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Winning the west

Cover story: Western regional firms fight over talent
|Written By Beth Marlin
Winning the west

In our second annual peer-ranked survey celebrating the leading mid-sized firms from Manitoba to B.C., we examine the challenges and opportunities unique to the region.

Western Canada’s leading regional firms do not take their status for granted despite the easy prosperity of practising law during an unprecedented oil- and resources-fuelled economic boom. Many have recently revisited their firm’s strategic plan as they decide how best to grapple with the unique complications that boom times bring.

The so-called “talent war” is chief among the challenges facing these regional-only law firms as they fiercely compete with their national rivals and corporate employers for top-notch corporate and securities practitioners. It’s driving up finders’ fees — not to mention signing bonuses and associate salaries — to unheard-of levels.

“It’s getting crazy,” says David Garner, managing partner of Vancouver’s Alexander Holburn Beaudin & Lang LLP, a newcomer to this year’s rankings. “(Salary increases) have got to be 10, 15 per cent and in some areas, higher than that. What used to be an L.A. or New York phenomenon has gone right across the country. Everybody has had to pay more for first-year lawyers.”

McLennan Ross LLP managing partner Chuck Russell agrees. “It is brutally competitive for talent. Just filling the seats that are necessary to get the work done is an issue for every firm in Calgary and Edmonton.”

Some firms are paying corporate stars up to $50,000 as a signing bonus. Finders’ fees, even for a junior associate, start at about $5,000, say lawyers. Headhunters are also going after senior partners, with firms willing to overpay them in hopes of getting a prime book of business. “A senior corporate commercial lawyer in Calgary is going to be getting something north of half a million bucks. It could be way, way more depending on how productive the individual was. We’re talking about a 20-year lawyer with a portable practice,” observes one managing partner.

In order to retain partners and also senior associates — who are jumping around both to grab new opportunities and ratchet up their salaries — some Calgary firms are cleverly starting to defer a good chunk of their annual bonus, requiring them to stick around five years or so in order to collect the balance, he says.

While many of the regional firms are trying to stay out of the bidding wars, it has been difficult. Says McLennan Ross’s Russell: “It’s hard to balance looking at bringing people in laterally (at much higher salaries) without leaving your own people feeling like the poor cousins. I don’t know how the nationals do it — keep their existing lawyers from feeling taken advantage of.” As a result, several firms say they are now reviewing associate salary levels periodically throughout the year, rather than just annually.

Demand-supply imbalances in office space are also driving rents up four-fold as many firms are expanding office space to accommodate the increase in work. “It’s very busy times. I know there was a period of time where I couldn’t even find a boardroom. We had to go out of our offices to find a board room,” says Harry Campbell, chairman of number-one ranked firm Burnet Duckworth & Palmer LLP, which has recently taken over half of the 18th floor in Calgary’s 41-storey First Canadian Centre and will take over the balance when it becomes available in the spring, bringing its space to seven floors.

Field Law plans to double its 35-lawyer Calgary office to 70 lawyers over the next five to seven years, moving into bigger office space, albeit with smaller individual offices, in downtown Calgary in June 2007, says managing partner Robert Teskey. Their rent will quadruple, reflecting the overheated economy, he says, however the firm is fortunate to have benefited for reasonable rents for so long.

Despite the challenges, Vancouver-based Bull Housser & Tupper LLP hasn’t ruled out opening a Calgary office, says managing partner David Bain. Other firms are intent on building up their existing offices.

Campbell says that while the local legal market is tough to crack for outside firms, there’s lots of work to go around because of the prolific deal-making of many serial entrepreneurs. “That’s the thing about Calgary — the market is so large that it can support a lot of firms,” he says. “You just need to get a small percentage of a market that is transaction driven or very entrepreneurial.”

Structural change to the economy
And it’s a market that is expected to flourish for many years. According to the Conference Board of Canada, the Alberta boom — fueled by oil prices that the board forecasts will remain above $65 (U.S.) a barrel until at least 2011, fanning out into the other Western provinces, which are enjoying resources-based prosperity of their own –– reflects a “permanent structural change in the economy.”

Alberta, Canada’s fourth-largest province with a fast-growing population of 3.3 million, is expected to lead all other provinces and territories with 6.6 per cent growth this year, over a national average of 3.1 per cent, says the board. Not only are law firms thriving on the extra transactional work of a mergers and acquisitions wave that has hit resource producers across the west, but firms are being approached by offshore investors looking to acquire oil and gas companies, reports Russell.

Campbell says Calgary is an almost ideal market for the practising lawyer. “It’s just so dynamic. If you can get a relationship with those serial entrepreneurs then you can do deal after deal after deal.” As he puts it, only a little bit tongue-in-cheek, “If you’re a lawyer and you can’t make it here, you can’t make it anywhere.”

Calgary isn’t the only focus in Alberta, however. Saskatchewan-based MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP — clearly the most aggressively expansionary regional firm of the day — opened an Edmonton office in June with the help of two defecting tax practitioners from Field Law. “We don’t think any other firm really has that Saskatchewan/Alberta on-the-ground representation in the way that we do,” says chairman Rob Pletch. Along with offices in Regina and Saskatoon, the 89-lawyer firm opened a Calgary office in 2002, and has a one-lawyer shop on a native reserve east of Calgary. Future plans include an office in Vancouver, after the firm has built on its Alberta platforms, says Pletch.

That may be a good move on the part of MLT, since B.C. is enjoying its own boom times. “There are close to $100 billion in major infrastructure projects, projects over $20 million,” says Bull Housser’s Bain. “And that’s generated a lot of work from all sorts of aspects — public-partnership work, financing work, whether it’s construction, environmental.”

At Vancouver’s Farris Vaughan Wills & Murphy LLP, Cameron Belsher, a leader in the firm’s securities and corporate practice group, agrees that B.C.’s economy is thriving.

“Vancouver differs from Calgary, it differs from Edmonton, it differs from Winnipeg and Regina, in terms of its vibrant technology and biotechnology industries,” says Belsher, who says the national firms that have set up local offices in recent years can’t compete with the firm’s 103-year community connection. “You can hang your shingle out as a national firm, but if you don’t have anyone to staff the office who knows anything about Vancouver or the people in Vancouver or what’s going on, you’re not going to get anywhere,” he says. “In Vancouver, the way we position ourselves, if it’s a local deal, they are going to know about [Farris Vaughan] because we are active in the community.”

Regional law firms also continue to profit from the narrowing conflicts squeeze on national firms, in light of the Supreme Court of Canada’s July 2006 ruling in Celanese Canada Inc. v. Murray Demolition Corp., says Brian Fulton, managing partner of number-two ranked Vancouver-based Lawson Lundell. That ruling unanimously held that a lawyer’s duties to protect solicitor-client privilege may in some circumstances extend even to cases in which there never was a formal lawyer-client relationship. “We know (conflicts) are on the minds of our clients and our new clients because it’s been raised to us as an issue,” says Fulton.

Is it any wonder that regional firms are emerging from their strategic planning sessions unwavering in their focus and breathing a sigh of relief they were never seduced into a merger with a national firm?

“Ultimately you have to decide what it is you want to be and what is your goal, because you can be a very successful law firm depending on how you measure success in lots of different models,” says Bain. “Do you want to be Canada’s national law firm? Do you want to be Canada’s boutique tax firm? Do you want to be the strongest regional firm? The options are fairly numerous and that’s a decision that the owners of the firm have to think hard about.” In western Canada, the leading mid-size firms’ managing partners are clearly in the regional firm corner on this one.


1. Burnet Duckworth & Palmer LLP
Total Lawyers: 130   •   Offices: 1   •   Provinces: Alberta
Lawyers by Office: Calgary: 130

Core Practice Areas:
ADR; banking and finance; commercial real estate; commercial transactions; competition; construction; employment and labour; energy; government relations; insolvency and restructuring; IP and technology; litigation; major projects; regulatory; securities; mergers and acquisitions; and taxation.

Key Clients:
WestJet; Penn West Petroleum Ltd.; Canadian Natural Resources Limited; Bank of Montreal; ExxonMobil Canada Ltd.; CIBC World Markets Inc.; RBC Capital Markets Inc.; Alberta Treasury Branches; Royal Bank of Canada; ARC Resources
Ltd.; Chevron Canada Limited; Dow Chemical Canada Inc.; EPCOR Distribution Inc.; and ATCO Power Canada, Ltd.

Notable Mandates:
Represented WestJet in a suit with Air Canada, and in the first half of 2006 has acted in mergers, acquisitions, and reorganization transactions worth $32 billion and public offerings and private placements worth $2.3 billion, including the $11 billion Penn West Energy Trust merger with Petrofund Energy Trust; the $5 billion plan of arrangement of Acclaim Energy Trust and StarPoint Energy Trust creating Canetic Resources Trust with spin-off of TriStar Oil & Gas Ltd.; and $1.2 billion Focus Energy Trust Acquisition of Profico Energy Managements assets.

Star Alumni:
Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench justices John D. Rooke, Peter J. McIntyre, Peter M. Clark, Barbara Romaine, and Rosemary E. Nation; Mike Morin, associate general counsel, resources, Imperial Oil Limited; and entrepreneur Murray Edwards.
 
Affiliations:
None.

The Firm:
With business booming during Alberta’s biggest oil and gas rush ever, Burnet Duckworth & Palmer — which will occupy seven floors of the 41-storey First Canadian Centre — has recently expanded into half of the 18th floor, and will take over the balance in the spring. Involved in a staggering $17 billion worth of transactions last year ($13 billion mergers and acquisitions, $4 billion in public offerings and private placements), the firm was also recently named — for the second year — one of the best places to work by Calgary Inc. magazine for its flexible work hours, generous benefits, and casual, professional atmosphere.

This firm is home to John Brussa, who helped construct the first royalty trust in 1985, and the firm’s clients include 18 of Canada’s 33 publicly listed royalty trusts. Brussa is one of the many lawyers who made submissions urging the federal government not to tamper with the sector’s tax status while the then-Liberal government reconsidered the tax-exempt status of income trusts last fall.

After a small hiccup caused by the uncertainty, the busy sector soon resumed full throttle after the government announced near year’s end not to proceed on the controversial issue. That was good news for the firm and its oil and gas clients, which have done well by the vehicle.

Managing partner Harry Campbell says a high number of “serial entrepreneurs” help the provincial economy flourish. “Calgary is such a solid environment for transactions. It’s just a very entrepreneurial market. People continue to do transactions and start over again. Some of our clients just sold and they are starting out with their new companies all over again,” Campbell says. “We’re just very lucky to be in a climate where that type of business activity is possible. It’s just a wonderful, lucky place for lawyers to practise.”

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2. Lawson Lundell LLP  [/span]

Total Lawyers: 110   •   Offices: 3   •   Provinces: British Columbia; Alberta;  Northwest Territories
Lawyers by Office: Vancouver: 95; Calgary: 9; Yellowknife: 6

Core Practice Areas:
Aboriginal law; banking and insolvency; corporate/commercial; corporate finance and securities; energy; environmental; forestry; labour and employment; litigation; mergers and acquisitions; mining; pension and employee benefits; public utility and regulatory; real estate; tax; and technology.

Key Clients:
Large publicly traded companies; large Crown corporations; investment and income trusts; banks and financial institutions; investment banks; private equity funds (including venture capital funds); partnerships; privately owned companies; sole proprietorships; and individuals.

Notable Mandates:
Representing the federal government in tobacco products litigation in British Columbia and other matters elsewhere in Canada; a diversified mining company in indemnification and recovery from its historical insurers for alleged environmental liabilities; various mining companies in financings raising more than $500 million between March and May 2006; and advisers to a NWT diamond mine development, a Nunavut gold mine, and B.C. coal and gold mines on issues that include aboriginal and regulatory concerns.

Star Alumni:
British Columbia provincial court judge Gregory Bowden and Chief Judge of the Provincial Court of British Columbia Hugh Stansfield; retired Court of Appeal of British Columbia judge Hugh Legg; and the late Reginald Gibbs.

Affiliations:
World Services Group; a multi-disciplinary professional services organization. 

The Firm:
At 110 lawyers, Vancouver’s Lawson Lundell dates back to 1886. Founder Jimmy Lawson was a “behind the scenes” figure in the B.C.’s industrial development, acting for such corporate icons as Powell River Company and Elk River Timber Co. Ltd. Oscar Lundell, who joined the firm in 1935, worked on a file involving the purchase of a large block of timber on Vancouver Island by H.R. MacMillan from John D. Rockefeller Jr. In 1944, the firm became known as Lawson & Lundell and then in 1950, became Lawson Lundell Lawson & McIntosh. Its name was shortened to Lawson Lundell in 2001. The Yellowknife office opened in 1994 and the Calgary office in 1997. A key player in some of western and northern Canada’s most significant litigation, Lawson Lundell represented a private sector intervener in Delgamuukw v. British Columbia, a case that produced one of the Supreme Court of Canada’s most significant aboriginal title judgments. Says one survey respondent from a leading Alberta-based firm: “Lawson Lundell is a tremendous firm and has been extraordinarily generous to the bar in B.C; especially with its contributions to new legislation, in particular the new B.C. Business Corporations Act, long, long overdue in that province.” Managing partner Brian Fulton says the firm is steadily growing its practice, including its bench strength in Calgary, but doesn’t subscribe to the “field of dreams” management approach of growth for growth’s sake.


3. Bull Housser & Tupper LLP
Total Lawyers: 95   •   Offices: 1   •   Provinces: British Columbia   •   Lawyers by Office: Vancouver: 95

Core Practice Areas:
Admiralty and maritime; bankruptcy and insolvency; business law; charities and not-for-profit; class actions; commercial and general litigation; competition law; corporate/commercial; corporate finance and banking; energy and infrastructure; engineering and construction; entertainment; environmental; estate planning; financial services; First Nations; forestry; franchising; gaming; hospitals and health care; immigration; intellectual property; international trade; labour and employment; mergers and acquisitions; mining; pension; professional liability; public-private partnerships; real estate; securities; tax; technology; transportation; and wills, trusts, and estates.

Key Clients:
Royal Bank Financial Group; Alcan Inc.; Columbia Power Corporation; Washington Marine Group; London Drugs Limited; and Western Forest Products Inc.

Notable Mandates:
Counsel for Western Forest Products Inc. in its $207 million acquisition of the shares of Cascadia Forest Products Ltd. from a subsidiary of Brookfield Asset Management Inc. and in Western’s $45 million purchase of Canfor Corporation’s Englewood Logging Division; successfully defended Westminster Savings Credit Union in the lengthy trial of 10 sample cases by more than 400 investors claiming damages, resulting in dismissal of the actions; defended General Electric Capital Canada Inc. in lawsuit by International Hi-Tech Industries Inc. over the alleged failure of robotic equipment whose purchase had been financed by GECC; and counsel for Seaspan Container Lines Limited in connection with the sale of 23 containerships to Seaspan Corporation and an initial public offering of Seaspan on the New York Stock Exchange that raised US$ 750 million.

Star Alumni:
Supreme Court of Canada Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin; retired B.C Court of Appeal Justice W.J Wallace; B.C. Supreme Court justices Robert Bauman, Jon Sigurdson, Elliott Myers, Victoria Gray, and Mary Ellen Boyd; retired B.C. Supreme Court Chief justice William Esson; Provincial Court judges Harbans Dhillon and Jeanne Watchuk.

Affiliations:

State Capital Global Law Firm Group.

The Firm:
This 116-year-old leading business law firm is one of the largest in western Canada, with 95 lawyers. Based in Vancouver, the firm has been actively involved in legal work for many of the $100-billion worth of infrastructure projects on the go in the thriving province, as well as in the resource, energy, and transportation sectors.

The first Canadian law firm to set up shop in China, BH&T continues to serve clients with interests in Asia and Pacific Rim countries out of its Vancouver office. Like firms everywhere, BH&T, is dealing with issues of lawyer retention and succession as a wave of leading partners near retirement.

“How do you recruit and retain the best, what sort of flexibility can you build into what is the traditionally pretty inflexible business model?” says managing partner David Bain. “Overlying all of that is the whole demographic issue — the aging of the professional population and the fact that over the next 10 years, you’re going to see a lot of very capable and senior people departing the scene and law firms have to ensure that they are  growing young leaders to replace them” he says.

4. McLennan Ross LLP

Total Lawyers: 65   •   Offices: 3   •   Provinces: Alberta;  Northwest Territories   •   Lawyers by Office: Edmonton: 46; Calgary: 16; Yellowknife: 3

Core Practice Areas:
Labour and employment law; commercial litigation; corporate commercial securities; insurance; banking and insolvency; construction; energy, environmental, and regulatory; professional liability; media; wills and estates; health; and municipal law.

Key Clients:
Alberta Medical Association; BDO Dunwoody LLP; Canada Safeway; Canadian Medical Protective Association; Canadian Natural Resources Limited; Canadian Western Bank; Chubb Insurance Company of Canada; Deloitte & Touche; Dominion of Canada Insurance Company; Flint Energy; Government of Alberta; KPMG; Ledcor; Marathon Canada; Northwest Territories Power Corporation; and PricewaterhouseCoopers.

Notable Mandates:
Counsel to Finning Canada in its 2005 labour dispute and challenges to two major outsourcings in Alberta; Canadian Bar Association before the Supreme Court of Canada in the Same-Sex Marriage Reference; structuring labour relations for CNRL Horizon Oil Sands Project and other oil sands developments; most major unionized construction companies active in Alberta; and Jade Drilling Inc. in sale to Trinidad Drilling Ltd., a subsidiary of Trinidad Energy Services Income Trust.

Star Alumni:
Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Brian Burrows; Alberta Provincial Court judges Frederick A. Day, Brian O’Ferrall, and Michael Stevens-Guille; Rodney Neys, executive vice-president and general counsel of Ledcor Group of Companies; Clay Hamdon, senior vice-president and general counsel of Cove Properties; John Sterk, author of Alberta Conveyancing Law and Practice and a past president of the Alberta branch of the Canadian Bar Association.

Affiliations:
Meritas, a 165-firm worldwide referral network; Canadian Association of Counsel to Employers; and Employment Law Alliance.

The Firm:
McLennan Ross traces its beginnings back to 1903, when G.E. Wallbridge started his practice in Edmonton. In 1930, Stan Ross joined the firm and it became Wallbridge Cairns & Co. The firm grew and changed names many times over the years. In 1965, David J. Ross joined his father in the practice of law. In 1968, Rod McLennan joined the firm. Known as McLennan Ross since 1982, the firm opened its Calgary office, which has since grown to 16 lawyers, in 1996, and its Yellowknife office, now at three lawyers, in 1999. Highly respected for its solid management-side labour and employment, commercial litigation, and corporate/commercial and securities practices, managing partner Chuck Russell says the firm plans to add another five or 10 lawyers. Remarks one survey respondent from a rival Calgary firm: “McLennan Ross is a strong litigation and labour firm with a high reputation generally and an excellent reputation for client service. Clients love the clarity of their explanations on complex matters.”


5. MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman LLP
Total Lawyers: 89   •   Offices: 5   •   Provinces: Saskatchewan; Alberta
Lawyers by Office: Regina: 36; Calgary: 14; Saskatoon: 35; Siksika First Nation: 1; Edmonton: 3

Core Practice Areas:
Corporate/commercial; litigation; labour and employment law; tax planning and tax dispute resolution; insolvency; natural resources law; and First Nations law.

Key Clients:
AREVA Cogema Resources Inc.; Bayer CropScience Inc.; Cameco Corporation: Canada Safeway; Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce; Chrysler Credit Canada Ltd.; Farm Credit Canada; General Motors Acceptance Corporation of Canada Ltd.; The Hill Group of Companies; Husky Oil Operations Ltd.; IPSCO Inc.; Maple Leaf Foods; Saskatchewan Power Corporation; and Weyerhaeuser Co.

Notable Mandates:
Douglas C. Hodson continues to serve as counsel to the commission into the wrongful conviction of David Milgaard.

Star Alumni:
Saskatchewan Court of Appeal justices Marjorie Gerwing, Georgina Jackson, and Robert Richards; Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench justices Ronald Barclay, Darla Hunter, John Klebuc, Frederick Kovach, and Dennis Ball; former Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench chief justice Donald MacPherson; and Saskatchewan Environment Minister John T. Nilson.

Affiliations:
Founding Canadian member of Lex Mundi, a global association of some 160 independent law firms.

The Firm:
With five offices in Saskatchewan and Alberta, including a brand new Edmonton office, MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman enjoys a “unique territorial coverage and footprint” within western Canada, says chairman Rob Pletch. The firm, founded in 1920 by Regina’s Murdoch Alexander MacPherson, who later became Saskatchewan’s attorney general, opened its Saskatoon office in 1980, its Calgary office in 2002, followed by a one-lawyer shop on the Siksika First Nation, 60 km east of Calgary, and in June 2006 in Edmonton. The firm plans to spend the next few years building on its Alberta platform, set up largely to serve the needs of Saskatchewan clients who also do business in Alberta and then look further west, says Pletch.

“British Columbia is an economy you’d love to be involved in as a lawyer. It just seems to have a great-looking future ahead of it.”

MLT’s corporate lawyers have been at the forefront of nearly every major industrial, resource, or infrastructure transaction in Saskatchewan, including the development of steel-making facilities for Ipsco Inc., heavy oil upgraders for Husky Oil and NewGrade Energy, uranium mines and mills for Cameco Corporation and AREVA Cogema Resources Inc., potash and fertilizer plants and pulp, paper, and other forestry interests. “We’re operating in a zone of practice that is not catching the headlines, we’re not involved in the Teck-Cominco deals, we’re not in the big M&A game,” says Pletch. “But western Canadian economies are so robust that there are many very substantial opportunities just below the headlines. Here in Saskatchewan, with uranium and potash prices, certainly oil and gas, it’s sort of hitting on all cylinders for these economies here in Saskatchewan and Alberta, so it’s a good time to be acting for business clients.”


6. Aikins MacAulay & Thorvaldson LLP

Total Lawyers: 91   •   Offices: 1   •   Provinces: Manitoba   •   Lawyers by Office:  Winnipeg: 91

Core Practice Areas:
Business law; banking and finance; bankruptcy, insolvency, and corporate restructuring; construction; corporate; corporate finance; domestic and personal services; energy; environmental, health, and safety; First Nations and aboriginal; government relations; health care; intellectual property; insurance; litigation; mergers and acquisitions; privacy; real property; securities; taxation; technology; trust and estates; alternate dispute resolution; criminal; administrative law; immigration; labour and employment; municipal; pension; professional disciplinary/regulatory proceedings; and transportation.

Key Clients:
Air Canada; American International Group; Bank of Montreal; Boeing; Canadian Medical Protective Association; Canadian Wheat Board; CancerCare Manitoba; CIBC; Forest Products Association of Canada; Inco Ltd.; James Richardson & Sons; Louisiana-Pacific Canada; Manitoba Hydro; and Manitoba Lotteries Corporation.

Notable Mandates:
Represented McDiarmid Lumber Ltd. at the Supreme Court of Canada in April against God’s Lake First Nation; Winnipeg Airports Authority in a $250 million private placement bond issue; New Flyer Industries Inc. in connection with an $200 million initial public offering in Canada of income deposit securities; and $96 million and $87 million offerings of limited partnership units in a private equity fund for Richardson Partners Financial Limited.

Star Alumni:
Sir James A.M. Aikins, the founding president of the Canadian Bar Association and a lieutenant-governor of Manitoba; Supreme Court of Canada Justice Marshall Rothstein; former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada Brian Dickson; Federal Court Justice Eleanor Dawson; Manitoba Court of Appeal justices Barbara Hamilton and Martin Freedman; and Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Justice Marc Monnin.

Affiliations:
World Services Group.

The Firm:
Manitoba’s oldest and largest law firm — started in 1879 by the Canadian Bar Association’s founding president Sir James Aikins — Aikins MacAulay & Thorvaldson has a new feather in its cap, with former partner Marshall Rothstein’s recent appointment to the Supreme Court of Canada. “We’re very proud of that appointment,” says managing partner Edward Warkentin. The firm is also the alma mater of the late Brian Dickson, a former chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Notably, while other firms complain of lawyer retention problems, Aikins has welcomed back four lawyers in the past year. “They had gone to various places — one had gone to an in-house corporate counsel position, one into government, and one was overseas — a variety of different things but they’ve come back to the firm and resumed their private practice,” says Warkentin. “That’s a positive thing at a time when law firms are experiencing the retention and recruitment challenges. So we’ve been growing a little bit in that regard.” Now at 91 lawyers, the firm plans to grow from within, rather than by mergers, says Warkentin.


7. Farris Vaughan Wills & Murphy LLP
Total Lawyers: 80   •   Offices: 1   •   Provinces: British Columbia
Lawyers by Office: Vancouver: 80

Core Practice Areas:
Corporate/commercial; mergers and acquisitions; securities; banking; real estate; technology; biotechnology; litigation including corporate/commercial, defamation, class actions, and securities; and labour and employment law.

Key Clients:
British Columbia Lumber Trade Council; JTI-MacDonald; Toronto-Dominion Bank; UBC; BC Hydro; Terasen; TELUS; City of Vancouver; AON Reed Stenhouse; Minnesota Mining & Manufacturing Company (3M); Novus International Inc.; MacDonald Dettwiler & Associates Ltd.; QLT Inc.; and Aspreva Pharmaceuticals.

Notable Mandates:
Counsel to the B.C. Lumber Trade Council in the Canada-U.S. softwood lumber dispute; JTI-MacDonald with respect to the health care costs/damages action by the province of B.C.; TransLink in the successful close of the $1.05 billion Golden Ears Bridge project; Aritzia Holdings Inc. in their majority sale to Berkshire Partners LLC; AutoCanada Income Fund in its $102 million initial public offering; Pan Pacific Copper Co. Ltd. in its $137 million acquisition of Regalito Copper Corp.; and Crew Gold Corporation in its $400 million acquisition of Guinor Gold Corporation

Star Alumni:
Firm founder John Wallace deBeque Farris was an attorney general of B.C. and was appointed to the Senate in 1937; 10 of the firm’s lawyers have been appointed Queen’s Counsel.

Affiliations:
Lex Mundi.

The Firm:
Founded in 1903 by John Wallace deBeque Farris, Vancouver’s first city prosecutor and later  B.C.’s attorney general and a senator. He was one of the rare western Canadians who represented clients before the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the Supreme Court of Canada. In the 1950s and 1960s, John L. Farris assumed his father’s position as the pre-eminent barrister in the province, while partner Ernest B. Bull developed a significant corporate and commercial practice. Now at 80 lawyers, this diverse and substantial firm is involved in some of the most significant mandates and litigation in the province.

“We cut our teeth on rocks and trees and utilities. We understand the large scale, cross-border corporate deals,” says Cameron Belsher, a leader in the firm’s securities and corporate practice group. However, Farris has also developed a leading edge technology and biotech practice by going after the legal work of companies just as they are growing out of the start-up phase, representing 360 Networks and Aspreva Pharmaceuticals in the then largest cross-border tech IPO and biotech IPO respectively in Canadian history.

How do they win such coveted legal work over the national firms? “By being a local firm that’s over 100 years old that has established contacts and pays a lot of attention to generating business as a result of those contacts — it’s about networking,” says Belsher.  “It’s people we deal with and our people are leaders and have the contacts.”


8. Parlee McLaws LLP

Total Lawyers: 104   •   Offices: 2   •   Provinces: Alberta
Lawyers by Office: Edmonton: 67; Calgary: 37

Core Practice Areas:

Aboriginal; aviation; banking and financial services; commercial litigation; business services; commercial litigation; commercial real estate; insurance litigation; intellectual property and innovation; labour and employment; life and disability; natural resources; retail; securities; taxation services; wills; estates; and wealth management.

Key Clients:
7-Eleven Canada Inc.; APF Energy Trust; Bigstone Cree Nation Negotiating Team; Canadian Natural Resources Limited; Canadian Tire Corporation Ltd.; Cedarglen Homes; Prairie Mines and Royalty Ltd. (formerly Luscar Ltd.); the Calgary Herald; Canada Safeway; Canadian Football League Players Association; Edmonton Cracker Cats; Mark’s Work Wearhouse; Royop Corporation; Samson Cree Nation; and ViRexx Medical Corp.

Notable Mandates:
Counsel to ViRexx Medical Corp./AltaRex Medical Corp. for a plan of arrangement, SEC approval, and listing the company on the American Stock Exchange; Crossfire Holdings Inc. for the acquisition of three private oil & gas service companies and related equity and debt financing; Canadian Natural Resources Limited with respect to the issue and sale of $400 million in medium term notes; and filing of a base shelf prospectus to establish Canadian Natural Resources Limited’s $2 billion medium term notes program.

Star Alumni:
Former prime minister R.B. Bennett; senator Sir James Lougheed; Alberta attorney general John R. Boyle; former chief justices W.R. Howson, George O’Connor, and S. Bruce Smith; justices Howard Irving, Carolyn Phillips, Marguerite Trussler, Alec Murray, John Boyle, Gerald O’Connor, J. Boyd McBride, just to name a few.

Affiliations:
World Services Group; ALFA International.

The Firm:
Stemming from Calgary’s first law office established in 1883 by Sir James Lougheed and Edmonton’s first law office started by Sidney Taylor in 1889, today’s Parlee McLaws is the product of the 1986 merger of Edmonton’s Parlee firm with Calgary’s McLaws & Company. One of the largest and most respected commercial litigation and insurance defence practices in Alberta, Parlee McLaws is well known for its work. The firm recently added to its natural resources bench strength with its acquisition of the three-lawyer oil and gas boutique Swist & Co. “That’s been an exciting development for us and we think that will enable us to better serve the oil and gas industry generally,” says managing partner Terrence Cockrall, who says the firm has also grown its intellectual property and innovation group, with great success. “Last year, we added four lawyers who have doctorate degrees in varied areas of the health sciences, such as genetics, microbiology, and medical sciences like neurology,” he says, noting the firm also has two patents agents, four patent agent trainees, and five trademark agents. “That will allow us to really have a presence, not only in the health sciences area, but one of our senior patent lawyers is a petroleum engineer, another is an electrical engineer so we’re getting a wealth of talent in the area.” Last fall, the firm revisited its strategic plan, says Cockrall, who reports, “Our vision is to continue to build a strong regional law firm.”

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9. Field Law[/span]

Total Lawyers: 87  •  Offices: 3
Provinces: Alberta; Northwest Territories  •  Lawyers by Office: Edmonton: 52; Calgary: 33; Yellowknife: 2

Core Practice Areas:
Banking and finance; business; litigation; construction; education; energy and natural resources; First Nations; franchise; government relations; policy and legislation development; health care; immigration; information access and privacy; insurance; intellectual property and technology; labour and employment; municipal; occupational health and safety; pension and benefits; personal injury; professional regulatory; real property; security enforcement; bankruptcy and insolvency; sports and entertainment; surety; taxation; transactional and corporate; and wills, trusts, and estates.

Key Clients:
University of Alberta; The Alberta Teacher’s Association; Health Boards of Alberta Services; Albi Homes Ltd.; Carma Developers LP; Divestco Inc.; West Edmonton Mall; seven of nine Alberta Health Regions; and several major insurance companies and financial institutions.

Notable Mandates:
More than 850 plaintiffs in class action against the federal government and several churches for wrongs within the Aboriginal residential school system; more than 700 plaintiffs in wrongful sterilization claims against the Alberta government; the University of Alberta in its successful age-discrimination claim that went to the Supreme Court of Canada; and residential and commercial land acquisitions and development.

Star Alumni:
Justices Myra Bielby, Philip Clarke, Adele Kent, Stephen Hillier, William Girgulis, Peter Clark, Terry McMahon, Adelle Fruman, Ken Moore, Hugh John MacDonald; former chief justice of the trial division of the Supreme Court of Alberta Val Milvain, Arnold Blakey, Harry Maddison, and Lionel Jones; judges Doug McDonald, Sean Dunnigan, Judy Shriar, Russell Dzenick, John Dea, and Richard Marceau; and former Alberta minister of education Lou Hyndman.

Affiliations:
State Capital Law Firm Group.

The Firm:
With offices in Edmonton, Calgary, and Yellowknife, today’s 87-lawyer Field Law has community legal roots going back to 1915. More recently, Field & Field Perraton with offices in Edmonton and Calgary, and Atkinson Milvain of Calgary, merged as Field Atkinson Perraton in 1996. In 2001, the firm joined Yellowknife’s Williams & Company, changing its name to Field LLP in 2003. “Our firm has a strong institutional base so we act for clients like the University of Alberta, the health care system in Alberta, and several insurance firms,” says managing partner Robert Teskey. “Clearly some of the (law) firms that are national serve the same kind of clients, but we think that those clients are more comfortable with a firm that is clearly locally based and locally identified. We also act for clients who are somewhat more (billable) rate sensitive.” While the firm briefly considered opening offices in smaller Alberta centres, such as Fort McMurray and Red Deer, it has concluded clients in those areas can be more efficiently served out of the firm’s existing offices. The firm moves into larger office space in June 2007 in Calgary, clearing the way for the firm’s plan to double that office. “Five or six years ago, when there was the move to the national firms, there was an assumption then that the regional firms wouldn’t have a place in the market and that they were destined to wither and die,” says Teskey. “The fact is that we have found that there is a very strong place for us.”

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10. Alexander Holburn Beaudin & Lang LLP[/span]

Total Lawyers: 65   •   Offices: 1   •   Provinces: British Columbia   •   Lawyers by Office: Vancouver: 65

Core Practice Areas:

Insurance; health care; construction and engineering; professional liability; transportation; labour and employment; corporate/commercial; franchise; and intellectual property.

Key Clients:

International Forest Products Limited; H&R Block; Henry Company Canada Inc.; Stantec; Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia; Provincial Health Services Authority; Petro-Canada; Hudson’s Bay Company; British Columbia Automobile Association; Pacific Blue Cross; Toronto-Dominion Bank; Forbes Medi-Tech Inc.; and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway.

Notable Mandates:

Defends many of Insurance Corporation of British Columbia’s largest exposures including catastrophic injuries and multi-party claims; recently represented the interests of multi-national insurers in the provision of coverage and legal advice in relation to a billion-dollar claim in the energy sector.

Star Alumni:

As this firm is only 33 years old, many of its “stars”(i.e. William M. Holburn and Stuart F. Lang) are still there.

Affiliations:

Affiliated with Ong & Chung in Hong Kong; a member of a U.S.-based group of 16 law firms that share best practices; a member of the Law Firm Alliance, an international referral-only network of approximately 50 mid-sized law firms; and a founding member of the Affiliation of Risk Counsel of Canada.

The Firm:

Watch out for this young upstart: 33-year-old Alexander Holburn Beaudin & Lang LLP has 65 lawyers and is growing. Based in Vancouver, the firm has no plans to open new offices, though the firm has not yet completed its current strategic plan review, says managing partner David Garner. A strong litigation firm, AHBL works with the province’s health authorities to play a major role in the health care field, and offers one of Canada’s most complete multi-modal transportation practices in the aviation, railway, maritime and trucking sectors. Happy with its regional success, the firm plans to continue growing through mini-mergers with smaller firms and boutiques. “We’re not looking to grow into a national firm,” says Garner. “We think we’re a regional firm.” Staying regional helps alleviate the conflicts issue that is increasingly plaguing the overarching national firms, says Garner. Last year, AHBL inherited a major client from a national law firm when “in the middle of a deal,” the client bizarrely discovered that another of the national firm’s lawyers had preserved the limitation period so that a rival client could take action against them in future. “That’s not the first time I’ve heard that sort of story either,” says Garner. “You can’t have that — blowing hot and cold at the same time.”

  • RE: Winning the west

    Thiago daLuz
    There's a lot of turf in Vancouver to compete for, but I have my eye on the firm that's most impressed me the last couple of years. I think they'll be leading for a while.

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