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Legal market overview

The demise of Heenan Blaikie was undoubtedly the key market headline of 2014. The firm’s vote to dissolve its partnership, despite posting profits of $75m in 2013, represented the largest failure of a law firm in Canadian history. The collapse sent shockwaves though the country’s legal community and rumours are rife that another full-service law firm could follow.

Prior to its implosion, Heenan Blaikie fielded around 500 lawyers across its eight national offices and its star names have been quick to find new homes. Dentons, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP and Borden Ladner Gervais LLP have seen the biggest influx of the former firms’ partners, but practices from all corners of the market have seen their teams swell. Among the Heenan Blaikie lawyers listed as leading individuals last year: litigator Marie-Josée Hogue joined McCarthy Tétrault’s Montreal office; Montreal-based employment specialist, Robert Bonhomme, went to Borden Ladner Gervais LLP; Toronto employment heavyweight, Brian Burkett, was hired by Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP; and public procurement specialist, Paul Lalonde, joined Dentons.

In other significant partner shuffles, the deflection of competition expert Calvin Goldman QC from Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP to Goodmans was a notable development, as was the move of environment specialist, Paul Cassidy, from Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP to McCarthy Tétrault.

Canada’s legal market continues to be dominated by the so-called "Seven Sisters" firms namely: Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, Goodmans, McCarthy Tétrault, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, Stikeman Elliott LLP and Torys. These full-service players continue to rule the roost in terms of market share of the largest corporate and finance transactions. That said, the arrival of a string of foreign legal brands to Canada over recent years has increased competition dramatically.

The global law firms with a strong position in the market are Dentons and Norton Rose Fulbright; both firms have extensive footprints across Canada and broad practice offerings. Baker & McKenzie may not have the profile of these international powerhouses locally, but it has had an office in Toronto since 1962.

The sheer size and jurisdictional nature of the Canadian legal system makes for a very disparate legal environment. The largest legal centre is Toronto in the province of Ontario, which remains the key base for corporate deals. Calgary’s position as a leader in the oil and gas industry makes Alberta the province of choice for energy firms, and British Columbia’s economy is also resource-dominated – mainly forestry but mining is also becoming increasingly important. French-speaking Quebec, which operates under a civil code separate to the rest of Canada’s common law system, is a very distinct legal market.

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