Litigation lawyer Eugene Meehan has left McMillan LLP to open a boutique practice in Ottawa last week, a move he says he made in response to conflicts that are becoming an “increasing issue” at expanding business law firms.
Meehan says speaking with several boutique lawyers cemented his decision last year. Their advice, he notes, helped him make the “win-win” move he hopes will allow him to take part in more legal aid and discount-rate work.
“Conflicts were becoming an increasing issue for us at a 200-lawyer firm pre-merger and became more difficult and challenging at a 500-lawyer firm post-merger,” says Meehan.
“With the specialized boutique that we have now, conflicts are not a daily issue. We can just about take about anything that comes in the door.”
Meehan adds that while most large firms aren’t “emotionally well-equipped” to do legal aid work or offer discounted rates, his new boutique, Supreme Advocacy LLP, will be in a better position to do that. Besides Meehan, lawyers Marie-France Major and Thomas Slade will be working at the new firm.
“The three of us continue to believe that the practice of law is a profession as well as a business and also continue to believe that securing and protecting the interest of the client is a more paramount consideration than the hourly rate,” he says, adding conflicts are becoming an increasingly complicated issue in the profession.
“Larger clients do not want to be adversely affected in any way by any partner or associate in that large firm. It’s not simply the classic conflict of interest rule per Martin v. Gray.
It’s way beyond that. It’s now a business conflict and even beyond that further to industry conflict. For example, we represent a bank, a pharmaceutical, an insurance company, telecom, so those industries are completely off limits.”
In the meantime, Meehan says he’ll continue to focus largely on Supreme Court matters in his new appellate advocacy and agency boutique. He notes he’s looking forward to a new chapter in his life.
“From a very practical perspective, because in my case most of my [Supreme Court] clients are other lawyers, I am now no longer in a position of having to say to a lawyer-client, ‘This file yes, this file no.’
"We can just about literally take anything that comes in the door. Conflicts are essentially gone, lockstep hourly rates are also gone. As I hear younger people say these days, it’s all good.”
Meehan isn’t the only high-profile lawyer facing conflict issues at recently merged big law firms. In the fall, Ogilvy Renault LLP veteran Yves Fortier left its successor firm, Norton Rose OR LLP, to work as an independent international arbitrator. He cited conflicts of interest as a key factor in the move.
For related content, see "Fortier leaves Norton Rose with 'heavy heart'" and "Integration a challenge for McMillan merger."