Clients value local knowledge and collaborative nature of leading firms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan
Canadian Lawyer’s top 10 Prairies regional law firms fulfil a wide variety of client needs, ranging from labour and employment issues to IP, M&A and even governance matters. Voted by readers as the top five firms from Manitoba and the top five from Saskatchewan, these firms are a cut above the rest in terms of their local knowledge and attention to detail, according to in-house counsel clients.
Included in the top five in both our Manitoba and Saskatchewan categories, MLT Aikins LLP has offices in Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, and it prides itself on a deep knowledge of the unique legal and business landscape of western Canada. One key client, Exchange Income Corporation, has a long-running history with the firm as some of the founders of the corporation were former Aikins, MacAulay & Thorvaldson LLP lawyers.
EIC retains the firm for a variety of work ranging from M&A to security compliance work and filing requirements with the Toronto Stock Exchange. The firm also helps with labour and employment, intellectual property and real estate matters.
“They’ve worked with us for so long and developed such a relationship with us that they have a really deep understanding of our business,” says Steven Stennett, chief legal officer at EIC, an acquisition company focused on the aerospace, aviation and manufacturing sectors.
“They not only understand the sector but also the kind of approach we take to our business, which is very important when we’re trying to get acquisitions across the finish line,” says Stennett.
Sheldon Stener, general counsel and corporate secretary at Federated Co-operatives Ltd., has worked with MLT Aikins for 13 years and he appreciates the full service that it offers.
“They understand our business,” says Stener. “Co-operative organizations are different from other corporations, so it’s important that our firms understand the co-operative model and the differences and distinctions that apply to a co-op and our geographic footprint across Canada.” As FCL supports other co-ops that serve people across western Canada, a priority is to procure legal services from western Canadian law firms.
Also included in our top 10 list on the Manitoba side, Pitblado Law is a full-service business law firm serving local, national and international clients and has been operating for more than 137 years, with offices in Winnipeg and Arborg, Man.
Among its many clients, Pitblado works with the Teachers’ Retirement Allowances Fund on matters including privacy opinions, governance issues, employment issues and, more recently, for corporate commercial work.
“We use them on a regular basis to review our governance practices,” says Kaely Zettel, vice president, legal at TRAF. “They give us opinions on board responsibilities, and they look at fiduciary duties of our board in relation to our governing legislation. As a statutory corporation, TRAF does not have its own bylaws and is governed by the Teachers’ Pensions Act, so Pitblado’s services on legislative issues are highly valued.
“As a pension plan, we are always conscious of keeping our legal fees in check, so we like the fact that Pitblado is reasonably priced and they have counsel at different levels to do appropriate work,” says Zettel. While some matters are handled by associates or paralegals, partners deal with more complex matters. “We always know we’re going to get great legal counsel for a great price,” says Zettel.
“Pitblado provides a quality service and they are also very responsive and very timely in getting the work done,” says Philip Watts, general counsel at Winnipeg-based global software solution provider Rapid RTC – part of the DMT group of companies. Watts has worked with Pitblado for around four years, and he calls upon the firm for such matters as corporate privacy, software, employment and finance deals. Pitblado recently helped Rapid RTC with a private equity buy-in.
Miller Thomson LLP was voted as one of the top five firms in the Saskatchewan region. The national firm boasts two Saskatchewan offices — in Regina and Saskatoon — among its 12 offices across Canada. Calgary-based Ensign Energy Services Inc. regularly calls upon the Saskatchewan offices for employment law and litigation matters.
“We’ve had a number of employment claims, constructive dismissal and human rights complaints, which Miller Thomson represented us on,” says Justin Louie, legal counsel at Ensign. “They are very responsive and collaborative. I like to be involved in terms of analysis and coming up with strategy, and I always find they are very accommodating with brainstorming and addressing my concerns.” The pandemic crisis further exacerbated the already struggling oil and gas industry, giving rise to an increase in layoffs and terminations at Ensign, so Louie is navigating severance obligations and issues surrounding constructive dismissal with guidance from Miller Thomson.
Federal Crown corporation Farm Credit Canada is another client of Miller Thomson, having worked with the firm for at least 15 years. In addition to recovery work, the firm helps FCC with general corporate advice and drafting legal documents for large transactions.
“I enjoy working with Miller Thomson because they provide good, practical legal advice for us, especially on our transactional work,” says Michael Beaulne, legal counsel at FCC. “The lawyers are really good communicators and they just really understand how FCC operates.” The firm also has a quoting system for legal fees that Beaulne finds to be helpful.
Miller Thomson recently helped FCC to review its mortgage terms in every province across Canada, which was a very successful project, according to FCC’s vice president, law and corporate secretary, Megan Dolo.
The longstanding partnership also recently led to a lawyer from Miller Thomson working on secondment at FCC.
“That was great because he took his knowledge and his connections with the company back with him, so now he has that insider’s perspective to the advice he gives us,” says Dolo. “It’s always helpful to work with professionals who know your industry.”
1. Fillmore Riley LLP
Total lawyers: 70 lawyers
Offices (with # of lawyers): Winnipeg (70) Core practice areas: Banking and finance, business law, insurance, litigation, real estate and commercial development and tax and wealth management
Key clients: Royal Bank of Canada, Public Utilities Board of Manitoba, Richardson International Limited, Dufresne Spencer Group, Canada Life and lead Manitoba counsel for multiple major insurance companies
Notable mandates: Acted as counsel for TransX Group of Companies, one of Canada’s largest and oldest transportation companies, in the first trucking acquisition of scale by Canadian National Railway Company; acted for Cabot Corporation on the sale by Cabot Corporation of its Specialty Fluids Business to Sinomine (Hong Kong) Rare Metals Resources Co. Limited for $135 million; acted as counsel for Dufresne Spencer Group Holdings, LLC on five acquisitions in 2018-2019, resulting in 50 new stores; acted as co-counsel for the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs in the MMIWG inquiry, including development of submission for standing, planning and preparation for hearing process and acting as hearing counsel
Star alumni: Justice Shelley Fitzpatrick, Supreme Court of British Columbia; Justice David Kroft, Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench; Master Shayne Berthaudin, Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench; retired justice Susan Devine, Provincial Court of Manitoba; retired Manitoba Court of Appeal justice Alan Philp; Steven Kroft, CEO, Conviron; Jean-Marc Ruest, vice president, corporate affairs and general counsel, Richardson International
Affiliations: TAGLaw and the Risk Management Counsel of Canada
The firm: Established in 1883 as Richards & Coutlee, the firm is now named after two long-time members of the Manitoba bar, W.P. Fillmore and H.J. Riley. Originally founded on the core practice areas of banking, financial and insurance law, the firm has grown to full-service status, with expertise in areas of law relevant to its local and international client base.
2. MLT Aikins LLP
Total lawyers (in Manitoba office): 91
Offices (with # of lawyers): Winnipeg (91), Regina (41), Saskatoon (39), Calgary (26), Edmonton (26), Vancouver (22)
Core practice areas: Corporate and commercial, M&A, litigation, labour and employment, business immigration, securities, administrative and regulatory, intellectual property and taxation. Key sectors include agriculture and food, science and technology, Indigenous, energy and mining, commercial real estate, infrastructure and banking.
Key clients: Artis REIT, Aviso Wealth, Canadian Medical Protective Association, Delta 9 Cannabis Inc., Exchange Income Corporation, Federated Co-operatives Ltd., Harvard Developments Inc., Manitoba Hydro, People Corporation, Saskatchewan Power Corporation, TD Asset Management, the Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Company, WGI Westman Group Inc., Muskeg Lake Cree Nation, Interlake Reserves Tribal Council Inc.
Notable mandates: Counsel to Love Day Mushrooms on its sale to South Mill Champs; counsel to the Government of Saskatchewan on its carbon tax appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada; counsel to Dot® Technology Corporation, a leader in autonomous agricultural solutions, with respect to its acquisition by Raven Industries; advised Canada’s Credit Union Centrals and the CUMIS Group in the merger and consolidation of the businesses of Credential Financial Inc., Qtrade Canada Inc. and NEI Investments, as well as the creation of Aviso Wealth; counsel to Greystone Capital Management Inc. in its $792-million sale to the TD Bank; counsel to Exchange Income Corporation including with respect to 20-plus acquisitions totalling close to $1 billion.
Star alumni: Sir James Aikins, founder and first president of the Canadian Bar Association, lieutenant governor of Manitoba; Murdoch A. MacPherson, attorney general of Saskatchewan, member of the Legislative Assembly of Saskatchewan; G.S. Thorvaldson, senator, member of the Legislative Assembly of Manitoba; Brian Dickson, chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada; Marshall Rothstein, justice of the SCC
The firm: MLT Aikins LLP is a full-service law firm. Based out of six key centres across the four western provinces, MLT Aikins is one of the 15 largest law firms in Canada. MLT Aikins has a deep commitment to Western Canada and an understanding of this market’s unique legal and business landscapes.
3. Pitblado LLP
Total lawyers: 65
Offices (with # of lawyers): Winnipeg (64), Arborg, Man. (1)
Core practice areas: Corporate and commercial, litigation, labour and employment, taxation, banking, Indigenous law, commercial real estate and leasing/commercial leasing, bankruptcy and insolvency
Key clients: Bank of Nova Scotia, Royal Bank of Canada, Steinbach Credit Union, Assiniboine Credit Union, IG Wealth Management (Investors Group), Business Development Bank of Canada, Public Utilities Board of Manitoba, Artis REIT, Canadian Premium Sand, Aboriginal Peoples Television Network, Canada Post Corporation, Manitoba Blue Cross, Canada Cartage and various health authorities, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Winnipeg Football Club, Parrish & Heimbecker, Limited
Star alumni: Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Candace Grammond; Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Robert Dewar; Federal Court of Appeal Chief Justice Marianne Rivoalen; Former Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench justice Ted Glowacki; former Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench justice R.D. Guy; former Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench justice John Scollin; former Manitoba Court of Appeal justice and premier of Manitoba Sterling Lyon; former Manitoba Court of Appeal justice A. Kerr Twaddle; former senator Duncan Jessiman; and Mayor Brian Bowman, City of Winnipeg, Israel Asper (Founder CanWest Global)
Notable mandates: Played an integral role in bringing the Churchill rail line back to working order. Churchill had been isolated since spring flooding damaged the rail line and forced fuel and food to be flown in. Arctic Gateway Group Limited Partnership purchased the Hudson Bay Railway, Port of Churchill and Churchill Marine Tank Farm from OmniTRAX. Pitblado represented OneNorth, comprised of the 17 communities and First Nations on the rail line from The Pas/Opaskwayak Cree Nation to Churchill. One North successfully negotiated control of MRLP, good terms for its alliance with Fairfax/AGT and was part of the buyer group that negotiated the deal with OmniTRAX.
Pro bono: Pitblado Law is involved with the United Way Winnipeg, Legal Help Centre, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra and several other outstanding not-for-profit organizations.
The firm: Pitblado Law is a full-service business law firm serving local, national and international clients and has been operating for more than 137 years. Pitblado is the result of the amalgamation of several firms, and it dates back as far as 1882.
4. Taylor McCaffrey LLP
Total lawyers: 60
Office (with # of lawyers): Winnipeg (60) Core practice areas: Business law, advocacy, litigation and dispute resolution, labour and employment, taxation, family law, real estate and property development, technology and intellectual property and wills, estates and trusts
Key clients: The City of Winnipeg, the City of Brandon, Business Development Bank of Canada, the Royal Canadian Mint, Royal Bank of Canada, the University of Manitoba, Maple Leaf Foods, CAA Manitoba, Forks North Portage Partnership, Brandon University, Loblaws, Caisse Financial Group, the Northwest Company, University of Winnipeg, the Winnipeg Airport Authority and Palliser Furniture Ltd.
Notable mandates: Negotiated and completed the merger of CAA Manitoba and CAA South Central Ontario to form CAA Club Group; acted for BCE Inc. in the acquisition of MTS pursuant to Manitoba’s largest plan of arrangement; represented the City of Winnipeg in interest arbitration with paramedics, fire and police and hearings before the land value appraisal commission; lead negotiator for the University of Brandon in talks with its faculty association; negotiated first labour agreement for the Canadian Human Rights Museum; represented same-sex couple in contested adoption trial, and obtained order of adoption for two-year-old boy; successfully argued at the Supreme Court in Stuart Olson Dominion Construction Ltd. v. Structal Heavy Steel
Star alumni: Manitoba Court of Appeal Justice Jennifer Pfuetzner; Manitoba Court of Appeal Justice Charles Huband; Federal Tax Court Justice Joe Hershfield; B.C. Court of Appeal Justice Nicole Garson; former mayor of Winnipeg William Norrie; president and CEO of the Richardson Financial Group Sanford Riley; chief legal officer and executive vice president of Ceridian Inc. Scott Kitching
Global Affiliations: SCG Legal, Employment Law Alliance, International Academy of Family Lawyers
The firm: In summer 2019, the firm opened its new offices in the heart of the City at Portage and Main. The firm was founded as a result of the merger of the firms of Reeh Taylor and D’Arcy McCaffrey. A full-service firm with service available in French and Italian, the firm maintains rural offices in Gimli, Steinbach, Riverton and Winnipeg Beach.
5. Thompson Dorfman Sweatman LLP
Total lawyers: 110
Offices (with # of lawyers): Winnipeg (88), Brandon (6), Portage la Prairie (5), Boissevain (1), Gladstone (1), MacGregor (1), Morden (3), Saskatoon (1), Steinbach (1), Winkler (3)
Core practice areas: Corporate commercial, litigation and dispute resolution, government and regulatory, construction law, financial services, Indigenous law, environmental law, natural resources and energy, property and development, taxation and labour and employment
Key clients: Farmers Edge Inc., PCL Constructors Inc., True North Sports & Entertainment Ltd. (Winnipeg Jets), Manitoba Hydro, Hudbay Minerals Inc., Boyd Group Income Fund, the Toronto-Dominion Bank, Province of Manitoba, Shared Health Inc., Winnipeg Police Association, Manitoba Liquor & Lotteries Corp.
Notable mandates: Represented the Boyd Group in 2018 when Boyd Group Income Fund acquired approximately 42 non-franchise collision repair locations; acted in connection with the $54,370,000 property sale to Industrial Alliance Insurance and Financial Services Inc; helped TD Bank finance a management group acquisition of the casino operations and management services, and refinanced the operations of a First Nation-owned casino and resort; TDS provided advice on cross-border structure, immigration and employment matters, as well as intellectual property matters and comprehensive advice on federal and provincial compliance in respect of marketing promotion, education, advertising and branding in connection with the retail sale of cannabis; acted for Brandon-based Manitoba NetSet Ltd. and I-Netlink Incorporated (NetSet) on the sale of the internet access business to New Brunswick-based Xplornet Communications.
Star alumni: Former Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench associate chief and current member of the Manitoba Court of Appeal Justice William Burnett, Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Chief Associate Justice Shane Perlmutter, Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Colleen Suche, Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice James Edmond, Manitoba Court of Queen’s Bench Justice Karen Simonsen, Chief Judge of the Manitoba Provincial Court Margaret Wiebe. Affiliations: Lex Mundi, Acumen Corporate Development Inc.
The firm: TDS is a full-service firm of 100 lawyers providing services in more than 25 areas and has language capabilities in English, French, Russian, Hebrew, Italian and Portuguese. TDS is the exclusive member firm in Manitoba for Lex Mundi — a leading network of independent law firms with in-depth experience in 100-plus countries worldwide. Strategic partner Acumen provides corporate development services out of Winnipeg and Atlanta to help fuel business growth.
6. McDougall Gauley LLP
Total lawyers: 82
Offices (# of lawyers): Regina (41), Saskatoon (41)
Core practice areas: Litigation, including complex commercial, class actions and insurance defence; criminal; corporate-commercial; insolvency and restructuring; banking and financial services; labour and employment; wills and estates
Key clients: North Ridge Development Corp., SaskPower, Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation, University of Regina, Business Development Bank of Canada
Notable mandates: Representing corporate defendants in class actions; applications under the Charter including a successful appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada to establish internet identity can only be disclosed with judicial authorization; representing professionals in various regulatory and criminal matters
Star alumni: Saskatchewan lieutenant governors George Brown and Frank Bastedo; Saskatchewan Court of Appeal justices Thomas Wakeling, Hector MacDonald and Neal Caldwell; Federal Court Justice James Russell; Tax Court of Canada Justice Georgette Sheridan; Queen’s Bench justices Shawn Smith, Merri-Ellen Wright, Richard Danyliuk and Daryl Labach; Provincial Court Justice Kevin Lang; former chancellor of the University of Regina William Ready; James Rybchuk, Provincial Court judge
Affiliations: Canadian Litigation Counsel
The firm: McDougall Gauley LLP is a Saskatchewan firm with a diversified local, provincial, national and international practice. Since 1891, it has served domestic and international organizations, insurance companies, individuals in business, government, law and finance, as well as local, national and multinational corporations.
7. McKercher LLP
Total lawyers: 78
Offices (with # of lawyers): Saskatoon (51), Regina (27)
Core practice areas: Personal injury and insurance litigation, corporate commercial litigation, estate litigation, class actions, administrative litigation including professional regulation for professional organizations as well as professional defence, labour and employment, agriculture and agribusiness, corporate/commercial, mining, natural resources and environmental, Indigenous law
Key clients: Canadian Medical Protective Association, University of Saskatchewan, Verdient Foods, Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Baydo Development Corporation, Wal-Mart Canada Corp., Overwaitea Food Group (Save- On-Foods), Saskatchewan Indian Gaming Authority, Input Capital Corp., 49 North Resources, Redhead Equipment Group
Notable mandates: Acted for Input Capital in a one-of-a-kind private placement of shares offering used to fund canola streaming contracts for farmers seeking capital; acted for Wright Construction Western Inc. and its parent in financial close of the Saskatchewan Joint-Use Schools Project, which included 18 elementary schools and nine joint-use facilities in the province; is current exclusive legal services sponsor and partner to Co.Labs, Saskatchewan’s first technology incubator for startups; acted for Fortis Properties Corporation in the disposition of 22 hotels; acted for Crown Investments Corporation of Saskatchewan in the privatization of Information Services Corporation; one of two negotiators for 50 Catholic entities parties to the Indian Residential School Settlement Class Action
Star alumni: Former Supreme Court of Canada justice Emmett Hall; Federal Court of Appeal Justice Denis Pelletier; Federal Court of Canada Justice Paul Favel; Former Saskatchewan Court of Appeal Justice Percy Maguire; Saskatchewan Court of Appeal Justice Peter Whitmore; Former Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench chief justice R. D. Laing; Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench justices Neil G. Gabrielson, Daniel B. Konkin and Richard W. Elson; Provincial Court of Saskatchewan Judge Shannon Metivier, and Saskatchewan Deputy Premier and former attorney general Gordon Wyant
Affiliations: Lawyers Associated Worldwide, Risk Management Counsel of Canada, Employment Law Alliance
The firm: Since 1926, played an integral role in Saskatchewan’s most significant commercial projects, leading litigation cases that have shaped Canadian law. As one of Saskatchewan’s largest and most established law firms, McKercher LLP and its lawyers are well versed in the economic, social and regulatory environment of Saskatchewan.
8. Miller Thomson
Total lawyers (in Saskatchewan offices): 39
Offices (with # of lawyers): Regina (25), Saskatoon (14)
Core practice areas: Industry-leading practice in Agribusiness and food production. Other key specialties: capital markets, securities and M&A, financial services, restructuring, construction, mining, real estate, municipal, corporate, corporate tax/private client services/social impact, energy/environmental/natural resources, Aboriginal, cannabis, entertainment and media, gaming, transportation and logistics, IP/IT, labour and employment, litigation, insurance defense, emerging business (startups to scaling to commercialization), data privacy and cybersecurity.
The firm: As one of Canada’s leading national law firms, Miller Thomson provides services from 12 business centres across the country, with five western offices and coverage from Manitoba to B.C. The firm’s 550 lawyers represent public and private corporations, financial institutions, governments, not-for-profit organizations and entrepreneurs, and they take pride in being responsive to clients’ needs — whatever their size, location, legal requirements and industry sector. The firm proactively works with clients to help them realize greater efficiencies and cost savings through innovative pricing strategies, a legal project management discipline and other tools that enhance transparency and service delivery.
Star Alumni: William Thomas Molloy (lieutenant governor of Saskatchewan); R. James Balfour (member of Parliament for Regina East, Saskatchewan and senator); Kenneth Roy MacLeod (Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench); Stuart John Cameron (Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, Saskatchewan Court of Appeal); William Vancise (Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench, Saskatchewan Court of Appeal, Northwest Territories Supreme Court); Brian J. Scherman (Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench); Heather MacMillan-Brown (Saskatchewan Court of Queen’s Bench)
9. MLT Aikins LLP
Total lawyers (in Saskatchewan offices): 80
Offices (with # of lawyers): Winnipeg (91), Regina (41), Saskatoon (39), Calgary (26), Edmonton (26), Vancouver (22)
A full description of the firm can be found under MLT Aikins LLP in the Manitoba section.
10. Robertson Stromberg LLP
Total lawyers: 30
Office (with # of lawyers): Saskatoon (30)
Core practice areas: Mining and energy, business law, insolvency and restructuring, corporate finance, banking and finance law, commercial and civil litigation, urban development and construction, professional regulation, insurance, family law, residential and commercial real estate, estate planning.
Key clients: AIG Canada, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, College of Dental Surgeons of Saskatchewan, Co-operators General Insurance Company, Des Nedhe Development LP, Liberty International Mutual Insurance Co., LutherCare Communities, Meadow Lake Tribal Council, Nutrien, Postmedia Network Inc., P.R. Hotels Ltd., Saputo Dairy Products Canada GP, Saskatchewan Lawyers Insurance Association, Saskatchewan Medical Association, and Saskatchewan Mutual Insurance.
Affiliations: Meritas, The ARC Group Canada
Notable mandates: Retained by the Saskatchewan Construction Association for work related to the design and development of the Adjudication Authority under Saskatchewan’s newly introduced Builders’ Lien (Prompt Payment) Amendment Act
Star alumni: Justice Gwendolyn Goebel and Justice Grant Currie (Saskatchewan, Court of Queen’s Bench); Justice Ralph Ottenbreit (Saskatchewan, Court of Appeal); Frank Quennell (former minister of justice, Saskatchewan), James Wilfred Estey (attorney general for Saskatchewan and later a justice on the Supreme Court of Canada); Arthur Moxon (first dean of the University of Saskatchewan College of Law); and Peter Makaroff (distinguished civil libertarian best known for his representation of labour and minorities during the Great Depression).
The firm: For nearly a century, Robertson Stromberg LLP has offered its clients service in every major area of the law. It has 30 lawyers, one articling student and six paralegals with a portfolio of individual, corporate and institutional clients across the province and country.
How we did it
Last year, Canadian Lawyer asked lawyers, in-house counsel and clients from across Canada to vote on the top full-service regional firms in the Prairies. They were asked to rank the top five firms in both Manitoba and Saskatchewan from a long list and were given the option of adding a firm not included on that list. The survey respondents’ rankings were based on the regional service coverage, client base, notable mandates, service excellence and legal expertise of the firms. To be included, firms had to have at least one office in the Prairies and offer a wide range of legal services. Voters ranked their top five and a points system was used to determine the winners, which are listed here alphabetically.