In an interview with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer, Robert B. Legault of Legault Joly Thiffault (LJT) Avocats discusses the changing landscape of advertising law in Canada, what the firm does to stand out in a competitive field, and how he got his start in the industry.
What inspired you to focus on advertising and marketing?
When I was young, my father held the position of director of marketing at La Brasserie Labatt for the province of Quebec, and later on became President of the same company. I was fortunate to grow up exposed to various advertising campaigns for Labatt 50 and Labatt Blue products before they were launched. It awoke a passion for advertising helping me later on in my career as a young lawyer. I had the opportunity to understand better the advertising business through discussions with a family friend named Jacques Bouchard, who was also the founder of the very well-known advertising agency BCP in Quebec; I one day asked him who were his lawyers, and who was verifying the legal compliance of his advertising campaigns. He wasn’t able to answer the question. You see, back then, agencies did not take the time to get their marketing campaigns verified by lawyers. That’s when the idea of offering a new kind of service to agencies by creating an innovative way to thoroughly analyze marketing campaign from a lawyers’ perspective was born.
Then, in 1976, while practicing general law, the opportunity knocked that would forever change my career path. One of Mr. Bouchard’s team members called me to ask if I knew anything about advertising contests and drafting their rules and regulations. Because I was a start-up with limited funds, and I was hungry for any kind of business, I accepted without thinking twice – even if I had no idea what I was getting myself into.
I then drove to the nearest grocery store and purchased every product that showed a contest on the packaging to better understand the rules and regulations. From a can of soup, a box of cereal, a box of clothing detergent and so on. I brought them all that to my office and started analyzing the rules and regulations. Very excited, I said to myself: Let’s do this. Using that basic information, I drafted a contest rule template that I naturally adapted to the specific needs of my client. That became my first mandate in the advertising business. In addition, from that day on, Mr. Bouchard would make sure I would legally approve every commercial that went out their door.
The moral of the story? Always be hungry for more, set aside fear and work hard. From there, nothing can stop you.
What achievements helped lead to all the awards and recognition from your peers in the past year?
Our “Law Firm of the Year” nomination. It may have originated from the fact that we were present in various files regarding the marketing and advertising business. During the past year, we represented clients in front of the Ad Standards Council and made representations regarding the advertising of a competitor. We participated in a few mediations, which led to the opportunity to plead in front of the Ad Standards.
Also familiar with PAAB (Pharmaceutical Advertising Advisory Board), we greatly helped several clients from a public relation point of view in proposing innovative ways of managing the risk.
We also actively participated in supporting our clients in anticipation of the coming into force of the new Bill 134, amending the Consumer Protection Act in Quebec with a great impact on advertising, including car advertising, bank advertising, and credit advertising. We also offered numerous training to help clients to understand what this new Bill entails for their industry, like car dealers, banks and major credit cards.
Are there any local policy or global policy changes that have impacted the advertising market in Canada?
In my opinion, it seems that more and more commercials are produced for global advertising. Instead of producing one commercial for Quebec, one commercial for English Canada, and one for the United States, now they produce global campaigns, which is to say that they produce one spot and roll with it internationally. Naturally, this leads to less work for advertising agencies, less work for the syndicated actors and so on. I think that global advertising is a major factor that is changing the world. As you might notice when you look at a TV commercial there are fewer people speaking on camera and increased diversity. Rather than using a spokesperson, a voiceover will present the product, reducing costs and forcing the industry to change. Therefore, it is also changing in this regard and necessarily having an impact on the advertising market in Canada.
In what ways has technology impacted your firm's work in advertising?
In our experience, it is the transition from television, radio, and print advertising to primarily internet advertising that is having the biggest impact. Overall, we are seeing fewer TV and print spots produced and more of a focus on web advertising. The danger with this shift is that real-time advertising will increasingly become the norm, and with such short deadlines from creation to launching, mistakes will happen. Yes, budget cuts are a reality, but it should not be at the expense of risking a class action suit. Indeed, some law firms who specialize in class action are just waiting for the smallest mistake to exploit it and make money. Behaving in an ethical way nowadays has become more than a trend; it will become a way of doing business. This is where I believe our firm has what it takes to ensure a transparent advertising future.
How does LJT lawyers stay agile against its competitors?
We stay on top of the game and trends in the field of advertising and marketing by keeping ourselves informed, assisting our clients and offering numerous thematic conferences. We are also deeply involved in the advertising business by acting as legal counsel for numerous associations such as advertising agencies, advertisers, public relation, and so on.
In addition, I must say that if we have a very strong and reputable team in our Advertising and Marketing Law department, other teams that operate our Business Law, Technology, Tax planning, Real Estate, and Litigation departments are superstars as well. This enables us in offering a 360-degree approach to all of our customers and their businesses, and I am very proud of that. Celebrating our 40th anniversary in 2019, I believe the saying is true: it is all about the journey and not the destination!