch solutions.

This depth of connection and creative thinking was both inspiring and galvanizing.

Camp Life

For me, whose idea of camping includes a king-size bed, extra towels, and hot-and-cold running waiters, the cabin experience was a throwback to early years. We slept in bunk beds built for nine year olds on four-inch mattresses that were hard on the hips. Single digit overnight temperatures meant that sleeping bags and winter-weight bedding needed to be brought from home. If you were lucky, your cabin had a shower. If not, you hiked off to a showering cabin, jumped in the lake or simply didn’t bother. Lots of folks wore hats that provided warmth, style and cover for bad hair.

While most camp food is notoriously terrible, we ate like royalty. Elastic waistbands were pretty much mandatory with three square homemade (!) meals served daily in family-style to 20 people at each table. What was noted on a printed menu (!) as “formal snack service” was offered in the afternoons and evenings. More snacks and beverages were available on a 24-hour basis, and in the evenings there were fixings to make s’mores at each of the camp’s eight fire pits.

To burn calories, we enjoyed camp activities galore. These included: waterskiing, swimming, sailing, kayaking, canoeing, wall-climbing, axe-throwing, archery, basketball, volleyball, tennis, sing-alongs, drumming, board games, meditation, yoga, massages, and lock-picking at which, it turns out, I’m alarmingly adept.

Camp Walden is a big machine that runs with military precision and maximum efficiency. Yet there is nothing cold about the place other than nighttime temperatures at this time of year.

The owners, staff and volunteers are magnificent. They are warm, engaging people who radiate positivity and shine with sincere desire to help others. Their example of putting service before self was a lesson for us all. Engaging in conversations with many of them was an enormous pleasure and part of what makes Camp Walden so unique. These folks are special people and contribute more than they will probably ever know to the culture of Fireside.

The Experience 

Now in its fifth year, Fireside welcomed a diverse range of people with ages ranging from 20s to 80s, and from places near by and as far away as Australia.

The casualness of a camp environment enabled us to shed our professional armour in favour of sweats, bathing suits and kicking-around duds. This was a great leveller as it’s hard to be grand when you look like an unmade bed.

This whole experience provided a safe environment to set aside personal safeguards and professional self-importance and, instead, create capacity for childlike openness, approachability, vulnerability, curiosity and sense of fun that encouraged us to reveal the best of ourselves and share it with others.

Fireside co-founders, Steven Pulver and Daniel Levine, along with Sean Bernstein who managed the Legal Innovation Summit, are all Toronto-based lawyers turned legal-tech entrepreneurs who are the co-founders of MinuteBox, a cloud-based corporate minute book management service. In addition, they have created a very special environment and experience with Fireside, which nurtures relationships and advances entrepreneurial efforts.

If this article sounds like a love letter, it is. I loved every second of the Legal Innovation Summit at Fireside. Greeting old friends and meeting new ones who are working to progress innovations in legal, tech and cannabis was fabulous. I learned a lot, ate like a locust, slept like a stone and laughed until my sides hurt. See the 2019 Fireside video.

It’s only been a few days and already I’m looking forward to helping hatch plans for the next Legal Innovation Summit at Fireside – and doing all this again and then some in 2020.

Follow Fireside


Image and video courtesy of Stature Films.

Heather Suttie is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading authorities on legal market strategy and management of legal services firms.

For 25 years, she has advised leaders of premier law firms and legal service providers worldwide — Global to Solo | BigLaw to NewLaw — on innovative strategies pertaining to business, markets, management, and clients.

The result is accelerated performance achieved through a distinctive one of one legal market position and sustained competitive advantage leading to greater market share, revenue, and profits.

The effect is accomplishment of the prime objective — To Win.

Reach her at +1.416.964.9607 or

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