For more than 128 years, lawyers at Ogilvy Renault LLP have provided legal services to the Montreal market. The firm has a presence in Ottawa; Quebec City; London, England; and Toronto, where it now has more than 140 lawyers. Managing partner Pierre Bienvenu talks about what makes his firm tick and where he sees the market heading.
How is your management structured?
The managing partner of the firm also chairs the executive committee of the firm. Then in our various offices, we have an office managing partner. We also have two co-chairs of the firm. I’m responsible for the overall strategy.
When did you assume the role?
I took over from my predecessor, Ray Crevier, in January 2005 and it’s a four-year term.
What’s the biggest challenge to managing this firm?
People are always a challenge in professional firms. For us, the biggest challenge is to build, foster, and preserve institutional loyalty and team focus, which really characterizes our culture. We pride ourselves on the distinctive aspect of our culture. We are very much a consensus firm. We don’t vote, we decide by consensus. We consider our clients to be clients of the firm, not of individual lawyers and that really [affects] all of our decisions and management practices. Our challenge is to compete externally, not internally, and to compete as a team, not as a collection of individuals. My job is to communicate that message and reinforce that message.
You don’t vote? How does that impact decision-making and communications with other offices?
It can lengthen the time it takes to come to a decision. I think you will see in firms built on a consensus model that usually their governance structure is quite centralized. Nevertheless, we have means to consult our partners on major issues and it works out well. As we grow as a firm, communication becomes crucial to preserve that model.
You’ve built a Toronto office. How has that gone?
For us, a very important challenge was the establishment of a credible presence in Toronto. That has been the focus for us in the recent past. We built the office from the ground through greenfield. It is only when we are confident that people have bought into our culture that we contemplate bringing in a group. I think we are very proud of our deal flow and we are working on furthering our penetration.
You also closed your Vancouver office. What went wrong?
Vancouver was an office in which we only had employment and labour. We didn’t have our core business law practice. As you know, we came to an agreeable and amicable parting of the ways. We have arrangements and are still close to our former colleagues in Vancouver.
What about expansion and building a national platform?
For the moment our footprint does stop in Ontario. We are nevertheless present and very strong in two very important markets, Montreal and Toronto. Obviously Calgary is on our radar screen, as it is on everyone’s radar screen. I think there seems to be a consensus that it is very difficult to enter Calgary by greenfield. We have been able to service our clients nationally. It has not been an obstacle.
What’s the biggest challenge to your home market, Montreal?
Montreal, like Toronto, is very competitive and the challenge is to further continue to attract quality work and quality people. I think the magic formula for us is to be true to what we are and capitalize on our strengths and not try to imitate others.
You have a London office and we recently saw Faskens merge with a London firm. Where do you see Canadian law firms in five to seven years?
That’s a constant looking in the crystal ball. It’s always interesting to see the moves and decisions our competitors are making. We see global firms working for global clients. We’ve seen U.S. firms closing their offices after a very quick international expansion. There is a general consensus that large U.S. and U.K. firms do not have Canada on their radar screen, at least as a place to establish a presence. Canada is seen as a market that’s well serviced. I think that [foreign] firms prefer to establish and maintain relationships with established firms here.