Tops in the field
- Subtitle: Part two of our series lists the top labour & employment, environmental, and maritime law boutiques.
Geoffrey Litherland, a partner at Vancouver’s Harris & Co. LLP, suggests labour and employment boutiques have largely managed to weather the recent economic storm. “We’re in a position to deal with changes in the economy,” he says. “When times are difficult, employers are looking for ways to reduce labour costs, and sometimes they’re looking at downsizing,” which brings work to his firm in the form of dismissals and contract changes. Conversely, when the economy expands, labour and employment firms are more often called in to help manage squabbles between management and unions, and to help draw up employment contracts as hiring increases, he adds. But that is not to suggest success is guaranteed, says Litherland. Boutique shops hoping to attract work from large employers must offer a wide range of advice in order to exceed services offered by large national firms, he says.
Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP Toronto managing partner Stephen Shamie maintains that clients are becoming more sophisticated, and more demanding. He believes that is increasingly leading them to specialized firms. “What we’re really seeing is the one-size-fits-all type of firm is not really what the clients want anymore,” he says. “I think that’s to the advantage of labour and employment boutiques generally.”
But the boutiques still need to find a way to stand out. For John Willms, senior partner at Willms & Shier Environmental Lawyers LLP in Toronto, marketing is the best way to gain visibility. “A lot of our clients are one-shot clients,” he says. “In other words, they’ve got a big environmental problem, we work with them, we help them clean up their act, fix the problem, normalize their relationships with their neighbours and the Ministry of Environment . . . then they don’t need us anymore, and they don’t want us.” He adds that most companies tighten their approach to environmental regulations after going through a lengthy and costly dispute. Many environmental law firms like Willms & Shier aim to maintain those relationships, and develop new ones, by offering conferences and events that raise their firm’s prominence.
Maritime law boutiques face their own unique challenge of staying afloat in a market that shows no sign of picking up in volume. Christopher Giaschi, a partner at Vancouver’s Giaschi & Margolis, says the focus for these boutiques is to hold on to existing clients. That places a premium on the provision of top-notch service with a “lean and mean” operation where costs and overhead are kept to a minimum. “It’s a small market, and to a large degree [the businesses] know one another and talk to one another,” he says. “If you’re not giving good service, that’s going to be known.”
Whatever challenges they face, each of the firms listed below has been recognized for exceptional provision of legal service in its respective area of law. As with our earlier top boutique lists, Canadian Lawyer’s editorial team compiled these choices by first creating a short list of the most notable firms in each area of expertise. We then called on in-house counsel and lawyers from larger firms with experience in these areas of practice for their views on which boutiques — defined as stand-alone firms with a major concentration in the respective legal specialty — they believe are the best at what they do. That input was used to compile the following lists, ordered alphabetically, of Canada’s top 10 labour and employment law, top five environmental law boutiques, and top six (we couldn’t break the tie for just five) maritime law boutiques.
TOP 10 LABOUR & EMPLOYMENT BOUTIQUES
Emond Harnden LLP (Ottawa)
This Ottawa management-side firm sprouted in 1987 thanks to the efforts of founding partners Lynn Harnden and Jacques Emond, who continue to practise. Now with 25 lawyers, it has followed a gradual growth path that has seen most associates first gain experience as articling students, with many later moving into partnership. Public sector clients include hospitals, school boards, municipalities, and colleges and universities. The firm also represents large national and international corporations. It boasts a research department, a resource few lawyers at firms this size benefit from. www.emondharnden.com
Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP (Toronto, London, Ont.)
This management-side shop was established in 1982 when the labour department of full-service firm Cassels Mitchell Somers Dutton & Winkler broke off. Founding partner Warren Winkler is now Ontario’s chief justice. The firm settled on its current handle in 2001, when it expanded from its Toronto base to open an office in London, Ont. It currently houses 33 lawyers in the two offices. Its client list has expanded through most sectors of the economy, but has particular depth in manufacturing, construction, entertainment, the public sector, and financial services. The firm hosts a client conference each June, regularly pulling in over 700 attendees. “I only hear good feedback about them and their clients are loyal,” commented one voter. www.filion.on.ca
Harris & Co. LLP (Vancouver)
Former Campney & Murphy labour and employment lawyers established this Vancouver management-side boutique in 1992. Now with 36 lawyers, key private-sector clients include grain-handling terminals, chartered banks and credit unions, insurance companies, breweries, hotels, and transportation companies. In the public sector, the firm represents entities such as boards of education, health authorities, and employers’ associations. It has a strategic affiliation with Ontario’s Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP, which fosters national coverage, referrals, resource sharing, and joint conference offerings. “If my firm cannot act, I would not even think further: Harris & Co.,” said one voter. www.harrisco.com
Kuretzky Vassos Henderson LLP (Toronto)
Now in operation for over 14 years, the firm founded by Barry Kuretzky and George Vassos is home to 12 lawyers. Its current list of clients includes senior executives and CEOs, along with corporate clients such as Bank of Montreal, Brink’s, Manpower Inc., and NCO Group Inc. Kuretzky has co-authored leading books on employment law, including Mediating Employment Disputes and Human Resources Guide to Managing Workplace Harassment. He received a long-term achievement award from the Law Society of Upper Canada for his efforts in continuing legal education. “They are knowledgeable and up to speed on all aspects of employment law and practice,” said one voter who has referred work to this firm. www.kuretzkyvassos.com
Hicks Morley Hamilton Stewart Storie LLP (Toronto, London, Ont., Kingston, Waterloo, Ottawa)
With offices throughout Ontario, this management-side shop currently houses 100 lawyers in five cities. It opened in 1972 after members left Miller Thomson LLP — an amicable split that saw the new firm operate in the large firm’s offices for three months. Recent key cases include acting as co-counsel to Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce in an overtime pay class action; counsel to Vale Inco in strike negotiations; and labour, employment, and pension counsel in the Stelco Inc. restructuring of 2006. With its size and presence throughout Ontario, Hicks Morley is credited for offering service in all areas of human resources law, including a separate pensions and benefits group. www.hicksmorley.com
Loranger Marcoux (Montreal)
This 15-lawyer, employer-side boutique was founded in 1991 by a group of practitioners who left a large Montreal firm to set up their own shop. The firm possesses particular strength when it comes to labour and employment aspects of mergers and acquisitions, collective bargaining, essential services, and restructuring of work environments. “All lawyers in this firm have a good reputation; a majority of them have an excellent reputation,” said one voter. “It’s the boutique firm of choice in Montreal and our office does not hesitate to refer them work in case of conflict.” www.lorangermarcoux.com
Mathews Dinsdale & Clark LLP (Toronto, Sarnia, Sault Ste. Marie)
The first labour law boutique in Canada, it traces its history to 1937 when Norm Mathews and Beatrice Lyons joined forces, the firm was established in its present form in 1956 with the help of Stan Dinsdale and Al Clark. It now carries 29 lawyers in three Ontario offices. The management-side boutique places special emphasis on its expertise in the areas of construction, police and ambulance, long-term care, education, and arts. It has been recognized as a Fortune 500 Go-To Law Firm. www.mathewsdinsdale.com
Roper Greyell LLP (Vancouver)
This 24-lawyer firm is the exclusive B.C. representative of the Employment Law Alliance, a worldwide network of labour and employment lawyers. Former partner Bruce Greyell was named to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 2009. The firm deals with matters involving management-side labour law, human rights law, wrongful dismissal litigation, drafting employment contracts, privacy law, workers’ compensation, employment standards, and employment-related immigration. It lists the B.C. Crown Counsel Association as a key client. One voter said the firm rises to the top “with a greater breadth and depth of expertise in all areas of labour and employment law.” www.ropergreyell.com
Pink Larkin (Halifax, Fredericton)
With a web address like www.labour-law.com, it’s clear that Pink Larkin is well established in the labour and employment law field. It all started in 1989 when four lawyers left Nova Scotia’s largest full-service firm at the time, Patterson Kitz, to better service Atlantic Canada’s labour-side employment law needs. Now with 16 lawyers, its clients include the Nova Scotia Government & General Employees Union; the P.E.I. Union of Public Sector Employees; the No So Teachers Union; the Canadian Union of Public Employees; United Steelworkers; Communications, Energy & Paperworkers Union of Canada; and the United Food and Commercial Workers Canada.
Trudel Nadeau Avocats s.e.n.c.r.l. (Montreal)
Clients for this 22-lawyer labour-side boutique include the Quebec Federation of Labour and the Canadian Labour Congress, along with many affiliates. The firm considers itself the oldest to represent trade unions in Quebec. It was established in the 1950s by Guy Merill Desaulniers, who worked on behalf of the labour movement starting in the early 1940s. The firm has been at the forefront of a long list of key developments in the labour movement since first opening its doors. www.trudelnadeau.com
• Armstrong Management Lawyers (Calgary)
• Ball & Alexander (Toronto)
• CaleyWray (Toronto)
• Grosman Grosman & Gale LLP (Toronto)
• Raven Cameron Ballantyne & Yazbeck LLP (Ottawa)
• Rivest Schmidt (Montreal)