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Canadian Legal Market Shakeup

The Canadian legal market has been shaken and stirred during the first quarter of 2023.

This is mainly due to a couple of U.S.-based law firms expanding into Canada, which is a good sign of positive things to come.

The Border Hoppers

Cozen O’Conner kicked things off in late January and again in early February by announcing an acceleration of its build out in Canada with the addition of a director of Canadian operations followed hotly by four Canadian-based corporate lawyers to its office in Toronto.

Established in 1970, Philadelphia-headquartered Cozen O’Connor is 74th on the AmLaw 100 and 92nd on the Global 200, with more than 825 lawyers located in 30 offices across two continents.

The Toronto office opened in May 2005, followed by offices in Montréal and Vancouver in 2019. However, these locations focused on subrogation.

With more than 30 lawyers now working out of its three Canadian offices, Cozen is aiming to create a full-service corporate law entity by choosing people who are interested in building out the firm

Two of Cozen’s most refreshing and business-oriented features are that it does not pay out 100 per cent of profits to partners every year. It also understands the concept of spending money to make money. As a result, partners are urged to spend the firm’s cash on business development and branding opportunities.

Meanwhile, in March, Mintz Levin cannonballed into the Toronto market and engaged a core quintet of partners to do it. Three came from Torys LLP, a fourth from Dentons, and the fifth from Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. 

The Toronto location will add a Canadian dimension to Mintz’s life sciences practice and expand its private equity, capital markets, and pensions and employment practices.

It’s fair to expect that the build-out will be rapid. Mintz expects to be at 25 lawyers by mid-spring. Headcount could double by year’s end and eventually triple provided the very right types of talent come through the door.

No law firm makes entrances into new markets by throwing caution to the wind. And Mintz isn’t. Known for a culture that is entrepreneurial, collaborative, nimble and forward thinking, it is executing on a precise legal market strategy while employing decisive tactics and a focused vision for targeted growth.

Founded in 1933, Boston-based Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo has offices in Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., and plans to launch a Miami office by mid-fall.

Canadian Players in the Global Legal Market

News of legal services entrants from the U.S. and elsewhere sometimes has a tendency to be met with smiles through gritted teeth and sniffs through upturned noses.

Perhaps it’s time for a reality check since this has happened many times before. Let’s look at a small sampling:

Global behemoth Baker McKenzie opened its sole Canadian office in Toronto over 60 years ago. It now has 77 offices in 46 countries.

U.K-based Norton Rose took the back route into the U.S. by combining with Canadian firms first, most likely due to Canada being a Commonwealth country with a similar legal system and therefore an easier point of entry into the North American market.

Norton Rose’s combination in 2010 with Ogilvy Renault LLP was followed that same year by bringing western Canada’s Macleod Dixon LLP into the fold. Full disclosure: I provided strategy and execution on high profile, multi-year advertising campaigns in Canada and the U.S. that built brand awareness for these mergers, which resulted, at the time, in the #1 law firm brand in Canada.

While the Canadian tie-ups enabled a market presence north of the 49th parallel, Norton Rose crossed the border in 2013 to merge with Fulbright & Jaworski LLP. Now named Norton Rose Fulbright, it acquired British Columbia-based Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP in 2017.

The 2013 merging of Canada’s Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP with SNR Denton Group and Salans LLP created Dentons that has gone on to become one of the largest law firms in the world.

DLA Piper established a Canadian base in 2015 by inhaling Vancouver-based Davis LLP followed by a 2016 intake of intellectual property firm, Dimock Stratton LLP.  

In these four instances – along with others before and since – the legal market was reinvigorated. And while some may have lost sleep during these shakeups, the outcomes have been positive.

This is because an influx of legal service providers of all stripes and types entering the Canadian market is good news. Fresh blood and different perspectives stimulate market growth. Reenergized competition provides new opportunities for collaboration between clients, law firms, and legal services companies while also enabling greater movement of talent.

Shake Shack

In other first quarter developments – as if the additions at Cozen and of Mintz aren’t exciting enough – the really big news is that U.S.-based Shake Shack is coming to Canada.

Milkshakes, burgers and all that goes with them will be available starting in Toronto in 2024. With prime real estate available in the downtown core, it’s a good bet that Shake Shack will open in the Bay street financial canyon, ground zero for head-offices of many of Canada’s homegrown and foreign-based national and global law firms. When open, it will join other U.S. fast food brands, such as Five Guys, Wahlburgers and Chick-fil-A that have flocked north.

What does Shake Shack’s impending arrival have to do with legal markets? Nothing. But that it was a big enough story to land on page six of The Globe and Mail that deems itself Canada’s national newspaper says a couple of things: 1) Business is global, and 2) It was a slow news day in Canada.

Business Ebb and Flow

Still, the point is that the legal market, like many other industries and services is global in nature, and its formerly rigid structure is relaxing to include different service providers and players.

As a result, it’s reasonable to expect new entrants will come and also go.

So while noses of some members of the legal services industry might have been put out of joint by news of non-Canadian law entities expanding into the national marketplace, shakeups are positive news. The reality is that new additions are a sign of healthy economic investment, need to be taken in stride, and welcomed with business-as-usual optimism.

Heather Suttie is widely acknowledged as one of the world’s leading authorities on legal market strategy and management of legal services firms.

For 25 years, she has advised leaders of premier law firms and legal service providers worldwide — Global to Solo | BigLaw to NewLaw — on innovative strategies pertaining to business, markets, management, and clients.

The result is accelerated performance achieved through a distinctive one of one legal market position and sustained competitive advantage leading to greater market share, revenue, and profits.

The effect is accomplishment of the prime objective — To Win.

Reach her at +1.416.964.9607 or

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