• Apr 2, 2012
    Looking to the future — Part 1

    Looking to the future — Part 1

    Canada’s litigation boutiques are looking to the future. Finding a firm with the right mix of experienced and emerging talent was a recurring theme in this year’s top boutiques search, and some of our winners have been the most successful at striking that balance, proving that succession planning works at firms of all sizes.

    “A number of boutiques in Canadian legal history have started with great strength, but have been unable, or simply unwilling, to carry it on. Sometimes people don’t want to and it lasts as long as the careers of founders,” says Tom Curry, a partner at Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin LLP — a firm he says has shown a commitment to outlasting the five name partners who departed McCarthy Tétrault LLP in 1992 to go it alone and start the firm. “From the beginning, people have been attracted here by the reputations of the lawyers, and it remains true, because we’ve been able to duplicate that strength in the younger generations. I’m fascinated by the challenge of maintaining the strength over the long term, and I find one of the things that really adds to my law practice is the opportunity to develop other people and pass along things,” says Curry.

  • Apr 2, 2012
    Looking to the future — Part 2

    Looking to the future — Part 2

    This article is a continuation of "Looking to the future" from the April 2012 issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine. Click here to read part one.

    The following are Canadian Lawyer's top five immigration boutiques and top five tax boutiques, in alphabetical order.

  • Jan 3, 2012
    IP boutiques holding their own

    IP boutiques holding their own

    When Philip Mendes da Costa started out at Bereskin & Parr LLP in the mid-1980s, intellectual property boutiques were small affairs. Twenty-five years later, “we’re now larger than some of the mid- to large-size firms,” says the firm’s managing partner. He says the 59-lawyer shop has grown in tandem with the increasing emphasis corporations are putting on their IP portfolios. “Back then, patents and trademarks were considered important, but not really central to the business of the company,” he says. “More recently, you’ve got companies who can receive more revenue from patent royalties than manufacturing products, and companies where the value of the IP portfolio or goodwill represented by the trademark portfolio is very significant, and stands out on the balance sheet. It’s of critical importance to make sure the IP strategy aligned with the business strategy.” For that reason, he says it’s natural that larger corporate firms are looking to get in on the action. “It’s not just a peripheral issue at the moment."

    “[Boutiques] don’t dominate the field anymore like they might have done 10 years ago. Big firms have formed their own departments and the market has certainly become more competitive,” says one Bay Street practitioner, who says full-service firms are strong on the litigation and transactional side of IP law.

  • Jan 3, 2012
    Labour & employment boutiques holding their own

    Labour & employment boutiques holding their own

    This article is a continuation of "IP boutiques holding their own" from the January 2012 issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine. Click here to read Part One.

    The following is an alphabetical list of Canadian Lawyer's top 10 labour and employment boutique firms.

  • Apr 11, 2011

    A cut above, pt. II


    Dolden Wallace Folick LLP (Vancouver)

  • Apr 4, 2011

    A cut above, pt. I

    It’s safe to say most budding lawyers these days have a similar outlook on the career that lies ahead of them. They will land an associate position at a large firm, and hopefully contribute to the bottom line well enough to one day join the partnership. It’s an enviable plan that has produced some of the country’s top lawyers. But it’s not for everyone, and especially not those who lead the firms listed in the latest round of Canadian Lawyer’s top boutiques.

    There’s no doubt that the insurance defence, personal injury, trusts and estates, and commercial real estate boutiques listed below have followed different paths to find the success they now enjoy. And while this year’s crop of firms comes from disparate, and at times competing, segments of the profession, what links them all is a drive to create a lean and nimble law firm that aims to be the best at just one thing.

  • May 3, 2010
    Tops in the field

    Tops in the field

    In the second of our stories this year on the top boutique law firms in the country, Canadian Lawyer turns its attention to those specializing in labour and employment, environmental, and maritime law. While each of these firms has a different approach to standing out from the crowd to attract business, each group of firms face similar challenges and opportunities in their respective markets.

    Geoffrey Litherland, a partner at Vancouver’s Harris & Co. LLP, suggests labour and employment boutiques have largely managed to weather the recent economic storm. “We’re in a position to deal with changes in the economy,” he says. “When times are difficult, employers are looking for ways to reduce labour costs, and sometimes they’re looking at downsizing,” which brings work to his firm in the form of dismissals and contract changes. Conversely, when the economy expands, labour and employment firms are more often called in to help manage squabbles between management and unions, and to help draw up employment contracts as hiring increases, he adds. But that is not to suggest success is guaranteed, says Litherland. Boutique shops hoping to attract work from large employers must offer a wide range of advice in order to exceed services offered by large national firms, he says.

    Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP Toronto managing partner Stephen Shamie maintains that clients are becoming more sophisticated, and more demanding. He believes that is increasingly leading them to specialized firms. “What we’re really seeing is the one-size-fits-all type of firm is not really what the clients want anymore,” he says. “I think that’s to the advantage of labour and employment boutiques generally.”

    But the boutiques still need to find a way to stand out. For John Willms, senior partner at Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP in Toronto, marketing is the best way to gain visibility. “A lot of our clients are one-shot clients,” he says. “In other words, they’ve got a big environmental problem, we work with them, we help them clean up their act, fix the problem, normalize their relationships with their neighbours and the Ministry of Environment . . . then they don’t need us anymore, and they don’t want us.” He adds that most companies tighten their approach to environmental regulations after going through a lengthy and costly dispute. Many environmental law firms like Willms & Shier aim to maintain those relationships, and develop new ones, by offering conferences and events that raise their firm’s prominence.

    Maritime law boutiques face their own unique challenge of staying afloat in a market that shows no sign of picking up in volume. Christopher Giaschi, a partner at Vancouver’s Giaschi & Margolis, says the focus for these boutiques is to hold on to existing clients. That places a premium on the provision of top-notch service with a “lean and mean” operation where costs and overhead are kept to a minimum. “It’s a small market, and to a large degree [the businesses] know one another and talk to one another,” he says. “If you’re not giving good service, that’s going to be known.”

    Whatever challenges they face, each of the firms listed below has been recognized for exceptional provision of legal service in its respective area of law. As with our earlier top boutique lists, Canadian Lawyer’s editorial team compiled these choices by first creating a short list of the most notable firms in each area of expertise. We then called on in-house counsel and lawyers from larger firms with experience in these areas of practice for their views on which boutiques — defined as stand-alone firms with a major concentration in the respective legal specialty — they believe are the best at what they do. That input was used to compile the following lists, ordered alphabetically, of Canada’s top 10 labour and employment law, top five environmental law boutiques, and top six (we couldn’t break the tie for just five) maritime law boutiques.

  • Mar 1, 2010

    The pick of the crop, pt. II

    Canada’s litigation boutiques show that size certainly doesn’t factor in for clients in need of top-quality representation. While these firms may not offer the depth of legal talent the big firms boast, they rise to the top based on their reputations for successful advocacy in courts throughout the land. As several lawyers pointed out, at the end of the day clients are simply looking for the best legal minds for the work they need done. And if they reside at a firm without a Bay Street address, well, so be it.

    Top 10 Litigation Boutiques

  • Mar 1, 2010
    The pick of the crop, pt. I

    The pick of the crop, pt. I

    Concentrated expertise and substantially fewer conflicts have helped boutique firms secure a permanent spot in Canada’s legal services landscape, with firms in the litigation and intellectual property fields enjoying particular success over the years.

    While corporations often turn first to large firms for IP and litigation matters, boutiques have certainly carved a niche by plucking matters when their bigger counterparts are conflicted. Many companies have also learned to love the boutiques in leaner economic times as their legal departments felt the financial squeeze. At the same time, no right-minded company is willing to sacrifice quality. “We tend to look at who’s the best at doing what we need,” says one in-house counsel from a major corporation in Alberta. “Cost is a factor, but getting top-quality work is No. 1. As we narrow candidates down, it may well come into play, because cost is always an issue.”

    While many boutiques have made a living through referrals from large firms, at least one Vancouver litigator suggests that well is drying up, with more conflicts being shuffled off to other big firms. “I actually think, generally, larger firms refer fewer cases to boutiques now than they did 10 years ago — significantly fewer,” he says. “Because boutiques don’t have referrals, and so boutiques sop up conflicts, but they don’t generally refer cases to other people, and they don’t necessarily work easily with other firms.”

    But not all large-firm lawyers are down on their boutique counterparts. One Bay Street lawyer envisions a further growth of litigation boutiques as conflict issues increasingly exempt the big firms. “Lawyers are more and more alert to conflict issues that arise, and need to refer, for example, individual parties who might be employees of their corporate client who need legal representation because of a different interest,” says the lawyer.

    He suggests firms are reluctant to refer such work to other large firms for fear of losing future work from the corporate client. “Boutique firms have somewhat more flexibility than litigation departments in big firms about the kinds of cases they can take, and certainly if they’re good and have good experience, big firms have no hesitation in not only referring matters to them, but even hiring them for certain things from time to time,” he says.

    On the IP side, in-house lawyers say they also appreciate the added flexibility that most boutique firms offer in making fee arrangements.

    But one Quebec corporate counsel says her company is reluctant to give certain work to boutiques. “Our patent portfolio is with one of the big Canadian national law firms that has a big presence in Montreal, just because the depth of the team will mean that should there be changes — you know, people come and go, partners come and leave — there’s sufficient depth that we’re not at the mercy of any one ‘superstar,’” she says. “If that person leaves and they’re the only one who knows your file, then you sort of are forced to follow them.”

    While lawyers will continue to squabble over the utility of boutiques, many continue to attract some of the most interesting and challenging files in the country, and that’s where the rubber meets the road. Of course, certain firms stand above the crowd, so Canadian Lawyer has set out to determine the cream of the boutique crop.

    Our editorial team began the process of selecting Canada’s top IP and litigation boutiques by narrowing down a short list of the most notable firms. From there, we drew on the experience of in-house counsel and large-firm lawyers who refer work to these boutiques, conducting a series of confidential interviews to find out what shops they think rise to the top. The results follow: an informal list in alphabetical order of the 10 boutique firms in each of these two categories that are most often called upon when the stakes are high.

    Top 10 Intellectual Property Boutiques

    Bereskin & Parr LLP
    Founded in 1965 by Daniel Bereskin and Richard Parr, the firm has grown to 58 lawyers and become one of the top IP firms in the land. With offices in Toronto, Montreal, Mississauga, Ont., and Kitchener/Waterloo, Ont., this is a boutique that has certainly spread its wings. It boasts a client list including pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Canada Inc., the Royal Canadian Mint, and Sprint Communications. “If you’re looking for someone to handle work in a particular field, be it bio-tech or computers or whatever, they have the experts with the backgrounds that can handle that kind of work,” says one in-house counsel whose company uses the firm.

    Deeth Williams Wall LLP
    Toronto’s Deeth Williams Wall was created by a group of lawyers who all, at one point or another, practised at Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP, but opened their own shop as conflict issues increasingly popped up. They have since grown their boutique, with 19 lawyers now representing notable clients like Bell, Interac, The Toronto Star, and pharma mammoth Biovail. The firm began operations in 1994 with seven lawyers, and has since built its strong reputation by offering top-notch IP, information technology, regulatory, and IP-focused litigation services.

    Dimock Stratton LLP
    Also formed in 1994, Ron Dimock and Bruce Stratton have grown their firm to a stable of 18 lawyers. The firm represented Research In Motion Ltd. for two years in a patent lawsuit, successfully defended a patent case for Boston Scientific Corp. in an action brought by Johnson & Johnson Inc. over coronary stents, and advocated for freelance journalist Heather Robertson in a class-action lawsuit against The Globe and Mail, which went to the Supreme Court of Canada. One lawyer says the firm rises to the top since, quite simply, it “gets the most and best cases because it has very good lawyers.”

    Macera & Jarzyna LLP

  • Aug 7, 2007

    Legal report: Bigger is better for labour and employment law boutiques

    More depth and a broader talent pool give larger-than-average specialty firms an advantage in this area of the law.

    When you talk to lawyers who work in a boutique, you will always hear them boasting about the advantages of being small. When you talk to lawyers at a labour and employment (L & E) boutique, you’ll hear a great deal of boasting about being big. Almost all the major boutiques are the biggest in their region, with active plans to grow and grow.