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Legal market research firm Acritas has named Blake Cassels & Graydon the No.1 law firm in Canada. Blakes chairman Brock Gibson said the firm was pleased that the ‘survey of Canadian and international clients has recognized our success.’Chris Bolin/The Globe and Mail

A survey of legal brands in Canada has labelled Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP as the No.1 law firm in the country.

The results come from a survey last year of corporate in-house counsel both inside and outside Canada conducted by Acritas, a British legal market research firm.

Second to Blakes is is Norton Rose Fulbright LLP, which took top spot in last year's survey after an aggressive marketing campaign that saw it shoot up from eighth spot.

Stikeman Elliott LLP finished third, followed by Osler Hoskin & Harcourt LLP in fourth.

Acritas says it based its rankings on a survey of "unprompted responses" from 191 senior general counsel at Canadian organizations with revenues of more than $50-million.

It says its survey asked respondents about their "awareness" of and "favourability" toward law firms, as well as their consideration of firms for "top-level" litigation, mergers and acquisitions. It also surveyed 77 senior in-house counsel outside Canada. And it said the sample for the survey comes from its own database, not from the law firms.

In a release, Acritas said Blakes's top ranking "is testament to its success in creating a clear, differentiated offering built on practice areas directly relevant to the largest sectors of the Canadian economy."

Acritas also said the top three firms all scored highly on their use for "inbound" work from foreign companies looking to do business in Canada – something Acritas says is a key to success.

"As flat domestic spend is predicted, the success of these firms in capturing lucrative international work bodes well for the future as they are in prime positions to meet rising demand from global multinationals with needs in Canada," the consultancy said in a statement.

The survey was completed before the collapse earlier this year of Heenan Blaikie LLP, which shows up at 14th in the rankings.

"Its presence acts as a stark reminder of how quickly fortunes can change in a legal market that until February, 2014, had arguably felt the effects of economic pressure less directly than others around the world," Acritas says, calling Heenan a "victim of its own ambitious growth in a saturated market."

Elizabeth Duffy, vice-president of Acritas U.S., said economic uncertainty and choosier clients means law firms need to market themselves more aggressively to survive.

"In a slow market, law firms which fail to identify their strengths and build their brands and value propositions around them find they are facing even greater downward pressure on rates," she was quoted as saying in a press release. " In turn, it becomes more difficult to stand out and achieve top-of-mind awareness among the most lucrative clients."

Brock Gibson, chairman of Blakes, said the firm was pleased that the "survey of Canadian and international clients has recognized our success."

John Coleman, managing partner for Canada of second-ranked Norton Rose Fulbright, said the survey shows that the former Ogilvy Renault's strategy of merging with an international giant is paying off.

"This is a testament that our global reach is a real value-add to our clients," he said in a statement.