McCarthy Tétrault, one of Canada’s largest firms, announced Thursday a first-of-its-kind deal that will see it absorb Wortzmans, a leading electronic discovery firm in Toronto.
The move comes as McCarthy Tétrault, like many large firms, seeks to streamline costs and operations for its clients.
“We’ve been looking to enhance and strengthen our capabilities in the e-discovery area,” said McCarthy Tétrault CEO David Leonard. “We’ve got a top litigation group and being able to provide e-discovery service to our clients is tremendously important.”
The acquisition only took weeks, but it began serendipitously four years ago when Leonard met Wortzmans founder and president Susan Wortzman while running his first half-marathon in Toronto.
“She described what she did and I joked around and said, ‘Oh, that’s great, you should come join us,’” Leonard said.
Wortzman left her position as a commercial litigation partner at full-service Ontario firm Lerners in late 2007 to start her own e-discovery shop, which provides information governance and technology strategies to its clients.
“The future of information and data management in the legal industry in Canada is changing rapidly,” Wortzman said in a statement. “With new technologies and more effective, efficient ways to serve clients, our new partnership continues McCarthy Tétrault’s history of cutting-edge innovation.”
In the acquisition, Wortzman will become an equity partner at McCarthy Tétrault and the firm’s acquisition of will see it bring on three others lawyers and three e-discovery staffers from Wortzmans. Both entities will remain physically separate for the time being as conflicts and confidentiality issues are worked out between the two firms.
The hope is that over time Wortzmans and McCarthy Tétrault will be able to fully combine and offer litigation services and analysis to their clients, but with pricing that is competitive, Leonard said.
“We think this story is going to be pretty compelling to our clients from start to finish,” added Leonard, who took over last year as McCarthy Tétrault’s leader. “It’s a McCarthy solution as to how to manage litigation, including all the documents [that come with it].”
E-discovery, which remains an evolving field south of the 49th parallel, is a much smaller business in Canada than the U.S. That has seemingly led to a less tenuous relationship between large firms up north and their technology-focused counterparts.
“I don’t get the sense that it’s an especially adversarial or voracious relationship between the two,” said Jordan Furlong of Ottawa-based legal consultancy Law21. “My sense is that they’re not really in open war right now.”
Within the past decade, however, a number of third-party outfits like Wortzmans have set up operations across Canada and started doing e-discovery work for larger firms and their clients, something that has been a growing concern among those in the Canadian legal market.
“We were at crossroads as to exactly what the strategy was going to be moving forward and we’re making an investment,” Leonard said. “We think this is an area where we can deliver good quality service at the right price for our clients and provide a seamless operation.”
Leonard noted that McCarthy Tétrault’s decision to attach Wortzmans to its current operations—the firm is the sixth-largest in Canada by head count, according to Lexpert—has generally been met with positive reviews from clients.
“They see this as yet another example of us being on leading edge of trying to push how we deliver services to our clients and not simply sitting back and operating the way a tradition law firm does and trying to take it to the next level,” Leonard said.
Furlong, the Canadian legal consultant, agreed that McCarthy Tétrault was “pretty clearly seeking out a leadership position among Canadian firms in this area.”
The competition on Canada’s legal tundra remains fierce. While McCarthy Tétrault is one of several top Canadian firms to have resisted a merger, other large international firms like Dentons, DLA Piper and Norton Rose Fulbright continue to make inroads in the country by picking up smaller firms.
In late September, two of Canada’s largest provincial firms also announced their intention to combine operations. The move came after another top Canadian firm, Gowling Lafleur Henderson, finalized a cross-border combination with a British firm to form Gowling WLG.