Law firm success has always been based on building solid relationships with clients, but as he takes on his new role of CEO at one of Canada’s largest law firms, David Leonard knows it needs to go to another level in today’s climate.
Over the last few years, McCarthy Tétrault LLP has brought on former in-house lawyers Helen Fotinos in the area of franchise law, and chief client officer Judith McKay, former general counsel of DuPont, to be the direct points of contact who have experience in those in-house roles.
“We recognize the value in developing those relationships, so bringing in those people who have sat in those chairs is one strategy,” says Leonard, who took over as CEO April 1 following the departure of Marc-André Blanchard to the United Nations in January.
“We also often enter into fairly creative arrangements with clients to second our people into in-house groups,” he says, adding it meets the immediate needs of the client group and improves relationships at the right level.
“That is going to continue to be a focus of ours,” he says.
McCarthys has also ventured into alternative arrangements with other legal service providers such as Axiom Cognition and Exigent Group Ltd., a legal processing outsourcing firm.
“This is what our clients want — they want us to figure out the most effective, efficient way for us to deliver top-notch legal services, and the stuff that isn’t core to our business, they want us to figure out how can we help them do that, too,” says Leonard. “Some of the relationships we’ve developed with the legal process outsourcers have all been around that.”
Leonard says the firm has also tried to drive a “culture of innovation” to better serve clients. It has a project management platform and “client service innovation group” that has project managers and pricing people as part of the team putting together plans for each client.
A litigator who has spent his entire career at McCarthys, Leonard says his experience gives him an edge because his clients have hired him to come in when they have a problem, figure out that piece of business where there is a problem, and then find a solution.
“It’s that skillset that I’m going to bring to other practice areas in our firm. I think I’m uniquely positioned because I understand our client service, our business, and I’m going to help our great people continue to do that for our clients,” he says.
Leonard will oversee more than 550 lawyers and the operations of all six McCarthy Tétrault offices in Canada and the United Kingdom. In a press release announcing his appointment, the firm said Leonard will “play an integral role leading the firm, driving growth in current Canadian markets, while expanding a footprint internationally and into new markets.”
But that doesn’t mean opening new offices. Leonard says in looking at how to grow revenues and profitability, the focus is on the United States and in London (where the firm has an office) to leverage existing relationships with clients and other law firms to see if there is work to be driven to Canada such as cross-border class action litigation.
“Some of our people are also able to follow our clients, expanding beyond Canadian borders, and do deals with them in other jurisdictions so we will continue to push in that regard,” he says. “We’re not going to start running around opening offices in Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles. It’s really about our people here who have relationships with the U.S. firms and building on that.”
Leonard acknowledges it is a difficult time for the legal market, but says, “what comes out of challenges are opportunities and there are a lot of opportunities ahead with our clients in how we are delivering our services and structuring our firm and people to deliver services.”
The announcement follows a partners’ ratification vote that gave Leonard overwhelming support.
Leonard joined McCarthys as an associate in the litigation group in 1994 after he finished his articles at the firm. He became an income partner in 2001 and an equity partner in 2003. In 2011, he was appointed litigation practice lead for the Toronto office, and in 2012, he was appointed litigation national practice group leader.