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Bar Talk (Christopher S. Reed/© Copyright 2007 by Christopher S. Reed)

Bar Talk

(Christopher S. Reed/© Copyright 2007 by Christopher S. Reed)

McCarthy Tétrault swallows Calgary tax boutique Add to ...

It only started last year. But Venn Law, a Calgary boutique firm specializing in tax advice for oil-and-gas companies, is no more.

Five lawyers who tried to go it alone in the small boutique have opted to call it quits and join McCarthy Tétrault LLP's Calgary office.

The firm was founded by four partners -- John Eamon, Edmund Gill, Ron Mar and Craig Spurn -- who left the Calgary office of Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP. Mr. Eamon announced he was returning to Blakes' Calgary office in March, just a year after Venn Law was born.

Now joining McCarthy Tétrault as partners from Venn are Mr. Gill, Mr. Mar, Mr. Spurn and tax lawyer Kurtis Bond. Venn Law associate Chris McLelland is also joining the firm.The move comes as the fight for legal talent in Calgary shows no signs of slowing down. Torys LLP recently announced it was opening a Calgary office to boost its business in energy deals. Ogilvy Renault LLP, which will officially merge with London-based Norton Rose next month, opened a new office in Calgary last year.

"Calgary is a very tough market for legal talent," said Greg Turnbull, McCarthy Tétrault's Alberta managing partner, who added that the new lawyers had been on his firm's radar as long as five years ago while still at Blakes.

"We were disappointed when they spun off a year ago, trying to do their own thing," Mr. Turnbull said in an interview. "But I have been lying in wait, trying to find the right moment to start to lure them back to the 'dark side' of big law firms."

Mr. Spurn said Venn was set up to provide specialized "tax structures" for oil and gas firms looking to raise capital. But coming legislative changes, contained in the proposed federal budget, would make it impossible to offer these structures, he said, declining to go into specifics.

"They were very creative and ultimately were shut down by recent legislative developments, which precipitated our decision to rethink what we were doing," he said in an interview.

He said he and his fellow Venn founders believed that they now needed the benefits of a large firm to better serve their oil-patch clients, and that McCarthys was a "good fit."

Greatest fear? Regulators

The regulators are coming, according to a survey of in-house lawyers at major companies released on Tuesday.

The survey says 44 per cent of Canadian corporate counsel expect a stricter, U.S.-style regulatory environment in Canada within five years.

The survey says Canadians were more likely to cite fraud and insider trading as the top concerns of regulators than their worldwide counterparts, with 44 per cent of Canadian corporate counsel saying regulators were "most interested" in fraud.

By contrast, only 6 per cent of Canadian respondents cited bribery as a top concern, despite recent high-profile prosecutions of global companies in the United States for allegedly paying bribes in foreign countries. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development recently criticized Canada for a weak approach to fighting bribery.

The survey, conducted by Deloitte in 2010, involved 135 Canadian respondents, from a range of industries. In all, 877 lawyers worldwide participated in the survey, Deloitte said.

This article has been corrected from an earlier verison

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