Blakes Raises the Brand Stakes in Canada's Legal Market

Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP takes top place for the first time in this year’s Canadian Law Firm Brand Index, published by legal market research specialist, Acritas. 

The scores for the top three firms are close this year, but Blakes has taken the lead thanks to its strong performance in five of the six measures that make up the Index (see methodology below).

As Canada’s most favoured law firm, Blakes’ popularity is testament to its success in creating a clear, differentiated offering built on practice areas directly relevant to the largest sectors of the Canadian economy.

Norton Rose Fulbright, which moved from eighth to first place in last year’s Index following its merger, has secured second position in 2014 – attaining the best ratings for overall top of mind awareness and being the most used firm for high value work.  These achievements come on the back of successful investment in increasing the visibility of the firm in the market and converting this visibility into work, as shown in its high scores for usage overall.

Completing the top three, Stikeman Elliott has gained one place in this year’s Index as a result of high levels of awareness as well as clients’ use of the firm for high value and inbound work.

Notably, all three top firms score highly in the most used for inbound work measure. As flat domestic spend is predicted, the success of these firms in capturing lucrative international work bodes well for the future as they are in prime positions to meet rising demand from global multinationals with needs in Canada.

Overall, the 2014 Index reveals that there has been a degree of normalization in the Canadian legal market during the past year following the stellar post-merger rise of Norton Rose Fulbright in 2013 which shook the established order.

For example Osler, which took the full force of Norton Rose Fulbright’s enlarged presence in Canada last year and fell from first place in 2012 to eighth place in 2013, has gained back considerable ground, settling in fourth place this year. Its recovery is thanks to improved scores across most measures, but especially favourability – an indicator of how relevant a firm, its offering and value proposition are seen to be – which puts Osler in a good position for growth.

As the research was completed in January 2013, Heenan Blaikie is included in the rankings at 14th. Its presence acts as a stark reminder of how quickly fortunes can change in a legal market that until February 2014, had arguably felt the effects of economic pressure less directly than others around the world. A victim of its own ambitious growth in a saturated market, Heenan Blaikie offers a clear lesson in the perils of failing to react effectively to early warning signs in the current economic climate.

On a more positive note, Dentons is a good example of a firm that has successfully maintained its position despite merger and a transition to a new brand.  Its challenge now is to increase that brand equity and grow further.

Commenting on the results, Elizabeth Duffy, Vice President of Acritas US, Inc., said: “The 2014 Index points to the wider trends affecting the market. The budgetary restrictions that in-house counsel have been facing are becoming more evident in the choices they are making about the firms they use. 

“Where five years ago, firms won much of their business on personal relationships and individual lawyers’ reputations, today, clients need to evaluate – and justify – their choice of firm against a more complex and objective set of measures including their specialist expertise, business knowledge and, increasingly, their global reach.

“Globally, clients driven by the need for value have rising expectations of the service they receive from their law firms – and this is very much the case in Canada too.  The number of in-house counsel we interviewed who said they thought there were no areas for law firm improvement has fallen from 29% to 20% this year, with nearly a third saying they required lower costs and better value.

“In a slow market, law firms which fail to identify their strengths and build their brands and value propositions around them find they are facing even greater downward pressure on rates.  In turn, it becomes more difficult to stand out and achieve top of mind awareness among the most lucrative clients. 

“In this climate, clear differentiation of the law firm’s offering, excellent communication and a systematic approach to getting close to clients and understanding their current and future needs are absolutely vital to guaranteeing success. Tightening competition and clients’ use of a greater number of firms than ever, means law firms cannot afford to take the risk of being last in clients’ minds.”

Taking heed of external indicators is critical to securing future business sustainability and growth especially in a crowded market. Brand visibility, client satisfaction, legal demand forecasts and competitive analysis are all objective measures that law firm leaders need to consider if they are to steer a course to success.

Acritas’ annual Sharplegal research of the Canadian market reveals flat spending predictions, slim segments of growth opportunity and an increasingly complex set of client demands. The legal buyer role and profile have changed significantly since research began in 2008 and changes in the Canadian legal market continue to mirror trends observed in the UK and the US, where selection is increasingly formalized and pressure to achieve value is intensifying.

Methodology: The Canadian Law Firm Brand Index 2014 was compiled from the unprompted responses of 191 senior general counsel in Canadian organizations with revenues over $50M who were asked about their awareness of and favourability towards law firms; their consideration of firms for top-level litigation and major M&A; as well as their use of firms for high value and inbound work. A further 77 senior in-house counsel outside Canada were asked which firms they used for their Canadian legal needs.

Interviews were conducted in the  Canadian provinces of Ontario, Alberta, Québec and British Columbia across all industry sectors including Finance, Energy and Corporate and Public entities, and among approximately half mid-market ($50M-$1bn revenue) and half elite ($1bn+ revenue) organizations. All sample for interviews was generated from Acritas’ own database of in-house counsel contacts and was not influenced by law firms. 

To see the Index in full you can click here and download your complimentary copy of the Index from the top right of the web page

To learn more about Acritas’ Sharplegal insight and how it can help you improve your firm's brand strategy and sharpen your competitive edge, please call Elizabeth Duffy +1 646 480-5738 or Jo Summers +44(0)808 178 3020 or email


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