Surrey, British Columbia

Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, one of Canada’s top remaining independent law firms, has opened its 10th office in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey, British Columbia, after absorbing local corporate and commercial boutique Roxwal Lawyers.

The office’s opening, which went live on Feb. 1, is the second outpost for Fasken in British Columbia and will supplement the firm’s current operations in Vancouver, the largest by a law firm in the city. Surrey is the fastest-growing city in the province—it’s expanding at double the rate of Vancouver—thanks in part to its close proximity just north of the U.S.-Canadian border.

“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.

“Surrey has a quickly developing business community that includes companies that have grown from entrepreneurial roots in the area to companies that have relocated their head offices there from Vancouver,” said Fasken’s firmwide managing partner Peter Feldberg. “Our client base in the area is growing and we are following it.”

And part of that expansion was the addition of a team from Surrey-based Roxwal, including three corporate and commercial partners in Randal Dhaliwal, Paul Grewal and Jason Harris, as well as several other lawyers and staffers.

Feldberg said that in its expansion to Surrey, Fasken wanted a combination of Fasken lawyers and strong local practitioners. Fasken reached out to Roxwal, which had a budding business law practice in Surrey, and after some discussion the smaller firm chose to wind down its partnership and come aboard, Feldberg said.

It also didn’t hurt that two of the Roxwal partners—Dhaliwal and Harris—were Fasken alumni. (Dhaliwal had also once worked at Simpson Thacher & Bartlett in New York.)

Fasken’s new outpost in Surrey is only 30 minutes from Vancouver via the SkyTrain, so it will be integrated with the firm’s Vancouver office, Feldberg said. But having the additional office in British Columbia will allow Fasken to experiment with different ways of practicing law.

“As a smaller office, it also gives us a place to pilot new technologies and new ways of doing things before rolling them out on a larger scale,” Feldberg 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.

And while Feldberg said that Fasken is always looking for growth opportunities, there are currently no future merger plans in the works for the roughly 700-lawyer firm.