British Columbia

Review

Dispute resolution
Alexander Holburn Beaudin + Lang

Vancouver’s Alexander Holburn Beaudin & Lang is consistently referenced among market peers in the capacity of insurance, product liability, infrastructure and aviation, an area in which the firm has held a particular niche. Peers single out managing partner Christopher Hirst as being “someone worthy of consideration. He is taking on a good deal of the important work there now and becoming a lot more visible, which is impressive since he balances this with his management responsibilities.” Hirst is counsel for Tetra Tech Canada, the plaintiff in a $20 million claim arising from design services provided for the North Vancouver Waste Water Treatment Facility. Hirst is also counsel for the COWI North America, the defendant in a delay-and-damages claim brought by the BC Ministry of Transportation and Highways arising from a renovation project that includes safety fencing and expanded walkways on the Ironworkers Memorial Bridge.

Branch MacMaster
Vancouver boutique Branch MacMaster has etched itself a unique position among the crowded pedestal of recommended firms in the city. The firm’s noted specialties are insurance and class actions, and in the latter practice, the firm has had great success providing counsel on both sides of the “V.” Luciana Brasil continues to commandeer the Branch MacMaster approach and is also now seen as the “heiress apparent.” One peer testifies, “Pretty much any case Ward was on, Luciana was on too. She’s the research engine beyond it. I’ve heard her present at conferences in Toronto, where she held her own quite well. In fact, she easily she gave the best presentation and was very dynamic and organized.” It is noted that Brasil “has more of a taste for the plaintiff cases, and whereas Ward was sometimes risk-averse, Luciana often provides the fire in getting cases underway that have a high risk/reward ratio.” Brasil lays claim to providing plaintiff counsel in an ongoing class action challenging the constitutionality of 15% taxes imposed on purchase of residential property by foreign buyers. She is also leading a plaintiffs’ action alleging a conspiracy between credit card networks and issuing banks to artificially increase the amounts merchants paid on acceptance of credit cards. There have been some partial settlements, but action is ongoing against five remaining banks. More recently, Brasil has been leading the charge (along with Reidar Mogerman of Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman) in the plaintiff capacity in the sprawling class action against manufacturers, distributors and retailers of opioids.
Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman

Since its founding in 1993, the Vancouver boutique Camp Fiorante Matthews Mogerman has etched itself a formidable niche in the British Columbia legal landscape with its concentration in representing plaintiffs in the areas of aviation, product liability, and, most notably, the ever-increasing capacity for class actions. “Camp Fiorante is the go-to firm for the aviation plaintiff work. In fact, they go to you! That’s their business model.” Another peer notes, “Camp Fiorante has gone very quickly from being a local plaintiff shop to being one of the most important firms in Canada, engaged in some very high-profile litigation raising some very cutting-edge issues.” One class-action-
specific peer confirms, “If I have a product liability class action, I will immediately defer to Camp Fiorante for guidance.”

The chief proponent behind the indirect purchaser class actions, Reidar Mogerman is identified as “one of the key ‘movers’ behind litigation not only in BC but Canada-wide. Class action specialists all throughout the country are taking notice of him and keeping with what he’s up to. Reidar is a very creative guy. He lives is a very eclectic life!” Mogerman is at the helm of several class actions that have set precedent in Canada; in Pro-Sys v Microsoft, he provided lead counsel for a class of plaintiffs against Microsoft on anti-competitive claims. Following certification, this action has advanced to the trial stage, a rare case of a class action doing so. Expert evidence estimates damages at approximately $6 billion and the case involves multiple, novel issues of substance and procedure. Mogerman is also co-lead counsel on ongoing multi-jurisdictional class actions about credit card fees in the case of Watson v. Bank of America and others. This case has generated decisions relating to settlement and fee approval, an important appeal about carriage agreements, and decisions about the recently amended cartel provisions of the Competition Act. Mogerman is also co-lead counsel in yet another ongoing price-fixing litigation relating to LCD screens. More recently, Mogerman has been leading the charge (along with Luciana Brasil of Branch MacMaster) in the plaintiff capacity in the sprawling class action against manufacturers, distributors and retailers of opioids. “I think most will agree,” states one peer, “that Reidar Mogerman is considered the most intellectual and dangerous plaintiff class action lawyer in Canada.” A local peer also notes, “David Jones made partner at Camp Fiorante, I would suggest him as a future star. He works closely with Reidar and has one of those minds that is good for experts and economic theories and concepts that may take the rest of us a while to grasp.”

Cassels Brock & Blackwell

The Vancouver pillar of Cassels Brock hosts a stable of litigators who have proven adept with a diverse spectrum of business disputes. Mary Buttery, a commercial litigator with a specialty in insolvency matters, is a particular peer favorite. “Mary is such a rock star,” raves one peer. Buttery is acting with Tom Isaac, a practitioner with a fluency with Aboriginal law matters, as counsel for the Metis Nation - Saskatchewan in respect of an action involving land claims in Alberta and Saskatchewan. The Metis Nation is a proposed intervenor and has served application material. Brigeeta Richdale, a securities enforcement and fraud specialist with “experience beyond her years,” acts as counsel to Global Blockchain Mining in an ongoing special investigation and a civil action relating to allegations of breach of contract, unjust enrichment and oppression arising out of an agreement to purchase bitcoin mining machines in exchange for the listing and subsequent issuance of Mining’s shares worth CAD $37.5 million. Blockchain is a guarantor to the purchase agreement. Richdale also acts as counsel to Tryton Financial, Abeir Haddad, Saiya Capital, and Tara Kerry Haddad in an ongoing BC Securities Commission, and constitutional challenge in a Stated Case brought by the Attorney General of British Columbia and the BC Securities Commission before the Supreme Court of British Columbia, the BC Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court of Canada. This matter arises from a BC Securities Commission regulatory investigation and proceeding involving over 70 freeze orders (freezing more than $70 million in assets) relating to allegations of securities violations, participating in a scheme that involves conduct abusive to the capital markets, and the illegal distribution of securities. Richdale also acts as counsel to Tryton Financial in an Alberta Securities Commission regulatory investigation relating to allegations of securities violations of Prize Mining. Richdale also acts as counsel in an ongoing class action, and to Tryton in a civil action in relation to allegations of fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of contract, conspiracy, unjust enrichment, and breach of duty of honest performance, resulting from various consulting and subscription agreements.

Dentons

The Vancouver office of global conglomerate Dentons has been steadily building out its litigation practice through noticeable strategic hires as of late. Peers credit this to the savvy of veteran Vancouver litigator David Wotherspoon, the firm’s local head of litigation. Dentons lured Morgan Camley to its bench from Miller Thomson in late 2019 and in March 2020 welcomed Eleni Kassaris, formerly of the local office of Blake Cassels & Graydon, aboard. Camley attends to a varied practice composed of commercial, regulatory and Aboriginal law work, while Kassaris is a longtime authority in the labor and employment capacity. “Both of these are great hires,” enthuses a peer. “It gives them each an opportunity to shine in their respective capacities.” For his part, Wotherspoon also enjoys a diverse practice that has historically included a steady commercial litigation diet along with more novel niches such as injunction work, intellectual property, defamation and free speech, and professional liability.

Eyford Partners

A Vancouver litigation boutique that has been on a noticeable growth kick in its headcount and its branding traction, Eyford Partners has attained a sweet spot in the market, adding steadily to its bench while remaining under 20 partners. Under the leadership of Douglas Eyford, an all-purpose civil litigator, since its inception, the firm got a considerable boost of star power in early 2017 when seasoned Vancouver star Angus Gunn joined the firm. Gunn maintains a professional focus of appeals, with the remainder of his practice being dedicated to public law, typically for the Province of British Columbia. Gunn has also developed a niche in arbitration at both the domestic and international levels. Eyford has deftly pivoted from a caseload largely consisting of insurance defense to a more diverse practice encompassing defamation and oppression claims. Chris Schuld, making his debut in this edition, is primarily dedicated to construction litigation. Evan Cooke maintains a practice focused primarily on municipal and expropriation law.

Farris

Farris provides a comprehensive and diverse array of litigation services that ranges from commercial litigation, securities, family law, administrative law and labor and employment. While recognized as “a classic Vancouver firm,” Farris is noted by peers as being “well positioned because of the big group of younger partners that are coming up and complementing the more senior people that are Farris ‘lifers.’”

Peers largely credit this transition to Ludmila Herbst, an all-purpose litigator who earned her stripes at Farris over the past several years and has since emerged as “a de facto leader now.” Among other engagements, Herbst leads a team that represents the Law Society of British Columbia, one of the participants granted standing in a commission inquiry that was established by the provincial government in 2019 to investigate allegations of money laundering in several specific industry sectors. Commission hearings commenced in the spring of 2020, resumed in October 2020, and are expected to conclude in May 2021. Another emerging leader, particularly in the securities capacity, Teresa Tomchak is representing the TSX Venture Exchange in a hearing and review application before the British Columbia Securities Commission. The applicant filed an application for a hearing and review of the TSXV decision that imposes certain requirements upon the applicant relating to his ability to become a director or officer of an exchange listed issuer. The matter concerns the applicant’s involvement with another exchange listed issuer at a time when the applicant was the CEO, a director and president and during which the issuer breached numerous policies of the TSXV relating to misrepresentations to the TSXV and the public. Tomchak is also leading counsel to several individuals in an ongoing regulatory proceeding involving Bridgemark Financial before the British Columbia Securities Commission involving 65 respondents, as well as a related class action. It is alleged before the Securities Commission that the respondents have breached the Securities Act in relation to the issuance of securities relying on the consultant exemption and involving the use of check swaps. The proposed class action is based on similar allegations. Mike Wagner is quickly rising in the ranks on the strength of an extraordinarily diverse portfolio of practices ranging from estate litigation to arbitration to a class action practice that straddles both defense and plaintiff positions. Rebecca Morse, who attends to an insolvency and estate litigation practice, is seeing an ascent in profile as well. Robert McDonell is counsel for three defendants in the massive opioid national class action commenced all across Canada. There are 49 defendants with the provincial and federal governments as the intended members in the British Columbia class action.

Guild Yule


Guild Yule occupies, and some would argue dominates, an insurance-focused space in the Vancouver community. “Guild Yule has the insurance industry on lockdown in this market,” confirms a peer. Senior statesman Don Yule, who for years “kept threatening to retire and then continued not doing it,” finally made good on his promise this year but the firm has continued to grow and evolve with younger partners emerging to the fore and pushing into an ever-diversifying range of work. The firm has also grown in its geographic footprint as well; a planned office in Kelowna, in British Columbia’s inland, has become a reality and has seen a steady build-out, with Shauna Gersbach and Shaun Frost helming this expansion. “It’s been a good year for Guild Yule,” assesses a peer. “They have lost nobody [to another firm] and they are growing.” Guild Yule welcomed three female litigators into the partnership over the past year and is also noted as having a “very diverse associate group.”

In Vancouver, insurance specialist Julie Lamb is a recent recipient of the prestigious “Queen’s Counsel” honor and is also a bencher as of January 2020. “Julie is one of best,” declares a peer. “Nice as can be but you do not want to cross her in court.” Stephanie Hamilton attends to negligence-related matters in the health care field, defending nurses and various other medical employees. Mark Gyton is actively pursuing maritime law, as well as subrogation coverage work and related product liability matters. Vernon Pahl is another one of the two practitioners in the firm attending to maritime work. Adam Howden-Duke attends to a more varied practice that touches on insurance, medical malpractice and other professional negligence, and product liability. A peer addresses him as “a really smart guy, who, when I saw him on a file, really stood out from the rest, really left an impression.” Kristal Low is noted for her work that is largely dedicated to professional liability for the health industry, as well a thriving labor and employment advisory work.

Hakemi & Ridgedale

A new entry into the Benchmark Canada rankings in this edition, Hakemi & Ridgedale is a Vancouver-based litigation boutique composed of name partners Tom Hakemi and Lisa Ridgedale, both of whom juggle a variety of commercial litigation matters that also touch on areas such as employment law, family law and defamation. Clients are appreciative of Hakemi and Ridgedale’s individual and collective litigation acumen. “They are amazing. They go above and beyond,” testifies one such client. “They are always available to answer any of my questions and concerns even if it’s after business hours. They are also very detail-oriented and proactive, and it should be said, cost-effective.” Another stresses, “Tom has been so amazing at thinking outside the box and finding creative solutions. Lisa is one of the fiercest lawyers I have ever met. Her commitment to her clients is remarkable, and she leaves nothing unturned. Everything is examined and evaluated for what it is. She only wants to win but she does it with grit and grace. Both are experienced and spot on with their legal analysis. Ours was a difficult case for many reasons and was won due in part for the integrity of the law firm.” The pair successfully appealed a trial decision at the BC Court of Appeal in a defamation case which focused on the significant legal issues of when it is appropriate for a trial judge to draw adverse inferences and to take judicial notice. Ridgedale also provided lead counsel to IG Image Group, a company that sells branded promotional products, as well as several personal defendants in employment-related claims brought by a sales representative of Image Group following a client transfer dispute between the plaintiff and the two individual defendants. The case was decided in Ridgedale’s client’s favor.

Harper Grey

A staple of the Vancouver market, Harper Grey elicits prestige owing to its rich history and earns plaudits based on its strategy for the future; the firm’s litigation bench is stocked top-to-bottom with talent ranging from senior statesmen to up-and-comers, all of whom elicit praise from peers and appreciation from clients. “Harper Grey has a 100-year-old profile in this market,” testifies one senior-level peer, adding “but the talent there now is mostly all younger than me!” The firm also has no shortage of fans among its clients. One raves, “They were amazing to work with! They were incredibly competent and resolution-based. They kept me centered in the midst of the storm and got me a great result in very short time frame.” Harper Grey is known throughout the province (and, in certain circles, nationwide) for a prized insurance and medical/health capacity. One local insurance-focused peer regards the firm as “our sister firm,” and notes, “We see them on a ton of files, particularly Nigel TrevethanJonathan MeadowsKim Jakeman and David Pilley.” However, the firm also houses practitioners in the construction and engineering area, environmental, commercial litigation, insolvency and securities.

On the younger end of the spectrum, Cameron Elder receives near-unanimous acclaim for his hybrid practice that touches on medical negligence claims and construction/engineering claims. One appreciative client confirms, “Cameron Elder has been excellent in connecting directly with the different persons in our organization to gather information and support them with their questions, as well as providing clear plans and next steps.” The engineering practice is also an area in which Chris Rusnak is particularly well versed. Elder and Rusnak are cheered by a client for “quickly grasping the technical complexities and providing not only legal advice, but timely and helpful strategic advice for members of our organization in addressing various matters including ongoing relations with the potential defendants.” Una Radoja enjoys a growing profile in the firm’s environmental law niche. A peer testifies, “I saw her on a case where she was the junior but she was really the brains and the muscle behind things.” Future star Joel Morris is seeing his star quickly on the rise as well. “Joel is fantastic,” insists a peer, who goes on to confide, “I wanted to hire him!” Another peer raves, “Joel does it all. He is excellent counsel; he contributes to the legal community; he mentors. He is practicing at a level many years beyond his year of call as evidenced by the fact he is already an adjunct professor at the UBC Law School.” Roselle Wu, whose practice straddles trust and estates and insolvency, is another client favorite. “I have dealt with Roselle for many years and she is an outstanding lawyer in many respects,” extols one such client. “She is knowledgeable and easily gains the trust of her clients and, tellingly, the respect of her opposing counsel, and she is very responsive to my and our clients concerns.” Despite his senior status, peers insist that Rod Anderson is still a go-to for securities litigation not only within Harper Grey but in all of BC. “‘Hot Rod’ still has the energy and still has the most securities cases out of anyone else I’ve seen,” testifies a peer. “He was there on this securities case I worked on and he stayed very late. He’s very well connected and is a good source of information.” John Sullivan and Salman Bhura, both of whom attend to more commercial litigation-focused practices, are also cheered by a satisfied client for their individual and collective prowess. “Both of these lawyers truly saved my life through my case! I had no choice but to trust them and they exceeded my expectations. They were outstanding at navigating and guiding me at a time that was like climbing Mount Everest. They worked endlessly to get me a quick resolution. I’m so grateful to them.”

Hunter Litigation Chambers

Vancouver’s Hunter Litigation Chambers makes no bones about its agenda; this litigation-specific outfit has won commendations from peers and clients for its focus on disputes and its success with attending to them. The firm’s culture and approach has garnered as much praise as its work product; one client cheers the firm’s “excellent and timely legal advice” while noting that the firm is “very responsive to emerging issues, willing to take on the ‘strange and unusual’ and creative [in its] problem-solving.” Another client opines, “I’m glad to see that they work with and are training female juniors.” Peers observe that “Hunter does a lot of unusual cases, such as ongoing work related to indigenous rights and title, forestry law compliance issues and government policy issues.”

Senior partner Bill Smart is revered by all members of the Vancouver legal community. “Bill displayed his usual finesse in cross examining people in a money-laundering matter,” confirms one peer. Another insists, “Bill is the titular head of the firm. He commands the confidence of clients and is also good with grooming young lawyers.” Among these young lawyers referenced, firm namesake Claire Hunter is a frequent mention. “Claire is very responsive and provides timely legal advice,” states a client. “She is a very clear communicator and is well respected by the courts. I always know I am in good hands [with her representation.]” Hunter successfully resisted a shareholder’s appeal from dismissal of their application for leave to commence a derivative action against the directors of client Eastern Platinum Limited in connection with the company’s having entered into an agreement relating to the recovery and sale of chrome off-take. Hunter also exemplifies the firm’s willingness to take on more cutting-edge issues outside of commercial litigation. She made a successful application for judicial review challenging a decision made on behalf of the Minister of Health refusing to grant a security clearance to the applicant under the Cannabis Regulations, and she led a significant appeal in which a father appealed from orders permitting his 14-year-old transgender child to consent as a mature minor to gender-affirming hormone therapy. There were also orders requiring the father to recognize the child’s male gender identity and refer to him as a boy. Mark Oulton successfully resisted an application brought seeking leave to appeal from an arbitral award relating to the proper interpretation of a replaceable road construction agreement. Oulton is commended by a client for his “communication, responsiveness, customer focus and honest assessment of strength of position.” Ryan Dalziel, a younger partner with a considerable reputation, joined the firm in early 2020. “That was a good get,” insists one peer, summing up the general consensus. Dalziel provided counsel for a respondent in an appeal from a finding of vicarious liability for a hit-and-run by an unidentified driver. The appeal tested the limits of the inferences that could be drawn by the trial judge from purely circumstantial evidence about the presence of the car at a nightclub, and whether the car owner granted anyone at the club permission to drive the vehicle. The appeal was dismissed.

JFK Law

JFK Law (an acronym for Janes Freedman Kyle) occupies a unique niche in the British Columbia market. Through its offices in Victoria and Vancouver, its practitioners attend to a diverse range of aboriginal and constitutional law issues, acting on behalf of First Nations communities as well as institutions. The firm is well versed in treaty negotiations as well. “JFK have their own corner of the market, which they’ve had for years and which is different than many of us, but they are very highly thought of as practitioners in that area,” testifies a peer. JFK was given an additional boost in litigation horsepower with the arrival of Vancouver’s Tim Dickson, who left that city’s institution Farris to join. Dickson has been particularly active of late; in one case, he acted as lead counsel for the Tsilhqot’in tribe in an ongoing dispute concerning the development of a gold mine, triumphing on the client’s behalf and setting precedent in establishing since the creation of the duty to consult and accommodate in 2004 that a First Nation has obtained an injunction until the hearing of its infringement claim. “Tim is a great young star,” voices a peer. “He knows the Vancouver community and is well respected and has great credibility among it.”

Kornfeld

A shop with a specialty niche in Vancouver’s vibrant-but-volatile real estate and development arena, Kornfeld has earned itself a steady stream of enthusiasm from both peers and clients. “[They have been] Outstanding from beginning to now,” cheers one client. “They took us on in 2013 and are still representing us in upcoming BC Court of Appeals proceedings. They won our case in May 2019.” Another client raves, “They are absolutely prudent in every aspect of litigation and they have not made any mistakes at all. This is a very rare virtue amongst well known and busy lawyers. They have undertaken incredible collaboration with us as clients and provided outstanding collective lawyer efforts at trial.” One peer, an adversary, notes humorously, “After 85 days of trial against them, I can honestly say I still like them.” Another peer declares more soberly, “Shane Coblin and Dan Parlow are smart, hard-working and experienced. They have special expertise in rent and condo/hotel cost- sharing arbitration work as well as construction- and development-related litigation.” Shane Coblin in particular is singled out by a client as “superb. He was totally focused and detail oriented, and he understood the nuances of grammar and the English language to find an advantage.” Dan Parlow is also noted by a peer to be “a hard-working guy who really digs in on files. He will chase everything to the ends of the earth, so you’d better have your story straight when you’re dealing with him.” Parlow and Coblin represent Brentwood Lanes Canada in a case that involved a claim for specific performance of a real estate transaction involving a property worth in excess of $70 million. The case, which has, to date, consumed approximately 80 days at trial and an additional four days at the Court of Appeal, is currently being sought for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Canada by the plaintiffs. Coblin also represents the developers of Hotel Georgia, a prominent luxury hotel located in Downtown Vancouver.

Mackay Boyar

A Vancouver litigation boutique that has its much larger market peers talking and impressed, MacKay Boyar has quickly etched itself a unique profile in the crowded legal market. “Mackay Boyar is a smaller boutique that has excellent up-and-coming litigation counsel that we use from time to time,” notes the client of another local firm. “MacKay Boyar are so nice to deal with,” insists a peer at a much larger firm. “They are unique in that they are doing a lot of commercial and criminal litigation. We send them tons of work, and they are also tight with [revered Vancouver trial lawyer] Ken McEwan!” Andi MacKay is said to have “a practice area that I think is really interesting, intertwining criminal and commercial matters, with a special niche on what’s become known as ‘ineffective assistance.’” MacKay is noted for her impressive pedigree, with previous stints at the Vancouver office of Fasken as well as tutelage under (now-retired) seasoned litigation statesman Bill Berardino. Tam Boyar is called “a genius, the full package – it’s really rare to have someone be as smart as he is and be ‘normal,’ with no big ego. Clients love him, and he is an incredible listener.” Boyar is noted by a peer to have been “busy doing trials regarding our Health Services Act.” Specifically, Boyar represented the British Columbia provincial government in this Constitutional challenge to Canadian Medicare in British Columbia, brought by a group of surgeons, that saw experts from all over the world being pulled in to examine what is the best way to design a health care system. A decision was rendered in Boyar’s client’s favor in September 2020.

McEwan Partners

McEwan Partners generated immediate buzz upon its formation three years ago, and not without justification. The firm, whose official title is McEwan Cooper Dennis, is composed of some of the most venerated litigation talent in BC. Ken McEwan, a Vancouver trial veteran, forged the firm’s identity upon splitting off from his former shop and cherry-picking some of the city’s other prized practitioners to bolster the bench. Those included Robert Cooper and Craig Dennis. “McEwan very much continues to be the commercial litigation powerhouse in town,” insists one peer, summing up a broadly held consensus. “All three of the lead guys are obviously very capable counsel and I’ve got a lot of time for each one of them. They have, if not the leading practice in town then certainly close to it.” The firm’s status as a litigation-specific boutique allows it the freedom to pivot between plaintiff and defense work, with cases that are often fairly novel in nature. “We send a huge amount of files to McEwan,” confirms a peer, “because they are fearless and will take on things that the rest of us just don’t, or won’t, do!”

Ken McEwan continues to be “just a huge turbine of work,” according to local peers, one of whom marvels, “I don’t even know how he handles it all! He’s going to need to clone himself pretty soon!” McEwan is counsel to an individual in an ongoing regulatory proceeding involving Bridgemark Financial before the British Columbia Securities Commission involving 65 respondents. A peer notes, “This the biggest securities case in BC right now! And of course, one of the people who is pretty central to this case went to Ken for counsel.” Illustrating the firm’s versatility and the novelty of the cases it attends to, McEwan is also working in the plaintiff capacity (along with co-counsel from Koskie Minsky in Toronto) on a class proceeding on behalf of certain groups of prisoners who have been held in solitary confinement in the BC correctional system between 2005 and 2015. The Notice of Civil Claim alleges that British Columbia’s overuse of solitary confinement is negligent and constitutes a number of breaches of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. The certification hearing was set for May 2020. Acting with McEwan on this file is Emily Kirkpatrick, who exemplifies the firm’s depth beyond the three senior name partners. Dennis meanwhile acted on behalf of The Advocates’ Society as an intervenor in a petition to challenge the validity of Rule 11-8 of the BC Supreme Court Civil Rules, which purported to limit the number of experts that a party could tender at trial on the issues of damages arising from personal injury or death. “I am increasingly a fan of Craig Dennis,” offers a peer, “and I think he is really hitting that ‘sweet spot’ of his career in the market. He is a great mind and a gentleman.” Dennis is also Canadian counsel to Yahoo! in a data breach-related matter, which was settled on a nationwide basis. Owen James attends to commercial litigation, real estate disputes, environmental litigation and fraud.

McMillan

The Vancouver office of McMillan is a favorite of clients; one cheers the firm’s “willingness to work with us; practical and pragmatic counsel; professionalism; competency in dealing with matters; ease of communication; dedication to finding resolutions, and drive to achieve a successful outcome.” Joan Young, the firm’s most often-referenced partner in Vancouver and a litigator with a particular focus on class actions and product liability, has a notable number of fans among clients. “Joan is very thoughtful and offers a variety of scenarios when working through issues,” testifies one. Another insists, “Joan consistently exceeds expectations and is always looking out for our best interests throughout any litigated matter. She is very calm, thorough and sharp. She makes me feel confident having her in my corner.” Young led a firm team that, in December 2018, appeared before the Supreme Court of Canada on behalf of co-defendants in a class-action lawsuit filed against various optical disk drive manufacturers and suppliers in five Canadian provinces, to appeal the certification decision of a class action. The action was certified in British Columbia and upheld by the BC Court of Appeal. The Supreme Court granted leave to appeal in the BC case in June 2018 upheld the certification in September 2019. Young also represents Mitsubishi Motors in a matter alleging that there were defects in certain airbag control units in multiple manufacturer’s vehicles. Shea Coulson is also championed for a broad commercial practice that touches on white-collar crime, administrative and constitutional law.

Murphy Battista LLP

A new entry into this year’s edition, Murphy Battista makes its debut largely on the profile of Angela Bespflug, who has etched herself a position in the class actions community locally as well as on a more national level. Formerly with venerated Vancouver plaintiff shop Klein Lawyers, Bespflug focuses on the plaintiff side of class actions, securing herself quite a loyal following in doing so. “If it had not been for the knowledge and professionalism of Angela, I’m really not sure if we would have been able to have such a successful conclusion to our class action,” confides one client. “I am forever grateful for her integrity and professionalism. Angela took my case on, believed me, and worked tirelessly on the matter. Her knowledge, expertise, exceptional ability to communicate with her clients is second to none. She kept me apprised through the entire process and explained it in layman’s terms. [She] Prepared me for speaking with media as required.” Another client testifies, “Angela represented me very well. [She provided] great communication and professionalism. I felt confident with my representation. She was a pleasure to deal with. She’s a tough cookie and works hard for her clients.” Bespflug led a class action filed (apparently the second of its kind) against the Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) on behalf of women who suffered sexual assault, harassment or discrimination while working or volunteering with the RCMP in non-member roles. In 2020, Bespflug and her colleagues successfully negotiated a settlement with the RCMP with an estimated value of $125 million. The settlement covers claims dating back to 1974 and is national in scope. In August 2020, Bespflug launched a class action lawsuit against the Federal Government of Canada on behalf of a national class of Canadians who applied online for COVID-19 emergency aid, only to have their personal and financial information stolen by hackers. The lawsuit alleges that a series of failings by the Government and the Canada Revenue Agency allowed at least three cyberattacks in 2020 but the public was not alerted until the story broke in the media.

Narwal Litigation

Another debut entry into this edition of Benchmark Canada, Narwal Litigation, named for lead partner Joven Narwal, mines a unique niche exclusively dedicated to white-collar crime. Peers note, “Joven is doing more and more of this work.” One peer testifies, “He is responsive and gets the job done when needed. As a commercial litigator, I send Joven most if not all of my important criminal and quasi-criminal referrals. He has a great rapport with the judges.” A client, meanwhile, voices appreciation for the “practical, common-sense advice within the context of extensive experience in the area. I received straightforward answers and excellent value for the time spent. I couldn’t have been more pleased with the legal services.” In July 2020, Narwal triumphed on behalf of a senior Canada Revenue Agency employee who was investigated for breach of trust and tax evasion, then subsequently charged criminally for tax evasion. Narwal represented the accused through the investigation, engaged in pre-charge advocacy resulting in the more serious charges of breach of trust not being laid, and then successfully defended the accused on the tax evasion charges resulting in a termination of the prosecution in advance of trial. In another matter, Narwal represented a client through an investigation into a $3 million Ponzi scheme. After extensive efforts, the client was only alleged to have participated in a single transaction. Following a full hearing before a panel of the Securities Commission, Narwal obtained a full dismissal of this allegation and of the entire case against his client.

Nathanson Schachter & Thompson

One of Vancouver’s premier litigation boutiques, Nathanson Schachter & Thompson maintains its coveted dominance in the city’s dispute resolution community, a position it has held for decades thanks to the individual and collective vision of name partners Irwin Nathanson and Stephen Schachter. Both of these partners, despite their senior status, continue apace with a robust litigation schedule and remain in demand by clients. “The big energy at Nathanson still seems to be Irwin and Stephen,” observes a peer, “but of course those guys can’t continue forever so fortunately they are handling the generational change very well. They have a very strong team coming up right after them, and in some cases now taking the lead.

Of particular note, James MacInnis is generating a pronounced level of acclaim. “James is considered on top of the stack at this point,” insists a peer. “He actually got his Queen’s Counsel status in December 2019. It’s rare to see someone of his age group get to that level.” MacInnis represents a major infrastructure contractor in British Columbia’s Lower Mainland that won a bid for a joint venture between British Pacific Properties and the City of West Vancouver. A competing contractor alleges that the client entity and its principal scored the contract using the competitor’s misappropriated confidential information and by soliciting the competitor’s employees. Peter Senkpiel is another younger partner seeing a steady ascent in profile. “Peter is getting a lot of buzz around town right now, doing good Law Society work,” notes a peer. “He also got a brief where he’s representing a government official. He’s out there doing lots of work, and I do get a bit jealous when I see his name on things.” Senkpiel acted as lead counsel (with support from Schachter) in a four-week trial for the plaintiffs in a case involving allegations of breach of trust, breach of fiduciary duty and knowing assistance arising from the winding up of four discretionary trusts that held significant hotel properties in BC and the US. Senkpiel also successfully represented the Ming Sun Benevolent Society in having a default judgment granted against them set aside. The judgment creditors sought damages of over $3 million although no decision assessing damages was released prior to the default judgment being set aside. Karen Carteri, another “next-generation” partner receiving community accolades, is representing Raicon Developments on a claim alleging partnership interest in a major neighborhood property development project in Langley. Irwin Nathanson and Julia Lockhart represent FedEx in a dispute arising out of a lease and sublease arrangement for the FedEx premises at Vancouver Airport.

Shapray Cramer Fitterman & Lamer

Vancouver litigation boutique Shapray Cramer Fitterman & Lamer is considered by many local peers to be responsible for “breaking the mold” that has become a lot more commonplace since. “Shapray Cramer set the standard, they were way ahead of the curve,” testifies a peer. “From the very beginning, [firm figurehead] Howard Shapray has led the charge in building a team that serves one purpose only: to be fighters for clients who need them and be ready to bloody the nose of the other side when needed.” Shapray’s vision has indeed paid dividends in the work driven his way. “Don’t come to Howard looking for bargains,” advises a peer. “You go to this firm with the cream only, the high-stakes do-or-die work.”

Much of Shapray’s practice over the past year has been devoted to administrative law issues dealing with judicial review of municipal decisions. In one case, Shapray represents several property owners and developers who were the target of a municipal bylaw that prohibited the owners’ condominium units from being used as anything other than rental properties. In a second matter involving judicial review, a developer client who was refused a development permit from the City of Vancouver under circumstances indicative of bad faith is applying to have a trial of its claims with its procedural advantages rather than a summary proceeding. The issue is now before the Court of Appeal. Shapray’s practice is also dedicated to civil prosecution of fraudulent activities. Shapray acts for an enterprise involved in the internet gaming business that was the victim of an alleged multi-party conspiracy to steal and launder over $30 million of profits belonging to the enterprise. The matter is proceeding to a trial in 2022. Shapray is also representing a company that owns and operates shopping centers that is suing Canada’s oldest operating company, the Hudson’s Bay Company to recover rent owed, for which payments had ceased during the COVID pandemic. Abbas Saburs practice continues to cover a broad spectrum of banking and commercial issues. In addition to working closely with Shapray on several cases, Sabur is presently defending a national investment management firm in proceedings arising from alleged breaches of non-solicitation and non-service agreements by a departing advisor, and also defending a bank in a proceeding for breaches of contract and the alleged misappropriation of clients and business. Sabur also acts for a defendant in a complex multi-party dispute arising from a proxy fight and hostile takeover in the mining industry concerning international assets. He also remains active in defamation and securities related matters and has recently taken on mandates in the cryptocurrency space. Francis Lamer is involved in multiple commercial and family disputes involving division of business assets located in Canada and Mainland China valued between $10 million and $50 million. Stephen Fitterman represents three defendants in class actions commenced in five Canadian provinces on behalf of purchasers of optical disk drives within the period of 2005 to 2010. The certification hearing was heard, and certification was ultimately granted. Fitterman also continues to advise commercial developers in connection with environmental, insurance and contractual disputes. He also provides consigliere-type advice to various family enterprises and high-net-worth individuals and their businesses, assisting them with the management of various issues arising from family and corporate trusts, among other things as well as their disputes.

Sugden McFee & Roos

A Vancouver litigation boutique that is composed of “some of the nicest court fighters you will ever meet,” Sugden McFee & Roos is routinely revered as a firm housing litigators whose “combined IQ has got to be in the high quadruple digits” and who are “civil and ethical beyond reproach.” The respectful approach displayed by the firm’s partners apparently is frequently reciprocated. “They command respect from all their peers and the judges.” The firm is also unique in its balance of criminal and civil work, taking on a diverse and novel basket of cases ranging from commercial disputes to personal injury claims. “They are the dark horse among all the firms you recognize, they are a different type of firm” opines one peer, “but they belong there, and they deserve the highest rating simply because of the sheer talent. They have people there who could handle anything. They are just solid across the board.”

While decidedly small, the firm illustrated its measured growth strategy when it hired Jean Whittow in mid-2017. “Jean was a great hire,” opines a peer. “She was lead discipline counsel at the Law Society. She practices in professional regulation. It’s time she got more notice.” Robin McFee remains one of the firm’s figureheads as well as a trusted trial advocate. “Robin often gets politically sensitive cases that don’t use in-house counsel,” states a peer. “And no one has more credibility in these types of cases than he does. He is a true gentleman of the legal community, and everyone gives him instant respect to his arguments, no matter how much they might disagree with his position.” McFee is also involved in a case dealing with public access rights over private land and has also succeeded on a family trust case involving the transfer of ownership of an apple orchard in the Okanagan region of BC. Errin Poyner tends to a largely personal injury-based practice. “Jack of all trades” Mike Shirreff acted with McFee on a shareholder and oppression case regarding a mineral entity. On his own, he acted as the local BC counsel in a historic sexual assault case.

Whitelaw Twining

Vancouver’s Whitelaw Twining has undergone somewhat of a “reinvention” of itself in the city’s legal community. Historically known among peers as an insurance defense-focused firm, it got an infusion of local talent in the commercial and securities space in late 2019 in the form of Carey Veinotte and Patrick Sullivan, both refugees from the now-defunct boutique Taylor Veinotte Sullivan. “This is a big deal for both sides,” declares one peer, echoing the sentiment of several others. “Just like that, Whitelaw now has a commercial and securities practice, and they got a good group. Carey and Pat are both great at what they do and definitely have their own market share in the city. And, from what I know about them, they want to litigate, not manage a firm.” Another peer attests, “They’ve been recruiting. It’s been successful. I think the new Taylor Veinotte hires have been a really good fit.” Peers largely credit Jordanna Cytrynbaum for shepherding this transition. Cytrynbaum, a multi-faceted commercial litigator, is generating more notice of her own as well. “We’re seeing more of her and she is starting to build up a strong, high-profile litigation team.” Veinotte was lead counsel for four teams of defense lawyers for numerous defendants in an 84-day trade secrets case. The case is already notable for the interlocutory decision of the Supreme Court of Canada, wherein the Plaintiffs sustained a worldwide order against Google requiring Google to delist references to a defendant’s website. In July and August 2019, Veinotte also argued the first-known application of BC’s new Protection of Public Participation Act (PPPA). The PPPA allows an Applicant (Veinotte’s client, President of the BC Teachers’ Federation) to make an application to strike out a claim as being contrary to the public’s right to hear expression in the public interest. The plaintiff is a school trustee who made Facebook posts critical of pro-LGBTQ school curricula. Veinotte’s client, and others, publicly criticized the plaintiff, who then sued for defamation. Sullivan, meanwhile, is engaged for a client in a high-profile securities matter concerning Bridgemark Financial that has “pretty much engulfed every securities lawyer in Vancouver,” according to a peer “although Pat Sullivan has a real front-and-center position in it.” Another commercial litigator, with a particular niche in insolvency matters, John Fiddick is cheered by a peer as “someone I have all the time in the world for. He’s great.” Amy Peck, who joined the firm in 2019, is also gaining traction. “She is very good,” commends a peer. “She’s on a case for a hotel manager and she has been reasonable, fair, thoughtful, considerate and smart.”