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Legal market overview

The Canadian economy surpassed all expectations in the second quarter of 2017 to post an annual growth rate of 4.5%, which represented the country’s best start to a year since 2002. The effect on deal volumes is already evident. Robust growth combined with stabilising commodity prices to push Canadian M&A up by 13% to C$120.5bn during the first half of 2017, with major energy deals underpinning that rise. The country’s previously stalled IPO market also started to move again and the C$3.4bn worth of stock market debuts seen during the first half of 2017 was Canada’s most successful first half for 11 years.

In addition to the buoyant corporate environment, law firms have witnessed a major surge in regulatory-related work. Most notably, the increasing prominence of Aboriginal law issues has seen firms scramble to market their capabilities in this area. The growing profile of that work has seen the inclusion of a standalone Aboriginal law section for the first time.

The unpredictable international trade backdrop has also seen lawyers’ workload increase in that space and, in what may prove to be a sign of the times, in 2017 eminent trade specialists Gregory Tereposky and Vincent DeRose split off from Borden Ladner Gervais LLP to form new trade and investment litigation boutique Tereposky & DeRose LLP.

The heightened competition enforcement regime and the ongoing growth in tax controversy matters has also kept regulatory and litigation teams busy.

Following a flurry of recent high-profile law firm combinations, all was quiet on the merger front during 2017. No tie-ups have been announced since Norton Rose Fulbright’s merger with Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP was made known in September 2016. Although there has been a significant new office launch: McCarthy Tétrault opened its doors in New York in 2017.

Canada is home to a significant number of global law firms. In addition to Norton Rose Fulbright mentioned above, Baker McKenzie, DLA Piper (Canada) LLP, Dentons and Gowling WLG all have full-service offerings in the country. However, with few exceptions, the highest-profile corporate and finance mandates continue to flow to Canada’s so-called ‘Seven Sisters’ – most of which have at least one international office – namely: Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, Goodmans, McCarthy Tétrault, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, Stikeman Elliott LLP and Torys. That said, several other Canadian firms dominate in specific sectors or regions. Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP and Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP are top-choice firms for mining deals. Bennett Jones LLP is a leader in oil and gas transactions – and in Western Canada generally. Borden Ladner Gervais LLP is highly regarded for power-related work. Calgary’s Burnet Duckworth & Palmer LLP is a regional heavyweight and is considered a leading business law firm in Alberta.

The jurisdictional nature of Canada’s legal environment cannot be overstated. Public and private law are separated, with responsibilities for the former exercised by Parliament and the latter overseen by the provinces. The largest legal centre is Toronto in the province of Ontario, which remains the key base for corporate deals. Alberta is synonymous with Canada’s oil and gas industry and notably houses the Athabasca oil sands; therefore Calgary is a hub for energy work. British Columbia is also a major province for resources matters, with forestry and mining key economic sectors. French-speaking Quebec – which retains a civil code for private law separate from the rest of Canada’s common law system – is a very distinct legal market.

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