Québec

Benchmark Litigation Reviews

Dispute resolution
Belleau Lapointe

Montréal boutique Belleau Lapointe has seen a rising profile of late, with a growing chorus of peers weighing in on its behalf. “They act in the plaintiff capacity often, particularly on class actions,” voices one defense-oriented peer, “so you would think we'd view them as an irritant but no, they are one of the good ones. They don't try to play stupid tricks, they are very strategic and selective.” Clients concur; “The firm is dedicated to the consumer's point of view and defending their rights. They have great expertise both in consumer rights and class action suits.”

Name partner Daniel Belleau, a noted class action authority, has been cheered by peers all over Canada. One in particular, located well outside of Quebec, simply addresses him as "the best." "This guy just has unquestionable sincerity. Even defense counsel, while maintaining an adversarial stance to him, find it difficult to counter some of his arguments because is so persuasively sincere. I love watching him at work." Another class action specialist Maxime Nasr is also viewed as "very strong, with a big brain, bright and quick." Nasr represented Option Consommateurs, a leading Québec consumer advocate, in the class action against Volkswagen that settled for more than $2.5 billion. He also represented this client in a class action against Leon's Furniture that resulted in landmark decision on the merits that establishes for the first time that attorney-client fees can be claimed on top of damages in application of section 36 of the Competition Act. Nasr represented this client once again in an antitrust class action matter concerning foam, a matter that settled for over $38 million. Nasr is also leading a securities litigation against embattled Canadian pharmaceutical entity Valeant.

Consumer Law Group Inc.

A Montréal plaintiff class-action shop, Consumer Law Group is largely the vehicle of Jeff Orenstein, a prolific class-action filer. “Jeff is definitely popping up in the mix, filing a lot of class actions and getting better and better at them,” claims one peer. Another notes, “Jeff takes complicated cases and is a reasonable guy. I had him in a few pharma cases, and I noticed he has become a lot more focused and pretty impressive.” Clients are equally impressed. One testifies, “All the cases that Jeff handled were successful. He was an excellent pleader in front of a judge. [He has]  Good reaction time and is quick on his feet. He was an outstanding negotiator.” Orenstein is one of the lead lawyers in the class action representing the victims from the town that was destroyed by the oil spill and explosion and which killed 47 people. The defendants have already settled and paid a collective $430 million to all global plaintiffs and a trial against Canadian Pacific Railway is scheduled to take place at the end of 2020. Orenstein is also the lead lawyer in a class action against Amazon for sales tax charged on basic groceries, where there should be no sales tax charged (though it was for approximately seven years). Amazon has challenged the court's jurisdiction and Orenstein recently won on this issue in the Court of Appeal. An appeal by Amazon has been filed with the Supreme Court of Canada.

IMK

A venerated Montréal litigation boutique, IMK (formerly Irving Mitchell Kalichman) was initially a vehicle for its three senior name partners, one of whom is since deceased and the other who went to bench. However, it has since become an incubator for younger litigation talent. Peers are in agreement with the assertion that, “although Doug Mitchell is still one of the top pleaders in Québéc, the real horsepower at IMK now is at the younger level – there quite a few of them now and they are quite amazing.” The firm is also noted for the freedom and diversity of both its bench and the work its lawyers cultivate. “They do plaintiff and defense work, and they do class-action work too. The plaintiff work they do is mostly public interest work. They did a trial on the rights of trans-gender and non-binary people, and they also have a case against Facebook! It deals with algorithmic discrimination.” Another peer notes, “They have a lot of talented and very respected lawyers and a lot of juicy litigation on the go. I like their approach.”

     Audrey Boctor, who began her career at Cleary Gottlieb in New York and joined IMK in 2010, is a generalist, who is engaged in a lot of enforcement of arbitration awards, corporate commercial work and appellate work. Peers concur with one’s assertion that “Catherine McKenzie is everywhere, she’s the one I see the most.” McKenzie led a case against the Québec government in an immigration-related case in which the rules changed midway about immigration but the government is alleged to have pocketed the fees. David Grossman is commended by the community as “very good, and also very pleasant in addition to be an extremely bright guy.” Grossman is presently before the Court of Appeal to determine (inter alia) whether foreign law applies to the transmission of shares of a Bahamian corporation after the death of one of the Québec joint owners. Representing the appellant. Jean-Michel Boudreau is primarily a class action practitioner, largely in the defense capacity except in the instances of a human rights element being concerned. He is attending to one case concerning Home Depot’s opting out of a class action settlement concerning merchant fees, and is also co-counsel with Eleni Yiannakis in a construction-related class action.

Kugler Kandestin

Montreal’s Kugler Kandestin makes its debut entry into this edition of Benchmark Canada, propelled by a generous level of peer review. The firm is noted specifically for its active plaintiff capacity. “They do a mixed bag of plaintiff work on the bodily injury side, with some leading plaintiff class action cases. They also do a lot of residential school cases,” offers one defense-side peer. Another asserts, “For plaintiffs work, they know how to win a case, push it forward and get damages. People will tell you, if you get a demand letter from them, watch out.” Brothers Robert Kugler and Stuart Kugler are observed by peers as being “quite good – they are the sons of the founder and getting some more traction but they are still too much under the radar.” Managing partner Arthur Weschler is called “a very dynamic guy and an excellent lawyer,” with one opponent noting, “I have a big case against Arthur, he is not only good, but he’s also fun to deal with.

Langlois Lawyers

Named after a since-deceased but legendary (certainly within the Québec legal community) figurehead, Langlois is unique among firms within the province. As one peer explains, “Although Langlois is not a ‘boutique,’ they really do have more of a litigation focus, unlike some of the other firms [in Montréal], which are more business firms.” The firm is also one of the few litigation-centric firms in the province to have ample bench strength in Québec City as well as its Montréal base. Langlois’ relative headroom has also not gone unnoticed. A client cheers the group as “young, brilliant lawyers banking on customer service to establish long-lasting business relationships.” It is also observed that, “They are getting aggressive about being in ramping-up mode for sure, adding partners right and left,” according to one peer, who confides, “We need to start watching out for them!” The latest in its series of strategic recruits is Sophie Perreault, who joined the firm’s Montréal office from Norton Rose Fulbright.
     In Montréal, Vincent de L’etoile, a class actions specialist who is routinely acknowledged as “one of the best, especially for his young age,” is a client favorite. One calls him, “one of the most brilliant and knowledgeable young lawyers I have had the chance to work with. His customer service is unparalleled, and he just makes things happen. I really get a lot of bang for my buck.  He understands my business and its risks, making my life much easier.” Vikki Andrighetti, an insurance specialist and another relatively recent recruit, is involved as coverage counsel for one of SNC Lavalin's excess professional liability insurers in the appeal of judgments involving claims by hundreds of home and building owners in the Three-Rivers region of Québec for damages alleged caused by the presence of pyrrhotite in concrete used to pour building foundations. André Sasseville and Yann Bernard are leading presences among the firm’s labor and employment practice. Bernard has several litigation and arbitration matters for various school boards in his recent portfolio. Elisabeth Neelin defended Metso Minerals Canada in an international arbitration. It was a claim for lost profits in the mining industry; the client was alleged to have provided faulty equipment. The $200 million claim was dismissed with costs, and the arbitral award was since confirmed. Neelin is also defending TELUS Communications in a claim for breach of privacy in connection with a search warrant issued in a criminal investigation. The proceeding, originally $1.1 million, is pending before the Superior Court in Montreal. Sean Griffin is building a constitutional law profile. In 2019, he acted for the Superior Court judges for Québéc in challenging the jurisdiction of the lower provincial court. The case is expected to make its way before the Supreme Court of Canada in 2020.

LCM Attorneys

Another Montréal litigation boutique, which saw its formation largely on the strength of an entrepreneurial group that decamped from the once-revered but since-imploded Heenan Blaikie, LCM is making its presence increasingly felt in the city’s litigation community. A peer asserts, “They are right up there with the best now. This is a firm that wasn’t even there five years ago and now they certainly are moving to the fore. They are involved in some of the most dynamic, interesting cases coming through Québec.” Another peer notes, “LCM is GROWING! They’re doing well, we see them all the time. They also just got (former Blake Cassels & Graydon star) Marc-André Landry! Plus about four other new hires.”
     Patrick Ferland, uniformly championed by peers, attends to a diverse practice including appellate work and judicial review. Ferland is also known for a lot of international law work, recognition of foreign judgments, and a lot of work for foreign states of foreign entities regarding issues of sovereign immunity. “Patrick is really owning that space right now,” opines a peer. “He’s acting on a big case for Iraq!” Ferland has also developed an expertise in public or administrative law.  Dominique Ménard and David Johannisse are addressed by a peer as “extremely practical and loved by their clients. David has a niche practice, which he loves, in the art world. Dominque is the go-to gal for injunctions, seizures, Anton Piller or Mareva orders. She’s quick, she’s fast, and clients have huge confidence in her. She often steps into files where the client might be losing ground in confidence and she will get in there when the going gets rough. She’s also building a practice that is almost like an in-house counsel for some larger clients.” Sebastien Carron is said to have a “very well established practice in securities class actions. [He] Knows everything about securities, and he also tends to do a lot of counsel work in that area.”

McMillan

The Montréal office of McMillan has been building a steadily ascending profile as of late. “They merged with Lang Michener in 2009 and ever since then have come a long way in class actions, competition and product liability, with some of the product liability work being individual and class action work,” confirms a peer. “They have been involved in competition work before it was ‘trendy.’ They also are involved in aviation, they get some of the best of that best in eastern Canada.” The latter practices are largely attributed to Éric Vallières, who lays claim to securing a rare denial of certification in a class action for Capital One. Sidney Elbaz, another class actions specialist, is also not wanting for acclaim. “Sidney did a great job on a class action for Netflix,” raves a peer. “He led a resistance of certification and then won the appeal.”

Renno Vathilakis

Celebrating five years in business as of March 2020, Renno Vathilakis is another Montréal litigation boutique but one that follows a decidedly unconventional model. “This is not the cookie-cutter type of firm doing the routine, boring work,” notes a peer. “These guys take on whatever they want.” “Whatever they want” includes a vibrant mix of high-risk/high-reward litigation cases that range from class actions (often in the plaintiff capacity) to contentious family law cases for high-net-worth individuals. Karim Renno, a “maverick” trial lawyer who held posts at Stikeman Elliott and IMK before forging this firm, is called “very good at getting out there and getting his name around town,” by a peer. Renno’s assertive promotion is supported by his aggression in the courtroom. A peer concedes, “If you’re looking to ‘do the dance,’ you’re going to hate going against him because you’re going to get hurt. If you try to dance around him, he will sink his teeth into your legs. You literally can’t go on autopilot for a minute – Karim will always be watching you and waiting for an opening to exploit a weakness.” Renno is lead counsel representing Corporatek in a major securities case in which the opposing party is alleged to have participated in a massive Ponzi scheme and committed fraud. He is also lead counsel for Eurobank in an appeal in a $10 million case against Bombardier regarding the enforcement of international letters of credit. Michael Vathilakis also walks his own line, with a practice that combines class actions, arbitration work (including international work) and a steady stream of contentious divorce work for high-net-worth individuals requiring an independent advocate. A client raves on Vathilakis’s behalf, “I was introduced to Michael by a lawyer/friend for a complex litigation matter involving two of my former partners. The case was recently settled out of court in a win-win manner. Michael and his firm studied very well the file before accepting the mandate. His guidance, advice and communications were very practical and effective. He put my interests ahead of his firm’s compensation. Past experiences with other lawyers leave me convinced that Michael knows the law better than most lawyers and that he has a high level of integrity and transparency.”

Smart & Biggar
A collaboration operating in union for a century on average, Smart & Biggar/Fetherstonhaugh is Canada's largest intellectual property firm and the only one to grow to national levels solely on the strength of this exclusive practice focus. Peers confirm, “Smart & Biggar is the biggest and the deepest IP shop in Canada.” In Montréal, the firm is viewed to have a distinct advantage because “There is no real competition anymore! Smart & Biggar have pretty much vanquished all of their rivals in Québec by just staying the course and doing great work, and they pretty much own that work here now.” The firm estimates that it devotes 25% of its overall practice to contentious issues, and it has been observed that it “seems to be growing its litigation practice.” The firm attends to all manner of IP disputes regarding trademarks, patents, copyrights, designs, licenses, and general media issues. François Guay, who maintains a varied practice, is viewed as “the leader for IP in Québec now, and someone who could hold their own against anyone in Toronto. He knows IP but more importantly, he knows how to win cases.” Guay led a team that scored for Bauer Hockey over the course of a six-week trial in the fall of 2017 in a case involving the technology for hockey helmets. A May 2018 decision found overwhelmingly in the client’s favor. The case is just one of the several in rotation for this loyal 25-year client that involves Guay.
Torys


The Montréal office of venerated Canadian legal institution Torys has, despite being smaller and more recently established, has been steadily developing a following for itself among peers and clients, the latter of whom appreciate the full strength provided to this office from the horsepower of its Toronto mothership. “They are diligent, [provide] great communication, and demonstrate subject matter expertise in dealing with specifics of Québec law,” extols one such client. The successful build-out of the Montréal office can be credited to Sylvie Rogridgue, a noted class action specialist who has particularly developed a pronounced presence in the pharmaceuitcal field and who seamlessly marshals resources between the Ontario and Quebec offices. An ardent client exclaims, “Sylvie Rodrigue is a super woman! She is brilliant and a fantastic litigator, who manages the Montreal office and commutes between Toronto and Montreal, getting the whole Torys machine going for her.” The Montreal office is further enhanced by the presence of Christopher Richter, a multifaceted practitioner who balances class and individual commercial work, product liability and employment law.

Woods

Montréal boutique Woods is revered not only as one of the strongest boutiques in the city but one of the strongest litigation groups of any firm in Québec. While still commandeered by its namesake and senior trial lawyer James Woods, the firm has proven its succession plan, with a deep and relatively young team of talent at the next generation down. Even the recent departure of Sebastien Richemont, who decamped for Fasken, did little to dim the firm’s lustre. “Woods is at the top,” concedes a peer. “They have been for awhile now and they continue to be, even without Sebastien, even though he was and is great.” The firm’s bench has been bolstered further with the recent admission of Alex Dobrota to partnership status. “Alex is great,” raves a peer. “He was a war journalist in Afghanistan and he has a lot of experience in life that is helpful as a lawyer.” Another Woods future star Neil Peden, was thrust into the spotlight this year as well, with a major triumph at the Supreme Court of Canada in January 2020 for client IMF Bentham in a matter concerning the third-party litigation funder’s role in the CCAA proceedings of video game entity Bluberi.
     Patrick Ouellet, addressed by peers as “a usual suspect and for a very good reason,” remains as active as ever. One peer even asserts, “Patrick is basically running Woods to an extent.” Within the last year, Ouellet had two class actions dismissed at certification level, and he has led two trials on the merits, with one of these, a matter dealing with abusive proceedings between two real estate entities, being brought to Ouellet from another firm specifically when the case looked likely to proceed to trial. Louis Seveno and Caroline Biron are representing Hachette and various trustees in bankruptcy in multiple cases stemming from the bankruptcies of Paul Benjamin (in Canada and in the US) and of two related Canadian corporations. Sévéno is also, along Marie-Louise Delisle and Richard Vachon, representing the builder of a public-private partnership project in a number of disputes against the facility manager and the owner of the project, and also against consultants, and suppliers. These disputes, valued at over $50 million involve project delays, alleged defects, and remedial work, as well as associated penalties, deductions and contractual claims. Vachon currently acts for Québecor, as well as its subsidiaries, TVA Group and Vidéotron, in several commercial and administrative lawsuits. One particular suit is a $150 million claim brought by Bell Canada and its subsidiaries in connection with an interruption of service of the TVA Sports channel, a Québecor property. Sarah Woods is acting as plaintiff’s counsel for the proposed class seeking authorization to institute a class action against Uber Canada in relation to the events of October 2016, during which personal information provided by users and drivers, collected, held, retained and used by Uber was made accessible to unauthorized persons, namely two hackers. A peer extols, “Sarah is at the forefront of these privacy cases! She is working with Carsten Jensen from JSS Barristers in Calgary and Luciana Brasil of Branch MacMaster in Vancouver, two leading plaintiff class action litigators.”