A surge in the east

  • Subtitle: Top Atlantic Regional Firms
Written by  Posted Date: October 7, 2013
A surge in the eastA surge of infrastructure projects related to energy, mining, and shipbuilding is encouraging a positive outlook by Atlantic Canada’s top 10 law firms, alongside an awareness of provincial deficits and demographic challenges.

Since Canadian Lawyer’s last survey in the region, Cox & Palmer has welcomed 14 lawyers from dissolved New Brunswick firm Barry Spalding. Together with McInnes Cooper and Stewart McKelvey, the expanded Cox & Palmer is part of a trio of large firms that dominate the region’s legal landscape and have thus been ranked jointly in the top spot. The list is rounded out by seven top firms with offices in one province only.

To qualify for the list, firms must offer a range of legal services and be based within Atlantic Canada: New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island. The top 10 were selected following a readers’ survey.

Daniel Gallivan, Cox & Palmer’s chief executive officer, sees projects such as the proposed TransCanada Corp. pipeline, which would transport crude oil to refineries and export terminals in the east, as potential “game-changers” for law firms in the region. His firm has been retained by TransCanada Corp., which announced in July it would proceed with the pipeline project.

The pipeline is by no means the only major source of potential legal work; many firms are also eyeing the Halifax Shipyard modernization, the construction of a major hydroelectric facility at Muskrat Falls in Labrador, and the billions being poured into offshore oil explorations (read more on this on the Back Page). “It’s a great time to be in an industry that directly services the oil industry,” says Christopher Pike, managing director of St. John’s-based Benson Buffett PLC Inc. “St. John’s is a boom town right now.”

Economic forecasters generally agree; some predict Newfoundland’s 2013 growth will be the highest of any province thanks to increased oil production and mining output.

Higher consumer spending is fuelling Benson Buffett’s real estate practice. “I don’t have a good enough superlative at the moment,” says Pike, describing the effects of the market appreciation.

In Halifax, the real estate picture is less rosy, says Boyne Clarke LLP managing partner James MacNeil. “Currently the residential housing market is certainly down and that somewhat impacts us, as we have a big residential real estate practice,” he says. Nonetheless, the firm has “probably doubled in size” over the past decade, and the shipbuilding project and offshore energy explorations could bring opportunities for firms in the area.

George White, Patterson Law’s managing partner, sees the bright spots as “a combination of general civil litigation . . . and general commercial growth, and growth in the requirement for tax planning.” His firm has two Nova Scotia offices — in Halifax and Truro, which serves a more rural clientele. White says the aging legal workforce outside of urban areas presents both an opportunity and a challenge. On one hand, his firm could benefit from the lack of capacity, but it will also need to support younger lawyers to grow at the firm.

Across the region, continued migration to other parts of Canada is predicted to create labour shortages. However, MacNeil has seen an increase in inquiries from lawyers in central and western Canada looking for opportunities to move east. “I think that’s increased in the last two years,” he says. “It’s not a huge volume but there’s a noticeable increase.” Perhaps this is due to overcapacity elsewhere in Canada, or an increased desire for a better work-life balance. As Pike explains, this “more measured approach” allows for a “culture of community involvement,” valued by lawyers at his firm.

Provinces are hoping to attract newcomers from overseas to fill the workforce gaps in areas such as construction, which Gallivan hopes to capitalize on by expanding Cox & Palmer’s immigration practice. He says the much-touted exodus away from the region has not affected the firm’s ability to attract junior talent — there were 300 applications for its 22 available articling posts. There’s a chance the competition could become even tougher if plans for a new law school at Memorial University in Newfoundland go ahead.

Law students at nearby universities have expressed concern over the proposal, but Daniel Simmons, a partner at Ottenheimer Baker, says it would be good news overall. “For the profession and the community it would be a good thing, because a law school brings different opportunities that aren’t necessarily present otherwise.” These include the “academic thought and work that benefits society and government and probably on the bench,” according to Simmons. Practising lawyers could benefit from library facilities, legal and other opportunities to get involved in teaching and research.

Top 3 with offices across region (in alphabetical order)


Cox & Palmer
coxandpalmerlaw.com

Total lawyers: 200

Lawyers by office: Alberton, P.E.I.: 1; Charlottetown: 14; Fredericton: 25; Halifax: 59; Moncton, 20; Montague, P.E.I.: 1; Morell, P.E.I, 1; Summerside, P.E.I.: 5; Saint John: 32; St. John’s: 42

Core practice areas: Corporate commercial; commercial litigation; insurance litigation; employment and labour; banking and insolvency

Key clients: Canadian Medical Protective Association; Emera Inc.; Bell Alliant; CIBC; Aviva Canada; Lombard Canada/Northbridge

Notable mandates: Represented Halifax Regional Municipality in its 10-year battle with the federal government over the under-estimation of the value of Citadel Hill pursuant to the Payments in Lieu of Taxes Act; represented the province of Nova Scotia in the purchase of Bowater Mersey Paper Co. Ltd., and on the NewPage Corp. matter; advised Husky Energy on its South White Rose Extension project; acted for Emera Inc. on the development and transmission of hydroelectric power from Muskrat Falls; acted for Dexter to formulate a 3P bid to complete the twinning of the Saint John to St. Stephen divided highway, and provided legal advice when it won the contract; provided all legal services to establish title to Loblaw Co. Ltd. properties throughout Atlantic Canada as part of the establishment of a proposed REIT; engaged by TransCanada Corp. as local counsel on the Energy East Pipeline Project

Star alumni: William Cox, former Canadian Bar Association president; John C. Crosbie, lieutenant governor of Newfoundland and Labrador; Ian M. MacKeigan, former chief justice of Nova Scotia; Clyde Wells, former premier of Newfoundland and Labrador; M. Douglas Young, former federal cabinet minister

Affiliations: World Services Group; National Referral Network; Canadian Association of Counsel to Employers; Risk Management Counsel of Canada

The firm: Cox & Palmer was formed in January 2007 as the result of a merger between Cox Hanson O’Reilly Matheson and Patterson Palmer. The merger created one of the largest full-service firms in the Atlantic region, with roots tracing back over 100 years. With multiple offices, Cox & Palmer services local, national, and international clients including a significant francophone client base.

A respondent from a national law firm said Cox & Palmer lawyers were “always responsive,” and were “exemplary partners” in serving clients, offering “great service from excellent lawyers at a competitive price.” They are “also great relationship builders and look out for opportunities where they can refer their clients to us,” the lawyer said.

“For the last five years we’ve been recognized as one of the top places to work in Canada,” says CEO Daniel Gallivan, citing the firm’s culture of “respect, support, understanding.” Having a strong reputation is “even more important these days because of global competition, and the build up of in-house capacity,” he adds.

McInnes Cooper
mcinnescooper.com

Total lawyers: 201

Lawyers by office: Halifax: 110; St John’s: 27; Fredericton: 20; Moncton: 18; Charlottetown: 10; Summerside, P.E.I.: 8

Core practice areas: Energy and natural resources; business law; litigation; management-side employment and pension services; tax law

Key clients: Confidential

Notable mandates: One of the largest class action wins in Canadian history, securing $900 million for disabled veterans who had had their disability pensions clawed back; Supreme Court of Canada win ensuring client could maintain anonymity while pursuing prosecution in a Facebook cyber-bullying case

Star alumni: Nova Scotia Court of Appeal judge Peter Bryson; New Brunswick provincial court judge Marco Cloutier; Court of Appeal of New Brunswick justice Richard Bell; New Brunswick provincial court judge John Friel; Toronto-Dominion Bank deputy chairman Frank McKenna; senator Fred Dickson; Nova Scotia Supreme Court justice Linda Oland

Affiliations: Lex Mundi

The firm: Founded in 1859 by Jonathan McCully and Hiram Blanchard, McInnes Cooper expanded its mandate through strategic alliances and partnerships with firms in Charlottetown, Fredericton, and St. John’s, to serve clients region-wide. In 1997, partners Bernie Miller and Eric LeDrew opened the Moncton office, with local lawyer Robert Radford. In 2000, with the opening of the St. John office, McInnes Cooper gained a presence in every major Atlantic Canadian centre.

One of McInnes Cooper’s clients voted for the firm on the basis of “the quality of their lawyers and the fact that they have offices in most major maritime centres.” Others mentioned “bench strength” and flexible billing systems.

Managing partner Miller said: “We have increasing opportunities to deliver legal services in ways that better match our clients’ definitions of value. Our size, location, resources, and experience all strengthen our ability to offer alternative fee arrangements, new types of services, geographical reach, and diverse teams.”

Stewart McKelvey*
stewartmckelvey.com

Total lawyers: 229

Lawyers by office: Charlottetown: 29; Fredericton: 16; Halifax: 103; Moncton: 17; Saint John: 30; St John’s: 34

Core practice areas: Civil litigation; commercial litigation; corporate-commercial; labour and employment; tax

Key clients: Canadian Association of Counsel to Employers; Design Building Solutions Ltd.; Strait Regional School Board; Michelin North America (Canada) Inc.; Emera Inc; Empire Co. Ltd.

Notable mandates: Legal adviser to Empire Co. Ltd., the operator of Sobeys, in its $5.7-billion acquisition of Safeway Inc.’s assets in Canada; representing CACE, Canada’s largest counsel of management-side labour and employment lawyers, as an intervenor in the Wal-Mart statutory freeze case scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court of Canada in December; successfully represented Design Building Solutions Ltd., Harbourstone Enhanced Care Ltd., and Anglican Diocesan Centre Corp. regarding a builder’s lien; represented the successful party in an arbitration award in a million-dollar dispute over a fibre exchange agreement

Star alumni: Tax Court of Canada Associate Chief Justice Eugene Rossiter; John MacDonell, former chief of staff to minister of Defence; Robert Dexter, chairman, Empire Co. Ltd.; Nova Scotia Court of Appeal Chief Justice Michael MacDonald

Affiliations: ALFA International

The firm: In 1990, Stewart McKelvey became Atlantic Canada’s first fully regional law firm with the consolidation of four prominent firms, some dating as far back as Confederation. The firm highlights its reputation for understanding clients’ business goals and objectives.

*Stewart McKelvey chose not to participate in the 2013 survey process. Information compiled from previous surveys and publicly available sources.

Rankings for firms with offices in one province


4. Boyne Clarke LLP
boyneclarke.ca

Total lawyers: 51

Office: Dartmouth, N.S.

Core practice areas: Business law; business litigation; real estate (residential and commercial); financial recovery; personal injury

Key clients: Royal Bank of Canada; National Bank; Bank of Nova Scotia; Cresco Properties Ltd.; Doctors Nova Scotia; Pomerleau Inc.

Notable mandates: Jointly retained by the CBC and the Telegraph Journal in St. John, N.B., as a result of media interest in reporting on the Richard Oland murder; Supreme Court of Canada decision on Ernest MacIntosh extradition case; retained by the government of Newfoundland & Labrador in murder case

Star alumni: Former vice president of legal affairs at Dalhousie University Brian Crocker; former senior vice president, general counsel, and secretary of Bank of Montreal Derek Jones; former vice president of regulatory affairs at Emera James L. Connors; Nova Scotia Supreme Court Family Division Justice Moira Legere-Sers; Colonel Kirby Abbott, Office of Judge Advocate General; Senator Thomas McInnis

Affiliations: TAGLaw

The firm: In 1972, a small group of lawyers, Boyne Crocker & Jones, set off on their own instead of joining one of the large established Halifax firms. In 1981, Boyne Crocker & Jones merged with Claman Dietrich Clark Bright & Clarke to form Boyne Clarke LLP. The two name partners of this merger — Tom Boyne and Richey Clarke — still practise at the firm today. In 2010, Boyne Clarke rebranded itself and moved into new offices in Dartmouth. It currently employs 160 staff including 51 lawyers, of whom 25 are partners and is the largest private employer in downtown Dartmouth.

““Quality of lawyers, high level of client service, maritime focus and breadth of practice areas,” said one respondent of Boyne Clarke.

Managing partner James MacNeil says growth areas include mergers and acquisitions and tax. “We’re really focused in general on our whole corporate area,” he adds. “It’s primarily our corporate areas where we want to continue to grow.”

5. Wickwire Holm
wickwireholm.com

Total lawyers: 16

Office: Halifax, N.S.

Core practice areas: Banking and finance; corporate structures and transactions; labour and employment; insolvency and restructuring; energy

Key clients: Toronto-Dominion Bank; Efficiency Nova Scotia Corp.; XL Insurance; HSBC Bank Canada; Business Development Bank of Canada; Royal Bank of Canada

Notable mandates: Retained by a utility company in its acquisition of power plants; acted for a utility company in a joint venture for a new power development; worked on the sale of a nutritional supplements company; acted for a lender in providing financing to a Nova Scotia company with operations across Canada; acted for a lender in an insolvency restructuring proceeding involving a company with substantial aquaculture assets in New Brunswick and Newfoundland; acted for a lender and a receiver in an insolvency restructuring of a substantial apple farming operation; acted for a receiver of assets of a development company in P.E.I. and in a dispute in P.E.I. between two secured lenders concerning entitlement to proceeds realized on a receivership; numerous multimillion financings for one of the largest commercial multi-unit residential financiers in Nova Scotia

Star alumni: Former Nova Scotia Court of Appeal judges Doane Hallett and J.E. (Ted) Flinn; Nova Scotia Court of Appeal Justice Duncan Beveridge; former MP and premier of Nova Scotia Russell MacLellan; former president of the Nova Scotia Barristers Society Ted Wickwire, who played a major role in developing the Nova Scotia Legal Ethics Handbook

Affiliations: SCG Legal and Meritas Law Firms Worldwide

The firm: The firm was founded and has been in continuous operation since 1884. Throughout its existence, Wickwire Holm has been principally focused on providing legal services to financial institutions and businesses. With the revised practice mobility rules adopted by all of the Canadian Bar Associations, the firm finds itself increasingly involved in matters throughout Atlantic Canada and appearing in the courts of all Atlantic provinces. It has also appeared in the courts of Quebec.

A respondent who ranked Wickwire Holm in first place admired its “excellent coverage and service levels in Nova Scotia, with good regional coverage through affiliate offices and limited conflicts issues.”

Senior counsel Carl Holm says: “Consolidation of the practice of commercial law in the three Atlantic regional law firms have led to many retainers as a result of conflicts. In any large or complex matter it does not take long before all regional law firms are conflicted out.”

6. Patterson Law
pattersonlaw.ca

Total lawyers: 29

Lawyers by Office: Truro: 20; Halifax: 9

Core practice areas: Corporate/commercial and real property; tax, trusts, and estates; civil litigation; insurance defence; employment and labour

Key clients: Canadian National Railway Co.; CBCL Ltd.; Scotsburn Dairy Group; Stanfield’s Ltd.; Wagner Forest Products; Wawanesa Mutual Insurance Co.

Notable mandates: Lead counsel for merger of Nova Enterprises and Lockhart Truck Centre to create the largest independent truck dealership in Atlantic Canada; representing a landowner challenging — for the first time — the validity of an expropriation pursuant to the Mineral Resources Act; successfully defended Merrill Lynch in an employment and bad faith action brought by a former financial adviser/broker

Star alumni: Former premier Robert L. Stanfield; former premier and senator George Isaac Smith; former chief justice of Nova Scotia Lorne Clarke; Federal Court of Appeal Justice Wyman Webb; Nova Scotia Court of Appeal Justice Jamie W.S. Saunders

Affiliations: None

The firm: In 1928, a Truro law firm was established which ultimately became Patterson Smith Matthews & Grant, with a province-wide practice. A merger with Kitz Matheson created Patterson Kitz in 1986 and, in 1995, Patterson Kitz merged with practices in New Brunswick, Newfoundland, and Prince Edward Island to become Patterson Palmer Hunt Murphy.

In 2006, Patterson Law carved an independent path and, in 2008, merged with tax boutique Harris Neonakis.

“We see ourselves as a mid-sized firm, and see an opportunity for mid-sized firms, due to having fewer conflicts,” says managing partner George White.

7. Ottenheimer Baker
ottenheimerbaker.com

Total lawyers: 20

Office: St. John’s, N.L.

Core practice areas: Corporate and commercial law; litigation; property and real estate; labour and employment; administrative law

Key clients: Government of Newfoundland and Labrador; developers; mining companies

Notable mandates: Acting for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador regarding the development and financing of the Muskrat Falls Hydroelectric Project, also known as the “Lower Churchill Project”; acting for the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador concerning the development and operation of the Hebron offshore oilfield project and the Hibernia South oilfield expansion project; acting for developers and placing financing on new hotel developments in downtown St. John’s; defending class action claims involving product liability and taxation issues at a certification hearing and a common issues trial and appeal; acting for mining corporations involved in large-scale mine development projects in Labrador

Star alumni: Retired Newfoundland Court of Appeal justice William Marshall; Newfoundland Court of Appeal Chief Justice Derek Green; Newfoundland Court of Appeal Justice Charles White; Supreme Court of Newfoundland justices Gillian Butler, Raymond Whalen, and Rosalie McGrath; Provincial Court of Newfoundland Justice John Joy; Baine Johnston Corporation senior vice president of operations Gregory Dickie

Affiliations: Meritas Law Firms Worldwide

The firm: The firm was founded in 1972 as Marshall and White and has grown to 20 lawyers. It is the largest independent law firm in Newfoundland and Labrador, serving clients throughout the province. It aims to place an emphasis on solid service to the business community while maintaining a robust litigation capacity.

Partner Daniel Simmons says: “We’re the largest firm here in the province. We have to strike the balance between being able to provide the best spectrum of services and focusing our expertise in some areas.”

8. Bingham Law
bingham.ca

Total lawyers: 17

Office: Moncton, N.B.
Core practice areas: Civil litigation; insurance defence; construction litigation; corporate and commercial litigation

Key clients: Several large international insurance companies; large New Brunswick property developers; commercial property managers

Notable mandates: Unavailable

Star alumni: Justice George S. Rideout, currently of the Court of Queen’s Bench of New Brunswick, former MP and mayor of Moncton; Court of Queen’s Bench of New Brunswick Justice Tracey K. DeWare; former registrar of bankruptcy and registrar, Court of Appeal and Court of Queen’s Bench Michael J. Bray; W. Ross Bingham

Affiliations: Canadian Litigation Counsel; SCG Legal; Greater Moncton Chamber of Commerce; Conseil Économique du Nouveau-Brunswick Inc.

The firm: The firm was established in 1985 by W. Ross Bingham, George S. Rideout, A. Kent Robinson, John W. MacLennan, and Gary M. Durling. As new partners joined the firm in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including Edwin G. Ehrhardt  and Terrence L.S. Teed, the firm’s practice expanded into litigation and has since grown into the largest independent law firm in New Brunswick. Today, the bilingual firm offers full legal services in both litigation and business law throughout New Brunswick.

9. Burchells LLP
burchells.ca

Total lawyers: 24

Office: Halifax, N.S.

Core practice areas: Commercial litigation; insurance; corporate and commercial transactions; banking and insolvency; aboriginal law

Key clients: Financial services companies; insurance firms; aboriginal groups; business sector

Notable mandates: Extensive land acquisition work for a major national conservation group; acted for a small Nova Scotia business in a multimillion-dollar intellectual property and commercial licensing dispute; representing three national lenders in debt actions in all three Maritime provinces; judicial review of Nalcor’s Muskrat Falls project for the failure to consult and accommodate Inuit title and treaty rights; action against Department of Fisheries and Oceans for failure to implement Mi’kmaq treaty rights; negotiation of construction and management of a hotel and entertainment centre on First Nations lands in Alberta; acted for First Nations in Nova Scotia in three wind farm projects; representing New Brunswick Assembly of First Nations Chiefs in negotiations with provincial and federal governments on implementation of treaty rights, aboriginal title, and self-governance

Star alumni: Charles J. Burchell, Canada’s first high commissioner to Australia and South Africa and first high commissioner to Newfoundland; James L. Ralston, former federal minister of national defence; Alexander K. MacLean, former attorney general for Nova Scotia and chief justice of the Exchequer Court of Canada; Eugene T. Parker, former Supreme Court of Nova Scotia judge; William H. Jost, senior solicitor for the Wartime Prices and Trade Board and regional counsel for CN; Nova Scotia Supreme Court judges David MacAdam and Michael J. Wood; Robert L. Barnes, Federal Court of Canada judge

Affiliations: ARC Group Canada; Downtown Halifax Business Commission

The firm: In 1917, two ships, one loaded with high explosives, collided in Halifax Harbour. Branded the “largest man-made explosion in the history of the world,” it changed Halifax forever. In the explosion’s wake, the owners of the vessel IMO retained young Halifax lawyer Charles J. Burchell to represent them. Burchell was at the heart of the public inquiry and subsequent proceedings, eventually making his way to the Privy Council in London — five years after founding the firm that still bears his name. Burchells LLP has been an active member of the Halifax community ever since.

Burchells lawyers provide “excellence in service and knowledge,” according to a survey respondent.

10. Benson Buffett PLC Inc.
bensonbuffett.com

Total lawyers: 14

Office: St. John’s, N.L.

Core practice areas: Corporate commercial; real estate; insurance; general litigation; labour and employment

Key clients: Commercial and residential developers; insurance companies; a chartered bank and other financial institutions; small- to medium- sized businesses; healthcare organizations; health-related professional regulatory and disciplinary bodies

Notable mandates: Acting for the principals of some of the significant real estate developments on the North-East Avalon; restructuring projects; refinancing projects

Star alumni: Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Chief Justice David Orsborn; Provincial Court of Newfoundland and Labrador Chief Judge D. Mark Pike; H. James Puddester, former Supreme Court of Newfoundland and Labrador judge

Affiliations: SCG Legal; Canadian Litigation Counsel

The firm: Benson Buffett is the successor to the firm formed in 1980 by H. James Puddester and David Orsborn. Throughout the 1980s, the firm enjoyed rapid growth and expansion of its practice. Mergers in 1989 with Mercer Buffett McLaughlin and Fowler Pike & Madden in 1991 provided further growth.

Managing director Christopher Pike says: “When I first started here, we were a relatively young firm, and we’re not anymore in the sense that we have a lot of senior practitioners. Many lawyers are up to the 20-year mark and we need to start working very hard on getting ready to pass that onto the next generation of lawyers.”

Benson Buffett’s “responsiveness and effort” was praised by one survey respondent.

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Charlotte Santry

Charlotte Santry is staff writer for Canadian Lawyer and Law Times. She has been a business magazine journalist for the past seven years, covering healthcare, construction and now law, after starting her career as a newspaper reporter in London, U.K. She is currently on maternity leave.

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