Stikeman Elliott, one of the most profitable law firms north of the border, announced this week that longtime partner Marc Barbeau will become its new chair, replacing William Braithwaite, who has led the Canadian firm since 2012.
Barbeau, a member of Stikeman Elliott partnership board and executive committee, officially assumed leadership of the firm on Sept. 27, which was, coincidentally, his birthday.
“It certainly made for an interesting day for me,” Barbeau joked.
In addition to its change in leadership, Stikeman Elliott also announced the appointment of three new managing partners in Toronto, Montreal and Calgary with Curtis Cusinato, Warren Katz and Chrysten Perry taking over management of those offices, respectively. (Perry, a former Norton Rose Fulbright dealmaker who jumped to Stikeman Elliott in late 2015 and now co-chairs its energy, oil and gas group, will be the first woman to head Stikeman Elliott’s outpost in Calgary.)
The election to succeed Braithwaite took place back in January of this year.
Barbeau, who led Stikeman Elliott’s corporate group in its home office of Montreal, was elected as chair for a three-year term. The firm also elected Barbeau’s successor, Toronto-based corporate partner and executive committee member Jeffrey Singer, who will become Stikeman Elliott’s next chair in 2021.
This unique election process is a new governance opportunity for Stikeman Elliott, which was founded in 1952 as a tax boutique by name partners Heward Stikeman and Fraser Elliott. The firm had previously held elections for its top leadership role every three years.
“It’s actually an opportunity for us to work together,” Barbeau said of the new scheme. “It gives us an opportunity to also do some long-term thinking, as well as three-year termed thinking.”
Since his election earlier this year, Barbeau has been working in the background alongside Braithwaite to ensure a smooth transition of leadership for Stikeman Elliott.
“We have a great firm … and we’re firing on all cylinders and it’s been a terrifically active couple of years in particular,” said Barbeau, who first joined Stikeman Elliott as a law student in 1985 before becoming a full-time lawyer the following year.
Asked about the future of the Canadian legal market, Barbeau said two key priorities will be to tackle changes in talent management and technology.
“There’s no question in an environment where there’s a lot of activity, you are first and foremost focused on recruiting talent and retaining talent and ensuring that your people are in a position to do what they do best,” Barbeau said.
“Our economies are virtually integrated, so whatever challenges U.S. firms face we will similarly face,” Barbeau said. “But I think any firm this day and age has to be aware of and be prepared to respond quickly to change. And change in the last few years has been extremely dynamic.”