Fasken Adds Second British Columbia Base

Fasken added a second office in British Columbia in February to strengthen its position in the legal market in Vancouver, BC. It acquired the boutique Surrey firm Roxwal in the process. Meghan Tribe of the The American Lawyer magazine interviewed me on Fasken’s move. Canadian Firm Fasken Bolts on Boutique for Second British Columbia Base

“It’s probably, some would say, the fastest growing city in Canada,” said Colin Cameron, a Canadian legal consultant and founder of Profits for Partners, Management Consulting Inc.

“Surrey’s legal market is centered around real estate, banking and secured lending on the back of Vancouver’s booming housing market. But the suburb is also home to a growing startup, high-tech and emerging companies market, all of which play into Fasken’s strengths, Cameron said of a firm that launched a rebranding initiative late last year.

And while there are global legal giants like Dentons, DLA Piper and Norton Rose Fulbright with offices in Vancouver, those firms don’t have as many people on the ground as Fasken, which boasts 140 lawyers in its Vancouver office alone, Cameron said.

Fasken’s absorption of Raxwal is a part of a larger trend in the Canadian legal market, which is seeing local and domestic firms consolidate operations as larger Canadian firms continue to expand their operations, said Cameron, the legal consultant.

While Canada’s legal market saw much of the same during the 1990s and 2000s, this was mainly due to the threat that accounting firms once placed on legal services providers up north, and which now remains a concern of some firms south of the Canadian border. But now there’s a different threat above the 49th parallel.

“Now it’s the international firms that everybody’s merging up to compete against,” Cameron said.

Norton Rose Fulbright was the first to enter the Canadian legal market in 2010 with its tie-up with 450-lawyer Ogilvy Renault. A year later the firm absorbed Calgary-based Macleod Dixon, and in late 2016 Norton Rose Fulbright moved into Vancouver by acquiring 92-lawyer local firm Bull, Housser & Tupper.

In late 2012, Dentons announced a three-way combination involving 560-lawyer Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain. DLA Piper then entered the Canadian market in 2015 via its combination with Davis, a 260-lawyer firm based in Vancouver. (DLA Piper subsequently closed a legacy Davis office in the frozen Yukon territory.)

The entrance of international firms into the Canadian legal market puts pressure on domestic firms like Fasken to shore up a pipeline of work from clients, Cameron said. And one way to do that is to consolidate.”

 

 

 

Partner Compensation Trends – Subjective Criteria

One of the most important partner compensation trends I’ve observed is the move to more emphasis on subjective criteria in the compensation process. This topic is covered in the July 4, 2016 issue of Canadian Lawyer article “It’s not all about money” by Michael McKiernan. Michael interviewed me for the article and I provided my comments on this trend in partner compensation:

“According to Colin Cameron, a Vancouver-based law firm management consultant, intangibles are also in vogue in the upper echelons of law firms, despite the enduring popularity of simplistic profit allocation methods such as eat-what-you-kill. EWYK remained the most popular partner compensation method in our survey, used by 35 per cent of responding law firms, but that was down from 40 per cent in 2015.

Cameron predicts the proportion will fall further as partners continue to search out new ways to measure and reward subjective leadership accomplishments that don’t show up in spreadsheets of billable hours and direct revenue generation. “It’s certainly simpler, and in some ways more transparent, to focus on those factors that you can easily put a number to. It’s more difficult to evaluate how good someone’s training is, whether they’re supervising associates properly, and how their project management skills are,” says Cameron. “But I think more and more the trend is for firms to realize they need to recognize these contributions if they’re going to increase their long-term profitability.”

However, the transition often proves tricky, as one respondent at a mid-sized Western law firm complained: “Migrating to a revised compensation model while senior partners oversee the compensation process” has led to problems in “succession planning and rewarding business development efforts” at the firm, they wrote.

“Often there will be different interests between partners, who are perhaps closer to retirement and thinking about cashing out in the short term, versus younger partners just starting out, who are more likely to be thinking longer term,” Cameron says.”

In my experience, an over-emphasis on formulaic or “eat-what-you-kill” compensation systems results in dysfunctional behavior as partners focus on building their own numbers without regard to the firm’s best interests. This often leads to conflict and resentment between partners which can destabilize the firm and erode firm profitability.

 

 

Dentons launches Uber for Law Firms

Dentons surprised many this past week with the introduction of a free global referral network for law firms. I was interviewed for this article on Dentons’ latest move in the May 16, 2016 issue of Law Times. Here are some of my  comments quoted in the article:

“You have freelancers on the net and now you have law firms available very quickly on the net through this type of network,” Cameron says. “It could speed up and make more available choices for clients. It could certainly disrupt the industry, giving access to more firms.”

Cameron says the new network could be particularly beneficial for smaller mid-level firms that could not afford to pay membership fees for a similar network. These smaller firms could potentially have access to a large global network, which will give them work they were not able to obtain before, Cameron says. It may also give the smaller firms a better chance to retain their own clients, as they would be able to refer them to a firm with higher levels of expertise in another country or specialty, he says.

“There are certainly more potential benefits for small mid-sized firms that may not have been involved in a network before because of the cost,” Cameron says.

While Cameron says the network has the potential to be a “game changer,” he has concerns about how Dentons will be able to vet what is expected to be a vast network of members for quality.

“You start to wonder how they can enforce the standards,” Cameron says. “Do you really know who you’re dealing with and how are they going to control that?”

Cameron also questions where the bar will be set to vet quality standards for such an extensive and vast network.”

Notwithstanding my concerns above, I think Dentons has made a very forward-thinking move here and I expect they will do well in this new venture. It will certainly disrupt the way that law firm referrals are handled in the future.