Legal market overview
Until relatively recently, Canada’s legal environment maintained a recognized divide between the so-called "Seven Sisters" and the rest of the market. However, the lead that premier full-service firms Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP, Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, Goodmans, McCarthy Tétrault, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP, Stikeman Elliott LLP and Torys have traditionally exerted over their rivals has been put under serious strain over the past two years. Despite housing a mature and long-established legal market, Canada’s profile has skyrocketed as major foreign players have entered its borders to mop up instructions in the natural resources and infrastructure sectors and to take advantage of its stable economic record – GDP grew by 2.5% in 2011 and 1.7% in 2012, according to the World Bank, and forecasts suggest it will expand by 1.8% in 2013.
Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP was the first new arrival to test the waters, combining with Canadian stalwart Ogilvy Renault in 2011. It followed that up in January 2012 with another Canadian merger, adding Calgary-based mining and energy specialist Macleod Dixon to its ranks. It is now expected to become a major force in the market.
In 2013, Dentons became the next global brand to launch on Canadian shores, following the three-way merger of UK and US firm SNR Denton with Paris-based Salans and Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain.
The new foreign players join the ever-present Baker & McKenzie, which has had an office in Toronto since 1962.
Globalization is also seeing Canadian firms look outwards. In a strategic move for the mining heavyweight, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP entered into the South Africa market in 2013 through its tie-up with Johannesburg-headquartered Bell Dewar.
The big draw to the Canadian market is its lucrative mining scene and that work keeps ticking over; although lower commodity prices are leading to some volatility. In addition, infrastructure is creating some big-ticket mandates, stimulated by the Economic Action Plan 2013’s delivery of a New Building Canada Plan, which aims to invest C$53bn in new funding for public infrastructure projects in cooperation with provinces, territories and municipalities.
It is important to note that Canada is a very divided and jurisdictional market. The largest legal center 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, while 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, has a diverse economy fuelled by abundant natural resources.