New advisory firm combines legal, communications heavy-hitters

A new firm helmed by a well-known governance and business lawyer and three communications veterans is billing itself as first-of-its-kind in Canada.

The founding partners of Hansell McLaughlin Advisory are (l to r): David Scott, Ron McLaughlin, Carol Hansell, Peter Block. Hansell McLaughlin Advisory will be led by Carol Hansell, senior partner of Hansell LLP, Ron McLaughlin, David Scott, and Peter Block. The professional services firm is combining legal, government, and media expertise in one shop.

It aims to work with clients as they hit roadblocks in terms of their reputations, or with assessing risk and maneuvering through the regulatory environment.

“Businesses sometimes focus on the issue at hand, without taking into account the wider scope of what might impact them or what might affect them,” says Block, one of the founding principals. “We’re that wider scope.”

Block, a former vice president of communications at Maple Leaf Foods, says if an organization is facing a significant issue — whether positive or negative — “by putting all the related services under one roof, it makes it a lot easier.

“If a company is facing a particular legal issue and they can resolve that legal issue, that’s obviously important, but if that triggers a reputational challenge, or if that triggers the government looking and saying, ‘Wait a minute, we don’t like what you’re doing, we’re going to change regulations,’ those are the wider implications of the broader issues that could affect a client,” he says.

The other principals Hansell, whose experience includes being former chairwoman of the corporate governance committee of the American Bar Association. She’s also current chair of the Business Law Advisory Council, struck earlier this year to guide the Ontario government.

Hansell and Block are joined by McLaughlin, a former chief of staff to Ontario premier Mike Harris, with long-time experience consulting in the private and public sectors, and Scott, a former vice president and practice lead for National Public Relations. The new firm is affiliated with the law firm Hansell LLP.

“[I] think it’s a different concept than exists in other firms,” Hansell tells Legal Feeds.

“Typically, when somebody needs communications advice, you hire somebody on the communications side, you need [government relations], you hire somebody on the GR side, but what that doesn’t let you do is to stop the issues right at the beginning and provide guidance to the clients at the critical time, as opposed to further down the path. The plan here is to provide a more integrated kind of advice to the client, so we’re able to cover them from all sides from the beginning of the matter.”

Block says clients will benefit from having legal insight and communications insight combined on one team.

“You do lose things in translation when you start having different people working with different firms . . . so having it all together, and having the ability to bring it altogether, will be enormously helpful,” says Block.

Not every client may be seeking legal advice, notes Block.

“If somebody comes to us and says, ‘Look, we just need communications advice, we don’t need any legal advice or government relations advice,’ that’s fine. There are times along the way though in communications work that all of the sudden, you get tripped up on something on a legal matter and even if we’re not formally working with the law firm side on a particular [mandate], the fact that I can walk five feet down the hall and speak to a lawyer . . . is also a real plus,” says Block.

For example, Block says he expects in terms of risk planning and management, issues around environmental sustainability will be “huge.”

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