Downtown Toronto at sunset. Photo: Harold Stiver/Shutterstock.com

In a push to grow its presence in an increasingly competitive Toronto legal market, Dentons has added five lawyers from local litigation and real estate boutique McLean & Kerr, which will close its doors after the moves.

McLean & Kerr managing partner Todd Davidson and real estate litigation partner Sharon Addison are joining the global legal giant as partners in its real estate and litigation and dispute resolution group, respectively. McLean & Kerr partners Elaine Gray, Leanne Fasciano, Stuart LeMesurier are also joining Dentons as counsel in Toronto.

In addition, Dentons is adding two paralegals and three support staff members from McLean & Kerr. The firm is winding down its operations after the departures.

“McLean & Kerr was a very highly regarded boutique firm in the Toronto market,” noted Blair McCreadie, managing partner of Dentons’ Toronto office.

The group has deep expertise in commercial real estate, leasing, construction and litigation, and its client base includes both real estate and property management firms and the real estate investment arms of some Canadian pension funds, many of which are already clients of Dentons.

But the addition of the 10-member group isn’t just about building up Dentons’ real estate and real estate litigation practices in Toronto, McCreadie said. It’s about becoming one of the leading global law firms in Toronto and across Canada.

“Dentons has a plan to grow aggressively in Toronto,” said McCreadie, noting that the firm has added 25 lawyers in the city over the last year.

Dentons is one of four global law firms with a presence in the Toronto legal market. Baker McKenzie was the first, opening in Canada’s financial center in 1962. Norton Rose Fulbright and DLA Piper later moved into Toronto via mergers with Canadian firms Ogilvy Renault and Davis in 2010 and 2015, respectively.

Dentons first entered the Canadian legal market in 2013, when, as SNR Denton, it completed a three-way merger with European firm Salans and Toronto-based firm Fraser Milner Casgrain.

Following the collapse of Canadian law firm Heenan Blaikie in 2014, Dentons expanded its footprint in the country, picking up some 46 attorneys from the defunct firm across its Calgary, Montreal and Toronto offices, including former Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien.

(A year later Dentons would combine with Chinese legal juggernaut Dacheng, making it the world’s largest law firm, with roughly 7,500 attorneys globally.)

“As part of our growth plan, our goal is to significantly increase our presence in a number of key Canadian markets, including Toronto, to take advantage of our unmatched global platform,” McCreadie said.

Earlier this month, Dentons added McCarthy Tétrault partner Kirsten Thompson, who led the firm’s cybersecurity, privacy and data management group. Thompson joined the international giant in Toronto as a partner in its privacy and cybersecurity practice and will head Dentons’ newly formed transformative technologies and data strategy group.

But for all of its promise, the Toronto legal market also presents its challenges. Legal spending has been relatively flat in recent years, and clients, as they have elsewhere, have started to consolidate their external legal providers, McCreadie said.

For Dentons, with its presence across a multitude of jurisdictions, that spells an opportunity to capitalize on what McCreadie predicts will be impending disruptions to the Toronto legal market.

“I think those sort of changes are coming, but I think, frankly, it was our goal to get ahead of that and make sure that we’re able to take advantage of our position in this market,” he said.