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Canada’s largest financial institution recently installed a new general counsel and — what a coincidence — designated his former firm to be one of its new outside counsel. While David Allgood was taking the reins of its legal department, the Royal Bank of Canada held a beauty contest among Canadian law firms. Two firms won. One prize went to Allgood’s alma mater, Toronto’s Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, which has historically played a secondary role in the Royal Bank’s affairs. (The other winner was Montreal-based Ogilvy Renault, which has been closely linked with the bank for almost a century.) “I recognized that some people were going to view it as a biased decision,” says Allgood, 52, who left Oslers after 24 years to start his first job at the bank, as senior vice president-corporate taxation, in August 1998. “I obviously think Oslers is an excellent firm, but, for the integrity of the process, I had to make sure that other people thought that was the case as well.” He notes that recently, after requesting information from roughly 250 Ontario firms, and proposals from 95 of those, a group of the bank’s legal and business executives and consultants approved 55 legal service providers for different types of work. These recommendations needed the endorsement of Allgood, and, finally, the Royal Bank’s chairman and chief financial officer. This analysis was part of a cost-cutting drive across the organization that translated into a $400 million reduction in costs by the end of the 2000 fiscal year, says Allgood. The GC ushered in a new era. When the bank announced its choice for outside counsel this spring, the outgoing GC, E.K. “Ted” Weir, was just settling back into his former firm, McMillan Binch. Long before Weir came along, McMillan Binch had been one of the Royal’s foremost advisers on Bay Street, Toronto’s equivalent of Wall Street — yet the firm was not named one of its two new primary counsel. Evaluation of the bank’s outside counsel was under way before Weir, 63, retired in January. He says that he was not directly involved in the process. Now counsel at McMillan Binch, Weir concedes that his firm would have preferred to be anointed with favored corporate counsel status, but says, “The more important point is that we have been confirmed to do the work that was our core responsibility all along.” While the Royal Bank has entrusted McMillan Binch with finance and insolvency matters for about 50 years, its head office clearly relied more on its other longtime counsel, Ogilvy Renault. In its proposed merger with the Bank of Montreal three years ago, the Royal Bank assigned the antitrust work to McMillan Binch, but tapped Ogilvy for lead counsel. The retainer was a coup for Ogilvy’s Toronto office, then just 2 years old. Beauty contest winner Oslers, an M&A powerhouse in Toronto’s top-tier firms, acted for the Bank of Montreal during the 1998 merger talks — opposite the Royal Bank and Ogilvy. Now Oslers and Ogilvy need to play well together. The Royal Bank, with some inspiration from the so-called Dupont legal model, is now emphasizing partnership and collaboration among its outside counsel. Allgood has already brought Ogilvy and Oslers together to discuss such ideas, and came away “pleased.” After all, it’s still “honeymoon time,” he says, with a wary chuckle.

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