To respond to clients’ complex needs, the Quebec regional law firms on this year’s top 10 list say their lawyers have had to become more specialized in their areas of practice. Many have also boosted their teams with the addition of lawyers from the now-defunct Heenan Blaikie LLP’s Quebec offices.
“Always having an ear to the ground allows us to anticipate trends. It keeps us on our toes. We cannot change the future but we can certainly adapt nimbly to change,” says Jean-François Gagnon, managing partner at Langlois lawyers LLP. “The legal market is evolving rapidly and in-house counsel teams are now broader and more sophisticated. A law firm must adjust to this shift and position themselves as added-value if not cutting-edge partners.”
Gagnon argues regional firms with a strategic focus are optimally poised to meet the needs of an ever-demanding and savvy clientele. “Langlois offers all the advantages of a large firm in terms of the quality and range of legal services, along with the benefits of mid-sized firms in terms of affordability and accessibility,” he says. “For instance, we’re unfettered by a rigid national structure, yet our reach nonetheless extends beyond Québec’s borders, as we have strong working relationships with firms all across Canada and in the U.S.”
The law firms say a tepid Canadian economy hasn’t seriously damaged their business — at least not yet. McCarty reports he’s seen no “dramatic short-term effect” of the tumbling loonie, which may actually be driving European and American investors’ interest in Canada. However, while mining is still doing well in terms of securities transactions, there’s a decline in investment in new mining facilities, he says.
At Cain Lamarre LLP, some areas have seen a boon. Partner François Tremblay says his firm recruited lawyers from big firms to grow its labour, environmental, and aboriginal law practices. He says the firm’s success is dependent on knowing its market and serving it well. “We’re not trying to be another Airbus or Boeing. We’re working with clients that are mainly involved in the Quebec scene. We’re still making money because our client base isn’t the same as the big national firms’.”
According to McCarty, clients’ expectations “continue to shift towards greater emphasis on price, service, and relationship.” There is a steady stream of requests for proposal, he says, but they are looking for more than the best providers for the best price. “Interestingly enough . . . they’re also becoming a tool for some clients in furthering their own corporate social responsibility agendas,” he says. “Whether it be on the issue of diversity, whether it be on environmental policy, I think clients are using the relationship [with] law firms to push their CSR agenda. They don’t want to hire someone who doesn’t have a diversity policy or things like that.”
For law firms, then, there’s more incentive to implementing diversity and environment policies. “Like most large firms in Quebec and Canada, we are as far advanced on these issues as our clients — whether it be on diversity, environmental policies, or equality,” says McCarty.
Firms in the Canadian Lawyer top 10 Quebec regional firms are becoming more specialized as in-house departments grow.
How we did it
Canadian Lawyer asked lawyers, in-house counsel, and clients from across Canada to vote on the top full-service regional firms in Quebec. They were asked to rank their top 10 firms from a preliminary list, with a chance to nominate a firm that was not included on the list. Respondents’ rankings were based on firms’ regional service coverage, client base, notable mandates, service excellence, and legal expertise. To be considered in the vote, firms were required to be primarily based in Quebec and offer a wide range of legal services. The final rankings were determined through a points system, in which firms were rewarded on a sliding scale for the number of first- to 10th-place votes received.
Big, national firms are firmly implanted in Quebec’s legal market, but if you ask regional law firms in that province about their fiercest competition, they will not point to the mega firms, but rather their biggest rivals are their own clients’ internal legal departments. Companies that traditionally turned to external counsel for routine work are now equipping themselves with increasingly sophisticated in-house lawyers who are able to cover more of their own needs.
1) Lavery de Billy LLP
Total lawyers: 198
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 138; Quebec City, 26; Sherbrooke, 24; Trois-Rivières, 9; Ottawa, 1
Core practice areas: Business transactions/mergers and acquisitions; taxation; litigation and dispute resolution (commercial/restructuring, insolvency, and banking/civil); labour and employment; financing and financial services
Key clients: Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.; National Bank of Canada; SigmaSanté
Notable mandates: Lavery successfully represented Pharmaprix Inc. (Shoppers Drug Mart Inc.) before the Canada Industrial Relations Board against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, which sought certification to represent employees at postal outlets at Pharmaprix franchise stores. The union argued Canada Post Corp. was the employer of the postal outlet employees, or that Canada Post, Pharmaprix, and its franchisees were a single employer. The firm also represented Delastek Inc. in a renewal of a collective agreement, a case made complex by a variety of legal proceedings that were initiated. It was counsel for GDI Integrated Facility Services Inc. in an arrangement agreement with Medwell Capital Corp., the listing of the company’s securities on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and a prospectus distribution for gross proceeds of $161.7 million. It represented the Business Development Bank of Canada and Investissement Québec in the restructuring of the Pascan Companies, which they had financed for more than $21,000,000.
Star alumni: Supreme Court of Justice Richard Wagner; Québec Court of Appeal justices Jacques Chamberland and Lorne Giroux; Eric Stevenson, superintendent of client services and distribution oversight at Autorité des marchés financiers; Sean Finn, executive VP of corporate services and chief legal officer at CN; Caroline Ferland, head of trade, AIT and excise counselling at British American Tobacco; Anne-Marie Papineau, senior legal counsel at Cirque du Soleil Inc.; François Lavallée, senior VP of legal affairs, financial markets and wealth management at National Bank Financial; Isabelle Gosselin, associate GC at Labatt Brewing Co.; Patrick Buchholz, VP of legal affairs and assistant secretary at Gesca Ltée.
Affiliations: World Services Group
The firm: Lavery’s roots go back to 1913, when Onésime Gagnon and Maurice Dupré founded Dupré & Gagnon in Quebec City. The firm was to evolve and later merge into Lavery de Billy. Two of Lavery’s other predecessor firms were Audette and Lorrain, founded in 1926 in Montreal, and Tansey de Grandpré & de Grandpré, founded in 1949. In 1979, these two firms merged to become Lavery O’Brien, before joining Gagnon de Billy Cantin Beaudoin Lesage & Associés of Quebec City in 1991, becoming Lavery de Billy. In 2007, 34 lawyers and 60 staff members of Desjardins Ducharme’s Montreal office joined Lavery, and in March of 2014, it integrated more than 50 lawyers from Heenan Blaikie’s Sherbrooke and Trois Rivières teams. Survey respondents lauded the firm’s customer service, quality of services, and firm culture. One respondent said the lawyers are “learned, effective, and responsive.”
2) Langlois lawyers LLP
Total lawyers: 104
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 58; Quebec City, 46
Core practice areas: Litigation and arbitration; class actions; employment and labour law; insurance; corporate governance
Key clients: Bombardier Aerospace; Fédération des caisses Desjardins du Québec; Intact Insurance; Maritime Employers Association; Nova Bus and Prévost, divisions of Volvo Group Canada; Professional Liability Insurance Fund of the Ordre des architectes du Québec
Notable mandates: Langlois represented one of the concrete suppliers involved in a major manufacturer’s liability case. The case involved defects in concrete foundations in residential and commercial buildings due to the presence of pyrrhotite. The 77-day trial covered approximately 815 buildings and has been appealed. In another case, the firm acted for Iron Ore Co. of Canada and its affiliates in defence of their interests in the CCAA insolvency filing of Cliffs Quebec with respect to the Bloom Lake and Wabush iron ore mines. It also represented Jien Canada Mining Ltd., a Chinese mining company with assets in Quebec, in connection with the negotiation and securing of a $100-million credit facility granted by Ressources Québec Inc. Last May, the Quebec Court of Appeal agreed with Langlois’ client Yellow Pages Digital & Media Solutions Ltd. that certain changes it had made to its pension and benefits plan did not contravene Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms or s. 87.1 of the Labour Standards Act regarding differences in treatment. The firm was also lead counsel for the Fédération des caisses Desjardins du Québec in a series of class actions in British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario, and Quebec regarding credit card acceptance fees and alleged infringements to the Competition Act brought against credit card networks and financial institutions.
Star alumni: Former Quebec chief justice Michel Robert; former Quebec Court of Appeal justice René Dussault; Quebec Superior Court justices Chantal Chatelain and Michel Beaupré; Yan Paquette, secretary general of the Ministry of Justice of Quebec and director at the Office of the Deputy Minister of Justice of Quebec; Nathalie Clark, VP and GC (Canada) at Capital One; Fabrice Vil, co-founder and CEO of Pour 3 Points
The firm: On Jan. 1, 2016, 100 years after its foundation, Langlois Kronström Desjardins LLP became Langlois lawyers LLP. “Rooted in a distinguished past and geared for the future, our new brand identity is a faithful reflection of who we are,” the firm says. A full-service firm, Langlois says it’s at the cutting edge of the law, focused on legal services of the highest quality, passion for the profession, and superlative client service. One survey respondent praised Langlois lawyers’ “expertise, creativity, and energy.”
3) BCF LLP
Total lawyers: 153
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 107; Québec City, 41; Sept-Îles, 2; Barbados, 3
Core practice areas: Mergers and acquisitions; domestic and international taxation; real estate; commercial litigation; intellectual property
Key clients: Distech Controls Inc.; Librairie Renaud-Bray Inc.; Bombardier Recreational Products Inc.
Notable mandates: BCF represented Distech Controls Inc. in the sale of all of its issued and outstanding shares to Acuity Brands Lighting Inc. It also represented a subsidiary of Groupe Renaud-Bray Inc. with respect to its acquisition of the 14 Archambault stores and Paragraphe Books from Groupe Archambault Inc. The firm also acted for PremiumBeat.com in connection with its sale to Shutterstock.
Star alumni: Bernard Tremblay and Simon Ruel, puisne judges of the Superior Court of Québec
The firm: BCF was established in Montreal in 1995 as Brouillette Charpentier Fournier. Its nine founders were “determined to transform the way business law was practised,” says BCF. The firm grew quickly and launched a second office in Québec City in 2001, and four years later, it changed its name to BCF. In 2011, BCF opened an office in Barbados, and expanded again last year when it took on a group of 26 former Heenan Blaikie LLP lawyers. The firm says it’s gained the trust of clients across a range of sectors in Canada and internationally. Survey respondents pointed out quick turnaround and commitment to clients as two of BCF’s strongest suits.
4) Cain Lamarre LLP
Total lawyers: 182
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 39; Quebec City, 34; Saguenay, 35; Alma, 4; Roberval, 3; Saint-Félicien, 2; Sherbrooke, 10; Drummondville, 7; Plessisville, 1; Rimouski, 10; Rivière-du Loup, 7; Amqui, 1; Sept-Îles, 7; Val-d’Or, 12; Rouyn-Noranda, 6; Amos, 2; Saint-Georges, 2
Core practice areas: Commercial and corporate affairs; banking and finance; labour and employment law; native affairs; public administration (health and social services, municipal affairs, and institutional affairs)
Key clients: Financial institutions, public administration (health-care institutions, municipalities, public institutions), First Nations, telecommunications carriers, transportation companies, and companies operating in the energy and natural resources sector
Notable mandates: The firm’s native affairs team worked on a number of pre-development agreements between First Nations and mining companies with regard to the exploration and mining of rare earth deposits in northern Quebec. The team was also involved in negotiating various social and economic partnership agreements for certain First Nations groups. Cain Lamarre also obtained several favourable rulings in high-profile defamation, labour law, education law, procedural law, contractual law, and constitutional lawsuits. In addition, the firm won a Superior Court ruling in the highly publicized case Investissements Novacap et TELUS Québec inc. c. VIDÉOTRON.
Star alumni: Canadian ambassador to France and former Quebec premier Lucien Bouchard; a long list of judges of the Quebec Superior Court
The firm: Cain Lamarre is the result of the merger in 1999 of three well-established firms. Cain Lamarre Wells, founded in 1928 in Chicoutimi, was the oldest law firm in Saguenay/Lac-Saint-Jean. Gauthier Nepveu Leblanc Brouillette, which opened its doors in Sept-Îles in 1951, was one of the most important players in the development of the North Shore, and Casgrain Desrosiers Lévesque Bujold Villeneuve, a trusted name in Rimouski since 1877, was one of Canada’s oldest law firms. The new firm that emerged set up shop in Montreal and Quebec City before opening offices across Quebec, positioning itself to serve all clients working in various sectors in the province. The lawyers at the firm, formerly known as Cain Lamarre Casgrain Wells LLP, possess “attention to detail combined with excellent legal skills,” according to a survey respondent.
5) Robinson Sheppard Shapiro LLP
Total lawyers: 84
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 84
Core practice areas: Business law; litigation; insurance law; transportation law; family law
Key clients: Prefers not to identify any clients
Notable mandates: Robinson Sheppard represented the sellers in the sale of Dicom Transportation Group, a major business-to-business transportation company, to a Chicago-based private equity fund. The firm successfully defended a Quebec law firm against a $55-million claim based on its alleged negligence in the implementation of a tax structure. In Regroupement des citoyens du secteur des constellations c. Lévis (Ville de), it is defending a firm specialized in ground condition studies in a class action against a municipality for having issued building permits on an unstable tract of land. In Ste-Marie c. Desjardins Assurances générales, the firm is counsel to the president of Desjardins, the largest co-operative financial group in Canada with assets of $229 billion, against what it calls a “vexatious personal suit launched to claim an insurance compensation.” In addition, the firm is representing some 15 European investors whose claims total more than $300 million in a massive case arising from the professional liability of auditors in the Castor Holdings case.
Star alumni: David Shapiro, senior VP and chief legal officer of Air Canada; Jean-François Fortin, executive director of enforcement at Autorité des marchés financiers; Superior Court of Quebec justices France Dulude, François Duprat, Lucie Fournier, Karen Jodoin, and Francine Nantel
Affiliations: International Lawyers Network and Canadian Litigation Counsel
The firm: Benjamin Robinson and Joseph Shapiro founded RSS in 1921. Their sons Jonathan Robinson and Barry Shapiro still practise at RSS. Until the arrival of Claude-Armand Sheppard in 1959, the firm served a primarily Anglophone clientele, which included such important corporations as Steinberg and Hunter Douglas. Since the early 1960s, the firm has diversified to become a full-service law firm with an ever-increasing number of important Francophone and Quebec-based business clients. Growth, while constant and continuing, has come mostly through recruitment of the province’s best law students, the firm says. A survey respondent observed “a great culture of quality and good leadership” at the firm.
6) De Grandpré Chait LLP
Total lawyers: 73
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 73
Core practice areas: Real estate; litigation; taxation; construction; business law
Key clients: BTB Real Estate Investment Trust; Blue Bridge Wealth Management Inc.; Intact Insurance; Weston/Loblaw/Provigo; TD Bank; AGF Group
Notable mandates: The firm is currently co-representing the plaintiffs in a long-standing class action in Quebec brought against the three major Canadian tobacco manufacturers. It’s also representing the KPH-Turcot consortium, the design builder of the new Turcot Interchange, in connection with its ongoing activities to replace the interchange pursuant to a contract worth $1.5 billion. In the past, it represented a group comprised of Canderel, the Montreal Canadiens, and the real estate investment arm of the FTQ in connection with its participation in the 438-unit, 37-storey Tour des Canadiens 2 residential condominium project in downtown Montréal. De Grandpre was also counsel to the Buksbaum family, founder and co-owner of Montpak International, in the sale of the family business, a veal and lamb processor and distributor. Also among the firm’s notable works is its representation of a public REIT in the context of the refinancing of its debentures on the TSX.
Star alumni: Ten former De Grandpré lawyers have gone on to become judges, including Québec Superior Court justices Christiane Alary, Martin Castonguay, Carol Cohen, Pierre Labelle, and Yves Poirier; and Court of Québec justices Normand Amyot, Daniel Bourgeois, Gilles Lareau, Vincent Piazza, and Christian Tremblay.
Affiliations: Interlaw and Lexwork International
The firm: De Grandpré Chait is the result of the 1999 merger between De Grandpré Godin and Chait Amyot. In 1928, Samuel Chait started practising real estate law. Following the consolidation of five Montréal-based firms, Pierre De Grandpré founded De Grandpré Godin in 1966. The firm says it has developed the leading real estate practice in Quebec and extended its reach to other areas, including litigation, taxation, construction law, labour and employment law, and business law. “I have not met a lawyer there that is not top tier,” said one survey respondent.
7) Stein Monast LLP
Total lawyers: 60
Lawyers by office: Quebec City, 60
Core practice areas: Corporate law and financing; commercial law; securities; civil and professional liability; insurance; labour and employment law; real estate; class actions in defence including, but not limited to, professional liability, intellectual property, and public health; disciplinary law; business ethics and penal risk
Key clients: AIG, Bridgestone Canada Inc., BDC Capital, Chartis, Desjardins Venture Capital, Fonds des architectes, Groupe Le Massif, Manac, National Bank of Canada, Prelco, Roynat Inc., Université Laval, WSP Canada
Notable mandates: Confidential
Star alumni: Quebec Court of Appeal Justice Jean-Francois Émond, Quebec Superior Court justices Lise Bergeron, Jacques Blanchard, and Alicia Soldevila, Quebec Court Justice Jean Asselin; former CBA president Paule Gauthier; former Quebec premier Jean Lesage; former prime minister Louis St. Laurent
Affiliations: Risk Management Counsel of Canada and Geneva Group International
The firm: Stein Monast LLP is the successor of Stein Monast Pratte & Marseille, a Quebec City firm that was founded in 1957. It partnered with Montreal’s Desjardins Ducharme from 1992 to 2007, and is now operating from its Quebec City offices throughout the province of Quebec. One of the firm’s strongest suits is “knowing their clients’ business,” said a survey respondent. Another respondent lauded Stein Monast’s “extraordinary client service and skill.”
8) Lapointe Rosenstein Marchand Melançon LLP
Total lawyers: 67
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 67
Core practice areas: Corporate and commercial; civil and commercial litigation; labour and employment law; taxation, taxation litigation, and estate planning; insurance; financing; intellectual property, IT, franchising, licensing and distribution; and real estate
Key clients: Clients include Canadian and international entrepreneurs and institutions in a range of industries, including retail, insurance, construction, health care, professional services, hydroelectric energy, shipping, and banks and other lenders
Notable mandates: The firm represented Mallinckrodt Pharmaceuticals in connection with a global corporate reorganization of its contrast media and delivery system business and in connection with the US$270-million sale of that business to Paris-based Guerbet. It also represented EGR Inc., an insurance broker created for regrouping the activities of three major regional insurance brokers providing specialized services in risk management, damage insurance, and surety bonds for businesses. It also acted for Slawson Exploration Co. Inc. in connection with the Lac-Mégantic class action. It co-ordinated the defence of the Sino-Forest Corp. class actions and other proceedings in Ontario, Quebec, the U.S., Singapore, and Australia, on behalf of entities in the Pöyry group of companies. The firm also led lengthy negotiations, on a pro bono basis, with Quebec’s minister of health regarding Bill 10, an act to modify the organization and governance of the health and social services network, in particular by abolishing the regional agencies. The legislation ultimately brought about a profound restructuring of the health and social services system of Quebec.
Star alumni: Former Barreau du Québec president Yvon Jasmin and Superior Court of Quebec Justice Pierre Jasmin
The firm: One of the largest independent full-service business law firms in Quebec, Lapointe Rosenstein Marchand Melançon LLP and its predecessor firms have been serving clients for more than 50 years. The firm has developed an international presence and practice in order to better serve its clients. It continues to reflect the cultural and linguistic diversity of Montreal, offering legal services in more than 12 languages. A survey respondent said lawyers at Lapointe Rosenstein are “responsive, practical, and their work is of the highest quality.” Another lauded the lawyers’ ability to communicate Quebec law to common law lawyers, adding, “This is sadly rare.”
9) Joli-Coeur Lacasse Avocats
Total lawyers: 94
Lawyers by office: Quebec City, 57; Trois-Rivières, 6; Montreal, 31
Core practice areas: Business law/international business law; taxation; real estate; civil liability; trademarks and other intellectual property
Key clients: Principally private companies; non-profit organizations; co-operatives; associations; health establishments; municipalities; professional associations; financial institutions
Notable mandates: Confidential
Star alumni: Quebec Superior Court justices Clément Samson, Marc St-Pierre, and Alain Bolduc; Tribunal administratif du Québec Justice Marie Charest; former Tribunal du travail du Québec justice Gilles Plante; Lyne Thériault of the Commission des relations de travail-Quebec.
Affiliations: PLG International Lawyer and LAW
The firm: Founded in 1983 in Quebec City, the firm merged in 1997 with Pouliot L’Écuyer, a Quebec City firm, and with Lozeau L’Africain of Montreal. Partners from Quebec City’s Grondin Poudrier Bernier Avocats s.e.n.c.r.l. joined the firm two years ago. Joli-Coeur says it’s gained a reputation for offering effective and efficient legal services at an attractive cost. A survey respondent highlighted the firm’s “prompt service and consistently excellent work.”
10) Bélanger Sauvé
Total lawyers: 49
Lawyers by office: Montreal, 35; Trois-Rivières, 10; Joliette, 4
Core practice areas: Municipal; labour law; insurance; civil litigation; professional liability
Key clients: Numerous cities on the island of Montreal; numerous cities and municipalities in the Montreal region, and the regions of Trois-Rivières and Joliette; various municipal regional councils and inter-municipal transit authorities; insurance companies, including Aviva, Northbridge, R.S.A. Canada, La Mutuelle des municipalités du Québec, and Lloyd’s Underwriters; universities and various professional orders; a major airline
Notable mandates: Intervention on behalf of a number of cities before the Federal Court of Canada with regards to Canada Post; defending the city of Montreal with regards to the so-called “manifestation bylaw”
Star alumni: Quebec Superior Court justices Luc Lefebvre, Pierre Journet, Sylvie DeVito, and Michèle Monast; Quebec Minister of Municipal Affairs Pierre Moreau
The firm: Bélanger Sauvé was formed in 1967 by the merger of two Montreal law firms dating back more than 50 years. The firm opened an office in Joliette in 2000 and merged with Beaumier Richard in Trois-Rivières in the same year. Its clientele includes a large number of individuals, corporations, and public institutions. In the Canadian Lawyer survey, a respondent praised the firm’s range of services as well as depth of expertise.