Facing challenges head on - Part 1

Facing challenges head on - Part 1
Litigation boutiques face increasingly stiff competition from each other as well as from larger firms; those named in Canadian Lawyer’s Top 10 have proven themselves in a field with many high performing players. In a crowded market, top litigation boutiques cannot afford to offer services falling anything short of excellent says Matthew Gottlieb, managing partner at one of this year’s winners, Lax O’Sullivan Scott Lisus LLP. “There’s no doubt litigation is becoming more competitive,” he says. But “large businesses are bringing very significant mandates to the boutiques,” he adds.

Many of this year’s Top 10 litigation boutiques have acted for some of Canada’s biggest banks, energy firms, and telecommunications companies securing wins at every level of court.

Henein Hutchison LLP successfully represented Telus in the Supreme Court of Canada case R. v. TELUS Communications Co., which assessed whether police could use general search warrants for monitoring text messages. Henein Hutchison partner Scott Hutchison says companies are attuned to the public’s growing discomfort with “offside” surveillance practices, following the Edward Snowden scandal. “They will comply with law enforcement whenever they have to, but they also recognize that customers expect they will defend their privacy,” he says. Toughened compliance rules, including the implementation of a vigorous money laundering regime, have also provided opportunities for the firm to offer advice to companies wishing to stay on the right side of the law.

Canadian Lawyer’s editorial team began the process of selecting Canada’s top 10 litigation boutiques, by creating a shortlist of notable firms in their respective fields. We ran an online survey, asking peers and clients to rank the firms, and to explain why they placed those firms as their top 10. The survey results were combined with feedback from large firms and in-house counsel to create the following lists, which are in alphabetical order.

Top 10 Litigation boutiques

Henein Hutchison LLP

Henein and Associates was founded more than a decade ago by Marie Henein, past president of the Advocates Society and treasurer of the Ontario Criminal Lawyers Association. It entered a new phase in January 2013 — when Scott Hutchison joined the firm and added his name to the masthead — and now has eight lawyers, including former deputy attorney general of Ontario Murray Segal, who acts as counsel to the firm. Associates are a mix of former Supreme Court of Canada and Court of Appeal law clerks, while clients include Telus Communications Co., the City of Windsor, Town of Tecumseh, and former Ontario attorney general Michael Bryant. The criminal litigation-focused firm also advises large corporations, government entities, and professional firms on internal investigations, anti-money laundering compliance, and foreign corruption matters.

Hunter Litigation Chambers

The 22-lawyer firm was founded in 2006 through the merger of two litigation boutiques, Hunter Voith Litigation Counsel and Berardino & Harris LLP. Over the past year, the boutique has done significant work in natural resources, class actions, and general commercial, representing clients including Canadian Forest Products and Pacific Booker Minerals Inc., Capital One Financial Corp., Worldsource Wealth Management Inc., Cargill Inc., Imperial Tobacco Group PLC, and BC Lottery Corp. Lawyers represented Cargill in a class action at the Supreme Court of Canada; won a gaming law case for the BC Lottery; acted as counsel for the College of Dentistry in a series of high-profile applications; represented the Federation of Law Societies in two major cases; and were appointed amicus curiae by the SCC in the senate reform reference. A survey respondent admired the firm’s “quality and professionalism of counsel, reputation, and client base.”

Jensen Shawa Solomon Duguid Hawkes LLP

The civil litigation boutique, known often as JSS Barristers, was founded in 1995 and now has 29 fully licensed lawyers who act for individuals and corporate entities including AltaGas Ltd., Cenovus Energy Inc., Olympia Trust Co., Shell Canada Ltd., Spartek Systems Inc., and TransCanada Energy Ltd. Areas of focus include business law, power, construction, banking and financial services, product liability, tort, natural resources, securities, regulatory tribunals, bankruptcy insurance, professional negligence, employment and commercial trade secrets, and proprietary information. The firm represented plaintiff Spartek Systems in a six-week trial involving issues of misappropriation of corporate opportunity and alleged damages of more than $3 million. It has also acted as counsel in securities-related class actions against Poseidon Concepts Corp. and Paramount Investments Inc. It has defended several Alberta real estate development companies in a class action involving hundreds of investors and alleged damages in the tens of millions of dollars. A lawyer from a national firm praised the boutique’s “fantastic lawyers” and “good rates.”

Lax O’Sullivan Scott Lisus LLP

Three lawyers, including Eleanore Cronk — now an Ontario Court of Appeal justice — founded the firm in April 1997. Between 2010-12, the firm grew to 22 lawyers from 11; associates are hired almost exclusively from the ranks of Supreme Court of Canada and Ontario Court of Appeal clerks. It is a young firm with all but three of the partners aged under 50. It represents clients including the Joint Administrators of Nortel Networks UK, Siemens, Tim Hortons Inc., Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment Ltd., Mattamy Homes, and Aon. Mandates encompass being lead Canadian counsel for the Joint Administrators of Nortel UK and 23 Nortel entities in Europe, Middle East, and Africa regarding the division of Nortel’s $7-billion in cash and claims against the Canadian estate; representing Katz Group Canada at the Supreme Court of Canada; representing Tim Hortons in a $65-million claim; being class counsel in a $100-million class action against Canada Cartage Systems Ltd.; and acting for General Motors Co. dealers in a $250-million multi-party action.

Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin LLP

Founded in 1992 when five senior lawyers broke away from McCarthy Tétrault LLP, the firm’s 49 lawyers represent EY, 407 ETR Concession Co. Ltd., Bank of Montreal, Canadian Medical Protective Association, General Electric, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen Inc., and the government of Canada. Many of its files will be familiar to regular readers of the national media, and include the $9-billion Sino-Forest Corp. shareholder class action claim; an application against Rogers Communications Inc. and Chatr Wireless Inc. involving a constitutional challenge to the Competition Act; and a case concerning oil pollution in the Amazon in which the firm acted for Ecuadoran plaintiffs.

Nathanson Schachter & Thompson LLP

For more than 25 years, the firm has litigated many of British Columbia’s largest and most complex commercial lawsuits, including two of Canada’s largest mining claims, and leading securities and shareholder disputes. The focus is firmly on civil litigation, particularly business disputes and arbitration. Successes include Icahn Partners LP v. Lions Gate Entertainment Corp., in which the firm represented a New York hedge fund at trial and on appeal in a shareholders’ oppression action, and another corporate battle involving an American hedge fund, Telus Corp. v. Mason Capital Management LLC. It also represented Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP in a case familiar to Canadian Lawyer readers, involving a former partner’s human rights age discrimination complaint. Other high-profile wins include Sun-Rype Products Ltd. v. Archer Daniels Midland Co., involving a price-fixing conspiracy, and Hughes v. Vander Zalm, which pitted B.C.’s former conflict of interest commissioner Ted Hughes against former B.C. premier Bill Vander Zalm.

Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP

Founded in 2001, Paliare Roland Rosenberg Rothstein LLP has grown to a litigation powerhouse of 34 lawyers from 18 original partners. It handles a broad range of cases from complex commercial litigation and class actions, to professional discipline and labour relations. It also often represents other law firms and acts as appellate counsel. Recent cases of note include the Nortel cross-border insolvency, a Barrick Gold mining dispute, Club Resorts Ltd. v. Van Breda, the Cannon v. ParkLane class action, Aldo Group Inc. v. Moneris, and Daniels v. Canada. Paliare Roland is also noted for its commitment to pro bono advocacy and its lawyers often appear for interveners at the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court of Canada. “They are an amazing group of lawyers dedicated to excellence in advocacy,” says a lawyer from a national firm. “They are highly professional, socially minded, and achieve outstanding results for their clients.”

Stockwoods LLP

Founded in 1979 by David Stockwood, the boutique provides litigation services in commercial, administrative, and criminal law matters. Its 18 lawyers work for clients including RBC Dominion Securities Inc., TD Canada Trust, College of Nurses of Ontario, Ontario Food Terminal, Canadian Broadcasting Corp., judges administering the Indian Residential Schools settlement, and the Law Society of Upper Canada. The firm obtained a judgment for Direct Energy against a competitor for breach of the Competition Act and the Trade-marks Act, which was subsequently upheld by the Ontario Court of Appeal. It is defending investment dealer Richardson GMP Ltd. in a multimillion-dollar action by a group of investors in structured financial products, and Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP in three related actions in which the plaintiffs are seeking more than $3 million in damages over an alleged fraudulent investment scheme.

Thornton Grout Finnigan LLP

TGF was founded in 1998 by Robert Thornton, James Grout, and John Finnigan, and now employs 19 lawyers. Its domestic and international clients include Nortel UK Pension Trustee and UK Pension Protection Fund, Hollinger Inc., U.S. Steel Inc. and U.S. Steel Canada, TransCanada Energy, Ontario Securities Commission, TSX, TD Bank, Canadian Pacific Railway, and several multinational law firms. It has a slew of major mandates on its roster, including acting as lead counsel on the largest claim into the worldwide Nortel estate, in a matter exceeding $3 billion. It was retained as counsel for U.S. Steel in the first prosecution in the 40-year history of the Investment Canada Act and acted for TransCanada Energy over the cancelled power plant that preceded the resignations of the Ontario’s premier and minister of Energy.

Woods LLP

The firm was founded by James Woods in 1994 and counted seven lawyers at its inception. It often acts in class actions as well as in matters relating to the interpretation or performance of complex commercial agreements. Notably, it is counsel to Richter Advisory Group Inc., the court appointed monitor to the proceedings undertaken by Montreal Maine & Atlantic Canada Co. to settle its liabilities following the train derailment in the Lac Mégantic. It also represented Goldman Sachs Canada Inc. in connection with its $700-million claim relating to the restructuring of CanWest Global Communications Corp., and its $2-billion acquisition by Shaw Communications Inc. The firm now counts 25 lawyers, many of whom are admitted to the bars and law societies of other jurisdictions. Clients include Quebecor Media Inc., Manulife Securities Inc., Chrysler Canada Inc., Philip Morris International Management SA, WSP Canada Inc., and Domtar Corp.

Click here for Part 2: Canadian Lawyer's Top 5 Business immigration boutiques and Top 5 Commercial real estate boutiques.

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