Last year’s ratification of a deal allowing lawyers to practise across common and civil law jurisdictions is seen as a boon for Quebec’s regional law firms. The national mobility agreement, expected to be fully implemented this year, will make it easier for the province’s lawyers to work wherever their clients need to be.
The development comes as Quebec firms are increasingly vying for work with firms in other provinces. “Regional firms in Ontario, British Columbia, and Alberta are all becoming our competition more and more,” says Chantal Chatelain, managing partner of Langlois Kronström Desjardins LLP.
The province’s lawyers benefit from some distinct advantages, she believes, not least their European connections. “We have the advantage of being bilingual — unlike firms in other provinces like Ontario,” she says. Fees also tend to be lower in Quebec, and the bijuridical system encourages creativity, she adds. “We have more pots to pick from, to come up with inventive ideas for our clients. That gives us an advantage.”
But the requirement for fluent French- and English-speaking lawyers can pose a challenge for Quebec firms, admits Don McCarty, Lavery de Billy LLP’s managing partner. “There aren’t as many [fully bilingual candidates] as we’d like to see,” he says.
Despite gloomy economic forecasts, there is no shortage of optimism among senior law firm figures. Desjardins Economics has predicted the province’s gross domestic product will grow by just 1.8 per cent in 2014, well behind the national average of 2.3 per cent. But Mario Charpentier, managing partner of BCF LLP, sees bright spots in areas such as information technology and aerospace. He highlights the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the European Union as being “hugely important” to Quebec firms, many of which have French clients.
Charpentier is also buoyed by the “huge pool of talent in Montreal,” spilling out of the city’s highly regarded universities. Some of the big-name talent recruited by his firm recently has come from national competitors including Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP and Norton Rose Fulbright. A regional firm that can offer competitive remuneration and a more flexible approach is a strong proposition from a hiring perspective, he believes.
With the shuttering of Heenan Blaikie, which has its roots in Montreal, quite a few regional firms have taken in some of those lawyers and bulked up their numbers including BCF, LKD, and Lavery.
From a client’s point of view, Quebec’s regional firms still feel they have the upper hand when it comes to value, compared to national rivals. Although many of the latter have been forced to reduce fees in recent years, they haven’t yet dropped to the level of Quebec’s regional firms, argues Chatelain. “There’s a big difference. Sometimes it’s almost double the price.”
McCarty agrees. “I don’t think the extreme cost in a national firm is always worth what they say it is,” he argues.
As Imperial Tobacco Canada Ltd.’s former general counsel, McCarty has insight into the ways regional firms can stand out, for example by actively looking for cost savings and keeping communication channels open via regular updates and secondments. This kind of approach will help his regional firm to convince clients they do not need a legal partner with an office in every city, he believes.
Read on to find the full list of Quebec’s top regional firms. Their 2012 positions are noted in parentheses.
1. Lavery de Billy (1)
Total lawyers: 176
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 153; Quebec City, 19; Ottawa, 4
Core practice areas: Business transactions/mergers and acquisitions; taxation; litigation and dispute resolution; labour and employment; financing and financial services
Key clients: CH Group Ltd. Partnership; Osisko Mining Corp.; Fédération des caisses Desjardins du Québec; Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.; National Bank of Canada; Fiera Axium Infrastructure Inc.
Notable mandates: Represented Chambre des notaires du Quebec and Barreau du Quebec in Canada-wide litigation to exempt lawyers from provisions of the Proceeds of Crime (Money Laundering) and Terrorist Financing Act; represented Demilec Inc. and affiliates in the sale of most of the group’s assets to companies controlled by Sun Capital Partners Inc.; counsel for the province of Quebec in $796-million acquisition by Hecia Mining Co. of Aurizon Mines Ltd.; represented Industrial Alliance in renewal of $1-billion base shelf prospectus.
Star alumni: Supreme Court of Canada Justice Richard Wagner; Quebec Court of Appeal justices Lorne Giroux and Jacques Chamberland; Sean Finn, executive vice president, corporate services, and chief legal officer of Canadian National Railway; Pamela McGovern, general counsel of Hydro-Québec; Eric Stevenson, superintendent, client services and distribution oversight, Autorité des marchés financiers; Caroline Ferland, VP, corporate and regulatory affairs, Imperial Tobacco Canada; Anne-Marie Papineau, senior legal counsel, Cirque du Soleil; François Lavallée, SVP legal affairs, financial markets and wealth management, National Bank Financial; Isabelle Gosselin, associate GC, Labatt Brewing Co.; Patrick Buchholz, VP, legal affairs and assistant secretary, Gesca Ltée.
Affiliations: World Services Group
The firm: Lavery celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2013. Its roots can be traced back to 1913, when Onésime Gagnon and Maurice Dupré founded the firm of Dupré & Gagnon in Quebec City. The firm was to evolve and later merge into Lavery de Billy. Two of Lavery’s other predecessor firms were Audette and Lorrain, founded in 1926 in Montreal, and Tansey de Grandpré & de Grandpré, founded in 1949. In 1979, these two firms merged to become Lavery O’Brien, before joining Gagnon, de Billy, Cantin, Beaudoin, Lesage & Associés of Quebec City in 1991, becoming Lavery de Billy. In 2007, 34 lawyers and 60 staff members of Desjardins Ducharme’s Montreal office joined Lavery. A respondent praised Lavery’s “consistently excellent client service.”
2. BCF LLP (4)
Total Lawyers: 164
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 118; Quebec City, 41; Sept-Iles, 2; Barbados, 3
Core practice areas: Mergers and acquisitions; tax; corporate finance and banking; commercial law; commercial litigation
Key clients: Groupe BMR; Bombardier Aeronautique; Quebecor; Mouvement Desjardins; RBC; CGI
Notable mandates: Acted for Groupe BMR for the conclusion of a commercial agreement with La Coop Fédérée, which through its Unimat banner, is acquiring a minority interest in Groupe BMR. Acted for RCI Environnement Inc. in its acquisition by Waste Management Québec, a subsidiary of Waste Management, to form Quebec’s largest waste management firm; acted for Denis Lefrançois, co-founder, former president, and main shareholder of Solotech in the sale of his participation in the corporation to Claridge, Desjardins Capital de Risque, and Investissement Québec; acted for TVA Group Inc. in the acquisition of two companies.
Star alumni: Bombardier senior legal counsel Nadia Martel; Quebecor Media assistant secretary and main legal counsel Christian Marcoux; Yellow Pages Group Co. director, legal affairs, Marie-Josee Lapierre.
The firm: BCF was established in 1995 under the name Brouillette Charpentier Fournier in Montréal. It grew rapidly and opened an office in Québec City in 2001. It changed its name to BCF in 2005, preceding a decade-long period of expansion, with substantial additions made to personnel, offices, and technical resources. BCF also opened an office in Barbados in 2011, and continued growing with the opening of an office in Sept-Iles, in the eastern part of the province. In February it expanded again, taking on a group of 26 lawyers from Heenan Blaikie’s Quebec offices.
BCF was rated for its “breadth of practice and innovative approach” by one respondent.
3. Cain Lamarre Casgrain Wells LLP (3)
Total lawyers: 167
Lawyers by office: Quebec City, 34; Montreal, 32; Saguenay, 30; Alma, 6; Roberval, 3; Saint-Félicien, 3; Sherbrooke, 6; Drummondville, 7; Plessisville, 1; Rimouski, 10; Riviere-du-Loup, 7; Amqui, 1; Sept-Iles, 7; Val-d’Or, 11; Rouyn-Noranda: 4; Amos, 2; Saint-Georges, 3
Core practice areas: Commercial and corporate affairs; banking and finance; labour and employment law; native affairs; public administration (health and social services)
Key clients: Financial institutions; public administration (health care institutions, municipalities, public institutions); First Nations; telecommunications carriers; transportation companies; companies operating in the energy and natural resources sector
Notable mandates: A number of pre-development agreements between First Nations and mining companies; social and economic partnership agreements for First Nations groups; obtained favourable rulings in lawsuits covering defamation, labour law, and constitutional law; Ville de Saguenay v. Mouvement laïque québécois.
Star alumni: Former Canadian ambassador to France and Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard; Quebec Superior Court justices France Bergeron, Martin Dallaire, and Robert Dufresne.
Affiliations: SCG Legal; TAGLaw
The firm: Cain Lamarre Casgrain Wells is the result of the merger in 1999 of three firms. Cain Lamarre Wells, founded in 1928 in Chicoutimi, was the oldest law firm in Saguenay/Lac-Saint-Jean. Gauthier Nepveu Leblanc Brouillette, which opened its doors in Sept-Îles in 1951, was one of the most important players in the development of the North Shore. Casgrain Desrosiers Lévesque Bujold Villeneuve, a trusted name in Rimouski since 1877, was one of Canada’s oldest law firms. The new firm set up shop in Montreal and Quebec City, then opened offices across Quebec. A respondent ranked the firm tops for its “great client service.”
4. Langlois Kronström Desjardins (2)
Total lawyers: 99
Lawyers by office: Quebec City, 47; Montreal, 52
Core practice areas: Insurance law; business law; civil and commercial litigation; employment and labour law; transportation law
Key clients: Intact Insurance; Canadian National Railway; Desjardins Group; Canadian Royalties; Telus
Notable mandates: Currently defending Desjardins in various class actions instituted in Quebec, B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Ontario; acts for the Quebec provincial judges association in relation to compensation issues.
Star alumni: Former Quebec chief justice Michel Robert; Chief Justice Pierre Blais of the Federal Court of Appeal; former Quebec Court of Appeal justices René Dussault and Paul-Arthur Gendreau; Quebec Superior Court Justice Bernard Godbout.
The firm: Lawyer William Morin opened his law firm in 1916 and in 1957 the firm welcomed Leopold Langlois as a partner. He developed a specialization in maritime law, which is still a hallmark of the firm today. Langlois’ son Raynold joined the team in 1964 and presided over the growth of the firm. After a series of mergers and acquisitions, the firm officially became Langlois Kronström Desjardins in 2003. It added 10 lawyers from Heenan Blaikie in Febraury.
5. Robinson Sheppard Shapiro LLP (5)
Total lawyers: 76
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 76
Core practice areas: Business law; litigation; insurance law; transportation law; labour law
Key clients: Burger King Corp.; National Bank of Canada; Fonds d’assurance-responsabilité Professionnelle de la Chambre des notaires du Québec; Stericycle Inc.; Société de Vin Internationale Ltée; Underwriters at Lloyd’s
Notable mandates: Representing the world’s leading independent provider of integrated aviation services in the acquisition of the assets of the former Component Repair Business of Aveos Fleet Performance Inc.; representing a Canadian beverage producer in an intellectual property matter; representing insurers in tobacco litigation.
Star alumni: David Shapiro, vice president and general counsel, Air Canada; Superior Court of Quebec justices France Dulude, François Duprat, and Karen Kear-Jodoin; Jean-François Fortin, executive director, enforcement, Autorités des Marchés Financiers.
Affiliations: International Lawyers Network
The firm: RSS was founded in 1921 by Benjamin Robinson and Joseph Shapiro. Their sons, Jonathan Robinson and Barry Shapiro, still practise at RSS. Until the arrival of Claude-Armand Sheppard in 1959, the firm served a primarily anglophone business clientele. Since the early 1960s, the firm has diversified to become a full service law firm with an increasing number of important francophone and Quebec-based business clients.
“Full service. Superb lawyers,” offers up one respondent.
6. De Grandpré Chait LLP (6)
Total lawyers: 70
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 70
Core practice areas: Real estate; litigation; business; construction; taxation
Key clients: AGF Group; BlueBridge Wealth Management; BTB Real Estate Investment Trust; Groupe Canam; Loblaws/Provigo Distribution Inc.; RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust
Notable mandates: Represented RioCan, SmartCentres, BTB Investment Trust, Canadian Real Estate Investment Trust (CREIT), OP Trust, Capital BLF, and several corporations of the retail industry in real estate transactions; participated in the transfer of Quebec assets owned by Loblaws and Provigo to REIT Choice Properties; conversion of a publicly traded company into a real estate investment trust; multi-million share purchase and investment by Investment Québec and Fonds de solidarité des travailleurs du Québec in a major Québec steel company; multi-million acquisition of a British Colombia road construction company by the Canadian subsidiary of a European construction company; co-counsel for plaintiffs in a class action trial in the Province of Québec against the principal Canadian tobacco companies.
Star alumni: Quebec Court justices Normand Amyot, Daniel Bourgeois, and Gilles Lareau; Quebec Superior Court justices Yves Poirier, Carol Cohen, Christiane Alary, and Martin Castonguay; Judge Christian Tremblay of the Cour du Quebec.
Affiliations: Interlaw, Lexwork
The firm: De Grandpré Chait arose from the 1999 merger of two law firms, De Grandpré Godin and Chait Amyot. In 1928, Samuel Chait started practising in real estate law. Following the consolidation of five Montreal-based firms, De Grandpré Godin was founded in 1966 by Pierre De Grandpré to create the largest French-speaking law firm in Canada. Today, the firm carries out high-profile litigation and sees itself as the only true one-stop real estate outfit in the province.
7. Stein Monast LLP (8)
Total lawyers: 53
Lawyers by office: Quebec City, 53
Core practice areas: Corporate law and financing; commercial law; securities; civil and professional liability; insurance
Key clients: Bridgestone Canada Inc.; Chartis; Desjardins Venture Capital; Groupe Le Massif; National Bank of Canada; Roynat Inc.
Notable mandates: Acting for the CHU Sainte-Justine over unsecured debentures to finance the construction of the hospital centre’s new parking facility; acquisition by Congebec Logistics Inc. of the assets of Westco MultiTemp Distribution Centres Inc. (assets located in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta); filing on behalf of Nemaska Lithium Inc. of a base shelf prospectus for the offering and issue, over 25 months, of shares, securities, subscription receipts, and warrants with an aggregate offering price of up to $1 million; counsel in Supreme Court of Canada ruling in Lévesque v. R.
Star alumni: Quebec Superior Court justices Bruno Bernard, Lise Bergeron, Jacques Blanchard, Jean-Francois Émond, and Alicia Soldevila; Quebec Court Justice Jean Asselin; former Canadian Bar Association president Paule Gauthier; former Quebec premier Jean Lesage; former prime minister Louis St. Laurent.
Affiliations: Risk Management Counsel of Canada
The firm: Stein Monast is the successor of Stein Monast Pratte & Marseille, a Quebec City firm that was founded in 1957. It partnered with Montreal’s Desjardins Ducharme from 1992 to 2007, and is now operating from its Quebec City offices throughout the province of Quebec.
8. LaPointe Rosenstein Marchand Melançon LLP (7)
Total lawyers: 70
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 70
Core practice areas: Corporate and commercial; civil and commercial litigation; taxation and estate planning; insurance
Key clients: Canadian and international entrepreneurs and institutions in a wide range of industries, including retail; manufacturing; insurance; financial; information technology; hydroelectric and wind energy; shipping and transportation
Notable mandates: Representing a joint venture created by Campus Crest Communities Inc. and Beaumont Partners SA to acquire the Delta Centre-Ville Hotel in Montreal; representing Energizer Holdings Inc., in connection with the acquisition of feminine hygiene brands from McNeil PPC Inc. and Johnson & Johnson Inc.; co-ordination of the defence of the Sino-Forest Corp. class actions in Ontario, Quebec, and the U.S., on behalf of Pöyry (Beijing) Management Consulting Ltd. and its related entities; representing vendors in sale of their interest in the Magpie hydroelectric power project in northern Quebec.
Star alumni: Yvon Jasmin, bâtonnier of Quebec Bar and Montreal Bar; Superior Court of Quebec Justice Pierre Jasmin.
The firm: Lapointe Rosenstein Marchand Melançon is the result of the 2010 merger of two well-established firms, Lapointe Rosenstein and Marchand Melançon Forget. The firm has developed an international presence and practice in order to better serve its clients, and offers legal services in more than 12 languages.
“They’re fully bilingual, and very strong in commercial corporate and litigation,” says a senior in-house lawyer at a large Quebec-based company. “All firms have bilingual services but to be fully bilingual — there aren’t that many,” the lawyer adds.
9. Bélanger Sauvé (new entry)*
Total lawyers: 47
Lawyers by office: Montreal; Trois-Rivieres; Joliette
Core practice areas: Administrative law; insurance; civil litigation; commercial law
Key clients: unavailable
Notable mandates: unavailable
Star alumni: unavailable
The firm: Bélanger Sauvé was formed in 1967 by the merger of two Montreal law firms dating back more than 50 years. The firm has expanded and its clientele includes a large number of individuals, corporations, and public institutions.
*Info taken from web site
10. Joli-Coeur Lacasse Avocats (10)
Total lawyers: 94
Lawyers by office: Quebec, 58; Montreal, 32; Trois-Rivieres, 4
Core practice areas: Business law; administrative law; civil liability; real estate; bankruptcy and insolvency
Key clients: Principally private companies; non-profit organizations; co-operatives; associations; health establishments; municipalities; professional associations; financial institutions
Notable mandates: Confidential.
Star alumni: Quebec Superior Court justices Clément Samson, Marc St-Pierre, and
Alain Bolduc; Tribunal administratif du Québec Judge Marie Charest; former Tribunal du travail du Québec judge Gilles Plante; Lyne Thériault at the Commission des relations de travail-Quebec.
Affiliations: Pannone Law Group
The firm: Founded in 1983 in Quebec City, the firm merged in 1997 with Pouliot L’Ecuyer, a Quebec City firm, and with Lozeau L’Africain of Montreal. A couple of years ago, partners of Quebec City’s Grondin Poudrier Bernier Avocats SENCRL joined the firm.
April 3 correction: De Grandpré Chait alumunus Christian Tremblay is a judge of the Cour du Quebec