MLT Aikins, the largest law firm in Western Canada, is bulking up its litigation team through a merger with eight-lawyer Vancouver boutique firm Hakemi Ridgedale, the firms announced Tuesday.
MLT Aikins is in growth mode and the union, which becomes official on Dec. 1, was an “opportunity to get some gravity and some scale to our litigation presence in Vancouver,” managing partner Aaron Runge told Law.com International.
He said MLT Aikins, now a 270-lawyer firm that was created in 2017 through a merger of two storied regional firms in the prairie provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, only had a couple of litigators in Vancouver and the new team means the firm can take on bigger files and offer clients a much higher degree of specialization and expertise.
This is the second Canadian regional law firm merger announced this month. In early September, Atlantic Canadian firm McInnes Cooper joined up with an eight-lawyer business law firm based in Nova Scotia’s picturesque Cape Breton Island.
Established in 2012, Hakemi & Ridgedale is a respected commercial litigation boutique led by name partners Tom Hakemi and Lisa Ridgedale.
Ridgedale advises clients in business disputes and regulatory enforcement actions and was previously a prosecutor for the British Columbia Ministry of the Attorney General and senior enforcement counsel at the British Columbia Securities Commission.
Hakemi, who started his career as an associate at Shearman & Sterling and Stroock & Stroock & Lavan in New York, said they’d been approached to join other large firms over the years but felt they wouldn’t be mergers of equals.
The combination with MLT Aikins essentially means their firm will become “the litigation department of their Vancouver office,” said Hakemi, allowing them to port their clients over and offer both their clients and MLT Aikins’ clients more expansive litigation services based in Canada’s third-largest city.
“What they need is a litigation practice and what we’re attracted to is getting into a bigger firm that’s growing,” he said.
Runge noted MLT Aikins’ “commercial groups remain very, very busy,” but while keeping their eyes on interest rates and inflation, the firm isn’t backing off its growth plans.
Complementing the larger firm’s desire to expand, Hakemi said their team was looking to bring in “more interesting work [and] bigger cases.”
Typically junior mining and the Venture Exchange are what “keeps the legal community busy” in Vancouver, he said, and smaller shops like theirs can’t get the more attractive files without being part of a full-service operation like MLT Aikins. This combo will make it “easier,” he said.
Hakemi & Ridgedale has experience in a wide range of civil litigation matters, including corporate and commercial disputes, securities litigation, administrative law, and defamation law. Its lawyers act for clients in sectors such as private equity and investments, financial services and banking, mining, resources, energy and infrastructure, construction, real estate, and retail and consumer markets.
While MLT Aikins is the largest firm in Western Canada, with the strongest presence of any Canadian firm in the provinces of Manitoba and Saskatchewan, it’s still building out in cities further west, such as Calgary and Vancouver where other national firms have much more robust offices, said Runge.
The Vancouver office currently has less than 35 lawyers, he said, so there’s “still a ways to go” before it gets to the 50-lawyer level they’d like to reach, he said. But lawyer numbers aren’t the main driver, he said.
“Growth needs to be done in somewhat of an opportunistic way, but always with a view to making sure that whoever we add [fits] with the culture of the firm and what we’re trying to achieve from a business perspective,” said Runge.
The firm is actively stepping up its student recruitment efforts to support organic growth but adding senior bench strength is more likely to come from tie-ups such as the one with Hakemi.
“Hakemi’s rich talents are a perfect example where we were able to grab a smaller firm with a very, very good reputation” that will help hold on to and nurture the younger people they’re bringing in, said Runge.
And in a stroke of good timing, MLT Aikins held its first in-person partner retreat since the start of COVID in Vancouver over the weekend after the partners had approved the merger, thus giving the firm’s partners and Hakemi and Ridgedale a chance to meet in person and get “really immersed into the firm.”