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Carol Hansell poses for a photograph in the office space of her law firm, Hansell LLP, in Toronto on Thursday, August 29, 2013.Matthew Sherwood/The Globe and Mail

Veteran mergers and acquisitions lawyer Bill Gula is joining boutique law firm Hansell LLP to round out the growing team's board advisory expertise.

Carol Hansell, who founded the small corporate governance specialty firm in 2013, said Mr. Gula's 35 years of experience in M&A will help her firm work toward its goal to provide a full range of advisory services to boards of directors with experienced lawyers who can offer far more than just technical legal advice.

"Bill is one of those icons in the space, and what we're trying to do is build into various areas of focus for the firm where directors need very high-level advice," Ms. Hansell said. "We have already been doing special committee work and the sort of work Bill would do, but we want to make sure we've got one of the leaders in the M&A field to anchor that part of the practice."

Mr. Gula and Ms. Hansell practiced together at Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg LLP, where Mr. Gula spent decades as a mergers specialist. He switched gears in 1997, leaving Davies to become head the M&A group at Scotia Capital Inc.

After seven years at Scotia, he moved back to Davies in 2004, but left again in 2011 to join investment banking strategy firm MPA Morrison Park Advisors Inc., The firm was founded by some of his former Scotia colleagues in 2006 and works with clients who need investment banking advice.

Mr. Gula said he decided to join Ms. Hansell because her firm's specialized focus on corporate governance "has never been done before – it's kind of cool" and because he believes in the strategy to provide high-level expert advice to boards.

"I had no interest in going back to a large firm – been there done that," he said. "With Carol, this is someone I really know.... I really have a ton of respect for her. And she's trying to build something very interesting and nichey, which was attractive to me."

Mr. Gula said he joined Morrison Park Advisors in 2011 because it was run by former Scotia people he knew well, and he wanted to help them develop a small firm with a specific expertise. He said Ms. Hansell's firm offers the same sort of challenge.

"They were trying to build a boutique financial advisory franchise and I came to help them. I think Carol is doing a similar thing in the governance space, in the M&A special committee space."

He said he plans to maintain an affiliation with Morrison Park and believes there are potential synergies between the two firms.

Ms. Hansell said she will continue to expand into new areas. In addition to seven lawyers, Hansell LLP also has three government relations specialists on staff because much of its work is being done in the government sector.

A lot of the firm's work has come from board evaluations and investigation work for boards, done in concert with forensic accountants. Ms. Hansell says she plans to grow the firm further in insolvency work, providing services for boards dealing with restructurings and windups. She also wants to hire an expert who can help advise board clients on buying insurance for their directors and officers.

"The idea is to have a very well-integrated group of people that can provide rounder advice, advice to a board that goes beyond the very technical, legal stuff," she says.

She believes legislators and regulators – including the Ontario Securities Commission – are increasingly emphasizing the need for boards of directors to have their own advisers, separate from lawyers working on behalf of the company.

"The OSC has been very clear about the fact that independent committees are going to attract more and more attention, and they think that independent committees having truly independent counsel is critical to their ability to maintain their own independence. So it's on the rise."

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