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Legal market overview

In 2015, in what was another rocky year for commodities markets - typically the driving force behind Canadian M&A - natural resources activity fell to around 12% of total M&A transactions, with the value of oil and gas deals falling by 67% on the previous year. Deal volume overall remained strong, however, as Canadian buyers, particularly pension funds, hoovered up foreign assets worth a staggering $205bn, which represented the largest outbound deal value on record. Significantly, Canada’s foreign spending spree saw total deal value hit $281bn during 2015, which marked a rise of 34%, according to Bloomberg data.

The recent movement in the business market was equalled in the legal market. On the merger front, Norton Rose Fulbright, which originally entered Canada through its 2011 tie-up with national firm Ogilvy Renault, announced it would be combining with Vancouver stalwart Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP in January 2017. The union gives the global brand a broad platform in British Columbia. In addition, DLA Piper (Canada) LLP, which started operating in Canada following its 2015 merger with Davis LLP, announced that it would be adding IP boutique Dimock Stratton LLP to its ranks in November 2016.

In other significant developments, Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt LLP launched a Vancouver office in 2015, which will initially focus on emerging technology companies, and Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP opened the doors on a new Calgary office, with a view to tapping into the local oil and gas scene.

Canada is home to a significant number of global law firms. In addition to Norton Rose Fulbright and DLA Piper (Canada) LLP, Baker & McKenzie, 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 the so-called ‘Seven Sisters’ - some of which also have international offices - 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 and Vancouver’s Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP are also regional heavyweights.

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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