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FROM BOARDROOM TO COURTROOM, Vangorodska TAKES CARE OF BUSINESS

Miller Thomson considers merger

Miller Thomson LLP, the national law firm that unrolled a new marketing communications campaign on Monday, is considering a merger with another law firm that could be approved by partners as early as next week.

“Our brand launch is the beginning the next phase of the firm’s growth ambitions,” said Pierre Paquet, the Montreal-based partner who is Miller Thomson’s national lead for business development and marketing on the firm’s executive committee.

Paquet made the statement as the low-profile Miller Thomson moved to boost its visibility as a national firm with nine offices across Canada and more than 450 lawyers -a number that puts its among the top 10 biggest law firms in Canada.

In an interview, Paquet said the firm is not looking at joining forces with an international law firm such as the planned merger of Ogilvy Renault LLP with the Britain’s Norton Rose Group.

“No it’s not in the cards,” Paquet said. The law firm – like many others -is looking at ways to court European and Asian investors’ interest in Canada’s natural resources and other sectors, but the majority of its clients are not working on the international stage.

But asked about whether or not there are plans to merge with a Canadian player, Paquet replied, “Soon.”

“Nothing is for sure until it is for sure,” he added. “We will know next week.”

Given that the Miller Thomson partners have to vote on any merger option, Paquet did not want to reveal any details about the potential partner’s geographic location.

The Montreal office itself is a product of a merger in 2005 between Pouliot Mercure and Toronto-based Miller Thomson and in the past 10 years, the firm has added offices in Edmonton and Calgary (1999), Vancouver (2000) Kitchener-Waterloo and Guelph and London in Ontario (2002, 2003, 2006). It still operates locally as Miller Thomson Pouliot.

This week’s rebranding exercise, with a new website and a national multimedia advertising campaign planned for early next year, is

aimed at showing that Miller Thomson “is not just a collection of offices across the country,” as chief executive Gerald Courage put it, but a coordinated whole. In a promotional video, Courage said the rebranding followed “a careful, introspective process to make us consider who we are and who we want to be.”

It is fair to say that many law firms are pondering their situation given the changing legal and economic landscape and looking for ways to market their capabilities and highlight geographic positioning either in Canada or abroad.

Like Ogilvy Renault, some of the big firms have been approached by international players.

Bywayof example, McCarthy Tetrault LLP was approached -at a very preliminary level -by another unnamed British firm similar to Norton Rose and one unconfirmed published report said Norton Rose had earlier talked with Blake, Cassels & Graydon LLP.

Such tie-ups are said to not be practical for some of the bigger firms who count on referral work from so-called “best friends” -U.S. firms that refer work to Canada to different law offices depending on the client and the mandate. Profit-sharing models can also dramatically differ and how to avoid downsizing is also a factor.

In the meantime, Miller Thomson’s Montreal office continues to grow.

In the past few weeks it poached Aaron Rodgers and Julie Gaudreault-Martel, both tax litigators who were practicing with Spiegel Sohmer Inc., to join the six-lawyer tax team headed by Richard Fontaine. The Montreal office also recently hired Melanie Lantin as its first marketing and business development officer, more of a necessity as law firms are increasingly called upon to make presentations for corporate clients and draw up formal proposals to bid on work with competing firms.

Top lawyers named in six categories

Six lawyers out of 18 finalists were named Lawyer of the Year in six categories at a gala organized by the Young Bar Association of Montreal late last week.

All were chosen by a jury headed by Francois Rolland, chief justice of Quebec Superior Court, and made up of top members of the Quebec legal establishment -and will each be profiled (in alphabetical order) on Legal Matters, The Gazette’s online legal page at www.montrealgazette.com/legalmatters.

The first to be featured as Lawyer of the Week on Legal Matters is Ponora Ang, a lawyer with McMillan LLP who won in the litigation category for his work on big files such as the Castor Holdings case and BCE Inc.

Other winners include: Corporate law: Thierry Lavigne Martel, a fiscal law specialist and partner at Martel, Cantin who specializes in advising small-and medium-size Quebec businesses; Family law: Myriam Farag, a family law specialist formerly with O’Hanlon, Sanders, Teixeira and Maria R. Battaglia, avocats who now manages the content of more than 300 legal information files produced by Educaloi, a non-profit organization that promotes access to justice by providing easy-to-understand information about the law. In-house counsel: Adina Comanita, director of the legal department at Landmark Properties Inc., a real estate management company that oversees commercial properties across Canada; Pro Bono: Paul St-Pierre Plamondon, a lawyer with Delegatus services juridiques inc. who cofounded Generation d’idees, an independent, non-partisan and non-profit thought group focused on the future of young people in Quebec; Criminal law: Julie Provost, a lawyer with Montreal municipal court responsible for the implementation and co-ordination of a pilot project -a first in Quebec -to accompany people with mental health issues appearing before the court and look out for their interests.

This article first appeared on Montreal Gazette on November 26, 2010

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