Boutique Firm Rankings

Shifting sands - part 1

  • Canadian Lawyer's Top 10 Intellectual Property boutiques
Written by Posted Date: January 13th, 2014

b_150_0_16777215_00___images_stories_01-CANADIANLawyer_2014_90427567.jpgA slew of government pronouncements on everything from strike laws to arbitration rules are helping to keep Canada’s labour and employment boutiques busy. “Every time governments make changes, that creates work for labour and employment lawyers,” says Kuretzky Vassos Henderson LLP senior partner Barry Kuretzky.

Shifting sands - part 2

  • Top 10 Labour & Employment boutiques
Written by Posted Date: January 13th, 2014
b_150_0_16777215_00___images_stories_01-CANADIANLawyer_2014_128049749.jpgThis article is a continuation of 'Shifting Sands' from the January 2014 issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine.

Click here to read part 1.

Hot competition - part 2

  • Canadian Lawyer's Top 10 arbitration chambers
Written by Posted Date: April 8th, 2013
b_150_0_16777215_00___images_stories_01-CANADIANLawyer_2013_April_thumbs-up_blue.jpgThis article is a continuation of 'Hot competition' from the April 2013 issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine.
Click here to read part 1.

Hot competition - part 1

  • Canadian Lawyer's Top 10 personal injury boutiques
Written by Posted Date: April 1st, 2013
b_150_0_16777215_00___images_stories_01-CANADIANLawyer_2013_April_thumbs-up_blue.jpgLong before they get to court, personal injury boutiques face a foe every bit as tough as the stingiest of insurers: each other. “It’s very competitive, and it’s going to become even more so,” says Alan Farrer, managing partner of Thomson Rogers in Toronto. His firm recently teamed up with fellow boutiques Oatley Vigmond Personal Injury Lawyers LLP and McLeish Orlando LLP to form the Personal Injury Alliance.

Drilling down - part 2

  • Canadian Lawyer's top 5 trusts & estates and environmental law boutiques
Written by Posted Date: January 14th, 2013
b_150_0_16777215_00___images_stories_01-CANADIANLawyer_2013_January_thumbs-up.jpgThis article is a continuation of "Drilling down" from the January 2013 issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine. Click here to read part 1.

Drilling down - part 1

  • Canadian Lawyer's Top 10 insurance defence boutiques
Written by Posted Date: January 7th, 2013
b_150_0_16777215_00___images_stories_01-CANADIANLawyer_2013_January_thumbs-up.jpgIn days gone by, an insurance defence firm may have sounded like a pretty niche outfit. But as boutiques in the area enter a second generation, they’re drilling down to even more precise specializations in order to stand out from the crowd. Most of the firms that made our list this year now have at least two decades of experience behind them, many after breaking away from larger, full-service firms. “It’s a mature market, and it’s not a new area of law, so the gross revenue is not increasing dramatically,” says Eric Dolden, co-founder of Vancouver firm Dolden Wallace Folick LLP. “You’re always going to have your auto cases and house fires, but that’s kind of static. The growth is in new areas where you couldn’t get insurance 10 years ago.”

Looking to the future — part 1

  • Canadian Lawyer's Top 10 Litigation Boutiques
Written by Posted Date: April 2nd, 2012
Canada’s litigation boutiques are looking to the future. Finding a firm with the right mix of experienced and emerging talent was a recurring theme in this year’s top boutiques search, and some of our winners have been the most successful at striking that balance, proving that succession planning works at firms of all sizes.
“A number of boutiques in Canadian legal history have started with great strength, but have been unable, or simply unwilling, to carry it on. Sometimes people don’t want to and it lasts as long as the careers of founders,” says Tom Curry, a partner at Lenczner Slaght Royce Smith Griffin LLP — a firm he says has shown a commitment to outlasting the five name partners who departed McCarthy Tétrault LLP in 1992 to go it alone and start the firm. “From the beginning, people have been attracted here by the reputations of the lawyers, and it remains true, because we’ve been able to duplicate that strength in the younger generations. I’m fascinated by the challenge of maintaining the strength over the long term, and I find one of the things that really adds to my law practice is the opportunity to develop other people and pass along things,” says Curry.
And while litigation boutiques have been able to thrive in the shadows of their full-service counterparts, sweeping up referrals on the largely conflict-free sidelines, they aren’t afraid to go up against Bay Street in the market for the hottest new litigators.
Randy Kaardal, a senior partner at Hunter Litigation Chambers in Vancouver, says his firm has no problem recruiting the top candidates out of law school, including those who’ve had clerkships at the Supreme Court of Canada and other appellate courts across the country. “They get to see our people before those courts and get a sense of the type of files that we are on, which tend to be interesting and exciting to be a part of,” he says.
At the same time, Kaardal says the big-firm history of Hunters’ senior litigators has been crucial, allowing the firm to develop a style that some of their larger corporate clients will recognize. “Clients that are involved in sophisticated litigation expect the work product to look a certain way. We have that capacity, so it’s relatively seamless when we’re referred by one of the large commercial law firms,” he says.
And ex-Big Law partners aren’t confined to the litigation field. Barbara Jo Caruso left Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP in 2006 to form Corporate Immigration Law Firm with Gowlings immigration consultant Harry Goslett, although the pair didn’t move physically too far from their old digs. “When we branched out, having a Bay Street address was important, because it provided us with a certain amount of credibility with existing clients that were prepared to deal with us outside of the national law firm. Some were concerned that we didn’t just set up in our basements, and do the work there,” she says.
Caruso says lawyer referrals have helped the firm flourish since its founding. “I think other firms feel comfortable referring to a boutique knowing we’re not going to take their employment or their real estate work, or forget where the file came from,” she says.
Few large law firms place an emphasis on business immigration, which has left plenty of room for boutiques in the marketplace. One of the largest players in the market is Egan LLP, an affiliate of accounting giant Ernst & Young, which also made our list. Another EY affiliate, Couzin Taylor LLP, is on our tax law boutique list, where accounting firm affiliates are a growing player in the market.
But Brent Perry, a partner at Alberta-based tax firm Felesky Flynn LLP, says there will always be a place for boutiques like his, with no professional services firm affiliation, because of the certainty they can offer over solicitor-client privilege, especially in an era of heightened scrutiny from the Canada Revenue Agency. “We’re seeing an increased level of appetite for challenge by CRA, even for transactions that may have been previously blessed by them. That in turn leads to a higher degree of sensitivity of solicitor-client privilege,” he says.
Matthew Williams, a partner at Thorsteinssons LLP in Toronto, says tax law is particularly well suited to a boutique environment because the area’s reputation for being extremely complicated is well earned. He says the concentration of expertise benefits practitioners as well as clients. “We think size matters. It’s a very specialized area and if you’ve got lots of people with decades of experience, you’ll have a lot of it covered. I would be terrified to work in a place with just two or three people doing tax,” he says.
Canadian Lawyer’s editorial team began the process of selecting Canada’s top five tax and business immigration (both areas for the first time) firms and top 10 litigation boutiques by creating a short list of the most notable firms in their respective fields. We ran a short online survey and from there, we drew on the experience of in-house counsel and large-firm lawyers who refer work to these boutiques, conducting a series of confidential interviews to identify the cream of the crop. That input was used to compile the following results, listed in alphabetical order.
b_150_0_16777215_00___images_stories_01-CANADIANLawyer_2012_April_thumbs_up_green_3d.jpgCanada’s litigation boutiques are looking to the future. Finding a firm with the right mix of experienced and emerging talent was a recurring theme in this year’s top boutiques search, and some of our winners have been the most successful at striking that balance, proving that succession planning works at firms of all sizes.

Looking to the future — part 2

  • Canadian Lawyer's Top 5 tax & business immigration law boutiques
Written by Posted Date: April 2nd, 2012
b_150_0_16777215_00___images_stories_01-CANADIANLawyer_2012_April_thumbs_up_green_3d.jpgThis article is a continuation of "Looking to the future" from the April 2012 issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine. Click here to read part one.

IP boutiques holding their own

  • Top Boutiques: January 2012 — Part One
Written by Posted Date: January 3rd, 2012
When Philip Mendes da Costa started out at Bereskin & Parr LLP in the mid-1980s, intellectual property boutiques were small affairs. Twenty-five years later, “we’re now larger than some of the mid- to large-size firms,” says the firm’s managing partner. He says the 59-lawyer shop has grown in tandem with the increasing emphasis corporations are putting on their IP portfolios. “Back then, patents and trademarks were considered important, but not really central to the business of the company,” he says. “More recently, you’ve got companies who can receive more revenue from patent royalties than manufacturing products, and companies where the value of the IP portfolio or goodwill represented by the trademark portfolio is very significant, and stands out on the balance sheet. It’s of critical importance to make sure the IP strategy aligned with the business strategy.” For that reason, he says it’s natural that larger corporate firms are looking to get in on the action. “It’s not just a peripheral issue at the moment.æ
“[Boutiques] don’t dominate the field anymore like they might have done 10 years ago. Big firms have formed their own departments and the market has certainly become more competitive,” says one Bay Street practitioner, who says full-service firms are strong on the litigation and transactional side of IP law.
Another western Canada-based lawyer at a full-service firm says IP lawyers outside boutiques are still often overlooked because the field is so strongly associated with specialist firms. “Most IP practices, even in large firms, are run as mini boutiques. The IP department is run very differently from departments in other areas of law, because it really is quite distinct,” he says.
Mark Evans, managing partner of Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh’s Toronto office, says that the unique nature of IP law makes it difficult for large firms to match the depth of expertise boutiques can provide. Because the volume of IP litigation is not as high as in other jurisdictions such as the United States, firms need to branch out. Evans says some larger firms struggle to accommodate patent agents in their structure, or the specific file-handling systems IP demands. “We have our own proprietary systems and administrative features that are geared to that,” Evans says. “There are certain elements of IP that can be suited to general practice firms, but a lot of it is an uneasy fit.”
Despite the new competition, Mendes da Costa says IP boutiques have a long future ahead of them. “I don’t think it’s ever going to be subsumed into the full-service firm and disappear. We’re going to be here forever,” he says.
In employment and labour law, conventional wisdom says that large firms sop up the management-side work, while boutiques live off referrals when conflicts arise. But Erin Kuzz, co-founder of Toronto firm Sherrard Kuzz LLP, says there’s a lot more to it than that. “To be candid, our experience is a lot of the large firms have issues with billing rates. Some of the files that we do just can’t bear the billing rates that a large corporate commercial department might charge. I certainly understand that creates some conflict sometimes in the larger firms,” she says.
Paul Young, managing partner at Filion Wakely Thorup Angeletti LLP, agrees that price has been a key factor in the rise of the employment and labour boutique. He says new ones seem to spring up every year. “We just have a greater ability to be flexible in terms of fee schedules, which really makes us quite competitive,” he says.
And boutiques are cementing their positions by forming their own alliances across international borders to expand referral networks in an increasingly global business landscape. Young says the firm’s recent tie up with L&E Global, the Belgium-based group of 10 management-side employment boutiques, will bring in new work, as well as offering domestic clients with international business a ready-made panel of counsel in foreign jurisdictions. “You also get lots of ideas from the other firms in the alliance about how to attract new business, which leads to more entrepreneurial thinking,” he says.
Sherrard Kuzz also branched out last year, joining the larger Employment Law Alliance, which consists of 3,000 lawyers from 135 countries around the world. “Clients feel very well looked after,” says Kuzz. “I’d say it gives us bigger reach than some of the large firms, because they may not be willing to refer to firms around the world who may be competitors in other fields. We have no competition with the other members of the alliance, so it takes away that conflict issue.”
Our editorial team began the process of selecting Canada’s top IP and labour and employment boutiques by creating a short list of the most notable firms in their respective fields. From there, we drew on the experience of in-house counsel and large-firm lawyers who refer work to these boutiques, conducting a series of confidential interviews to identify the cream of the crop. The following results are an alphabetical list of the 10 boutique firms in each of the intellectual property and labour and employment categories that are most often called upon by other lawyers when stakes are high.
Illustration: Jason Schneider
Illustration: Jason Schneider
When Philip Mendes da Costa started out at Bereskin & Parr LLP in the mid-1980s, intellectual property boutiques were small affairs. Twenty-five years later, “we’re now larger than some of the mid- to large-size firms,” says the firm’s managing partner. He says the 59-lawyer shop has grown in tandem with the increasing emphasis corporations are putting on their IP portfolios. “Back then, patents and trademarks were considered important, but not really central to the business of the company,” he says. “More recently, you’ve got companies who can receive more revenue from patent royalties than manufacturing products, and companies where the value of the IP portfolio or goodwill represented by the trademark portfolio is very significant, and stands out on the balance sheet. It’s of critical importance to make sure the IP strategy aligned with the business strategy.” For that reason, he says it’s natural that larger corporate firms are looking to get in on the action. “It’s not just a peripheral issue at the moment."

Labour & employment boutiques holding their own

  • Top Boutiques: January 2012 — Part Two
Written by Posted Date: January 3rd, 2012
Illustration: Jason Schneider
Illustration: Jason Schneider
This article is a continuation of "IP boutiques holding their own" from the January 2012 issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine. Click here to read Part One.
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