Fortier leaves Norton Rose with ‘heavy heart’

Making a break from the firm where he has spent his entire legal career has “lifted a load off my shoulders,” says former Ogilvy Renault LLP chairman Yves Fortier.

Fortier is leaving Norton Rose OR LLP on Dec. 31, a move that will close a half-century chapter in his own life and that of the firm and its predecessor. He’ll continue his international arbitration practice independently from offices in Montreal and London.

Fortier tells Law Times that conflict issues started causing him problems when Ogilvys    officially joined the Norton Rose Group in June of this year.

“That started to give me bellyaches because every time I received an appointment to act as arbitrator, I had to run conflict checks throughout the Norton Rose Group, which is very active globally,” says Fortier.

“It was accentuated in early October when Norton Rose decided to merge with Macleod Dixon, which expanded my potential conflict situations.”

Fortier joined Ogilvys in 1961. He took leave between 1988 and 1992 to serve as Canada’s ambassador to the United Nations, where he became vice president of the 45th General Assembly.

He returned to the firm as chairman in 1992 and continued in that role until 2009. Fortier says his deep roots at the firm made for a wrenching choice.

“It’s with a heavy heart that I’ve decided to leave what will always be for me Ogilvy Renault. It was not an easy decision because it’s almost 50 years but it was an inevitable decision and one that I’m more than ever convinced was the right one. I feel very relieved. It has lifted a load off my shoulders.”

The move has had an instant impact. Fortier has already received two offers to serve on international tribunals.

“I told them I wouldn’t need to run the conflict check because from January I will no longer be a
partner at Norton Rose, and they said that was one of the reasons why they called me,” he says.

In the meantime, colleagues are paying tribute to Fortier. “He has been a mentor to me as well as to every other member of the firm who practises in this field,” says Pierre Bienvenu, Norton Rose’s international arbitration global practice leader.

“I think it’s fair to say he has been a bit of an icon in Canada and globally as a jurist. For these reasons, we are sad to see him go but we are happy that the reason is for him to be able to continue to practise.”

Andrew McDougall, who heads the international arbitration group at Ottawa firm Perley-Robertson Hill & McDougall LLP, says he’s not surprised that Fortier felt compelled to move out on his own.

He notes many of the world’s top international arbitrators operate independently, including another leading Canadian practitioner, Marc Lalonde, a Trudeau-era cabinet minister who retired as a senior partner with Stikeman Elliott LLP in 2006.

“There’s a big difference between a national firm and an international firm,” says McDougall.

“It’s a logical step that is a reflection of the reality when you’re operating at that level exclusively as an arbitrator considering the types of cases and what’s at stake with large multinational players. Yves has a richly deserved reputation for being one of the best in the world.”

Before moving to Ottawa, McDougall was a partner at White & Case LLP, itself an international legal giant with more than 2,000 lawyers. Although potential conflicts weren’t a factor in his own move, he says he has noticed a change in his ability to take on appointments as an arbitrator.

“I’m now in a 60-lawyer law firm. It’s a very different environment in terms of the global reach of the law firm. In the past, I had to turn down appointments because of business conflicts but now I’m able to accept everything.”

Conflict restrictions can work both ways at big firms, says McDougall, who notes they can restrain other lawyers from bringing new business to the firm as well.

“When you accept a mandate, that’s something the other partners must take into account once the arbitration starts.”

For related stories, see "Energy, resources key in Norton Rose-Macleod Dixon deal" and "Ogilvys hopes global deal will be magnet for other firms' partners."

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