“The competitive landscape has changed a lot in the last five years,” acknowledges Stuart (Kip) Cobbett, chief operating officer of Stikeman Elliott LLP and managing partner of the firm’s Montreal office.
“It has caused a lot more dynamic market,” Cobbett says. “Ultimately, competition is good because it sharpens everyone’s game. Our firm has never been busier.”
Norman Steinberg, co-chairman of Ogilvy Renault LLP, agrees the introduction of two national firms in 2001 — Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP as well as Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP — has been a boon, particularly to the city’s major firms.
The biggest firms aren’t the only ones taking advantage of what de Grandpré Chait LLP managing partner Marc Rubin calls the stabilization of the legal landscape.
|Quebec economy strong
“The Quebec economy has been quite strong and there’s a positive business climate,” says Rubin, who also heads the real estate arm of the 70-lawyer regional independent firm.
“The marketplace is well covered by national firms and strong independent firms,” he adds. “There’s room for both types of players.”
Jauvin suggests boutique and mid-size firms “have to focus on our areas of strength and what we want to develop; recognize our forte.”
End of greenfielding?
Most see an end to greenfielding into Montreal from Toronto or other Canadian cities.
“There’s no buzz in the marketplace about another Toronto firm coming,” according to Rubin. “We’re probably not going to see many more, if any. We don’t see any need to hook up with a Toronto-based firm.”
Pierre Sauvé — the managing partner at Bélanger Sauvé, formed by the 1967 merger of two Montreal firms — says, “There are lots of rumours about us, but we have no plans [to merge].”
Jauvin predicts if there are any more mergers, “It will be the consolidation of mid-point independents who don’t have the financial means to fight mergers.”
As far as work for everyone, Vautour admits lots of businesses have disappeared due to reasons such as globalization, but is quick to add: “There is an emergence, a new wave of businesses in the regions — entrepreneurs who are susceptible to grow and expand outside Quebec in the coming years.”
Cobbett at Stikemans also stresses there are still “significant corporate players around,” listing Bombardier, Quebecor, Air Canada, Gildan Activewear, and Garda World Security Corporation as some of the many examples of companies that maintain head offices in Montreal.
Head office decline
An analytical paper released by Statistics Canada last July entitled Head Office Employment in Canada, 1999 to 2005, states the number of headquarters in Montreal shrank from 596 to 536 during that seven-year period.
But the authors pointed out Montreal continues to be the country’s second most important head office center after Toronto — with Calgary rising quickly.
“Between 1999 and 2001, head office employment in Montreal declined, but since 2001 these losses have been fully recovered,” Desmond Beckstead and W. Mark Brown wrote in their 19-page report.
Although the revival wasn’t strong enough for Montreal to regain its 1999 23-per-cent share of head office employment, they said it had a 21-per-cent share in 2005.
Montreal is also home to more than 60 prestigious world organizations ranging from the International Civil Aviation Organization and International Business Aviation Council to the Asbestos Institute and SITA, a leading service provider of IT business solutions and communications services to the air transport industry.
The industries still driving the local economy are aerospace, information and communication technologies, life sciences, and manufacturing — even though Jauvin says he has closed more plants than he has opened of late.
All agree another key to survival for firms big and small is keeping star staff. Even the industry giants aren’t immune to losing their best and brightest either.
“A lot of very smart, committed young kids are coming out of the law schools [an average of 900 a year graduate from the Barreau du Québec bar school] and the trouble is keeping them,” says Cobbett. “We’ve lost
some very good young lawyers to firms in Paris, London, and Singapore.”
Barbara Shore of Shore & Associates, which specializes in the staffing of senior in-house counsel positions and the strategic recruitment of lateral hires for law firms in Montreal, says the lure of working overseas has become much more accessible for junior and intermediate associates with top skills.
“In addition to the fact that international firms compete with local firms in on-campus recruitment of new grads, legal recruiters are also retained by the major international firms to recruit associates for their office,” she says.
“Keeping star staff has become a complex issue. Law firms are working hard to retain and keep their star performers motivated and committed,” Shore says. “Legal career options are vast and varied. Luring lawyers from one firm to another is more aggressive, and with the recognized acceptance of legal recruiters, the task of identifying and attracting the best is effectively outsourced.”