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National law firm Ogilvy Renault LLP is merging with with British legal giant Norton Rose Group, marking the first time that a Canadian firm has joined forces with a leading global player.

 

The Canadian merger is being unveiled on the same day that Norton announced an alliance with South African law firm Deneys Reitz. The two mergers, which are set to close next summer, will create a legal goliath with 2,500 lawyers and 38 offices around the globe.

 

In a statement issued this morning, Ogilvy managing partner John Coleman said: "As our Canadian clients become increasingly successful on the international stage, we need to be able to support their international growth. This combination will provide our clients access to a vast pool of talented resources and network around the world."

 

Ogilvy Renault has a deep history in Montreal’s corporate sector and a decade of expansion in Toronto and Calgary has raised its total number of lawyers to about 450. Its partners include former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, international arbitrator Yves Fortier and former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant. Industry players said Norton Rose has made overtures in recent months to a number of domestic law firms about a Canadian alliance as part of its ambitious strategy to build a network of offices in most of the world’s financial centres.

 

In the summer of 2009, Norton Rose merged with the Deacons Australia, bringing its total number of lawyers to 1,800 with offices in 30 countries ranging from Abu Dhabi to Canberra. Norton Rose’s blue chip client list includes banking heavyweight HSBC Holdings PLC and telecom giant France Telecom.

 

Norton Rose publicizes is financial statements and its 2010 annual report listed annual fee income of $670 million (U.S.). Canadian firms do not disclose financial statements, but industry players said the British firm’s revenues eclipse the combined revenues of most of Canada’s leading firms.

 

The British firm has been expanding its business in Asia in recent years and the coveted mineral riches of Australia and Canada and their strong financial sectors has drawn the law firm and its clients to the two countries.

 

The combination of weak global economies and tight credit conditions is expected to drive further consolidation in the legal profession. In Canada a number of major firms expanded offices across the country over the past decade through mergers and new hires, but foreign takeovers and a slowdown in corporate deal making has forced many to shrink their operations and cuts costs.

 

Mergers with global law firms are rare in Canada. The last significant international marriage took place in 1999 when Torys LLP merged with mid-sized New York firm Haythe & Curley. The marriage got off to a rocky start when Thomas Haythe left the firm under a cloud after his new Canadian partners objected to his conduct towards a female lawyer at a closing dinner. Since then, virtually all of the former Haythe & Curley lawyers have left the firm.

 

(Courtesy of The Globe and Mail)

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Cross-border law-firm merger mania continued on Monday when Norton Rose announced it was absorbing Canada’s Ogilvy Renault. It represents Norton Rose’s first step into the Americas.

 

Norton Rose, founded in London, also said it was adding South African law firm Deneys Reitz, bringing the groups’s size to 2,500 lawyers, largely in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

 

The moves are the latest example of consolidation in the industry, and follow a shift for Norton Rose from a strategy of organic expansion to one of growth via mergers. In January, the group added a big Australian law firm, boosting its Asian presence and increasing in size by more than a third.

 

In an interview, Norton Rose Chairman Stephen Parish said the group is looking to expand soon in places like Brazil, Turkey and Qatar. It still has no presence in the U.S. market, but Parish said it’s eyeing merger possibilities there as well.

 

“It is a hugely important piece of the jigsaw if we want to be regarded as an international law firm,” said Parish. “We need to have a substantial presence in the U.S.”

 

The addition of the 450-strong Ogilvy Renault, one of Canada’s most prestigious law firms, brings the Norton Rose Group connections and clients in the key North American market, where it’s had only loose relationships so far. Ogilvy Renault will take on the Norton Rose name, but will keep its finances separate from that of the larger group, partners said.

 

For Ogilvy Renault, the alliance with Norton Rose helps the firm better serve big Canadian clients, such as aerospace firm Bombardier Inc., that do the bulk of their business abroad, said John Coleman, Ogilvy’s national managing partner. It also makes Ogilvy better able to snag international clients, such as Chinese resource investors, who are increasingly turning to Canada to do business.

 

Natural resources play a big part in Norton Rose’s expansion strategy as well, said Parish. Canada, with its oil, gas, uranium, potash and other minerals, is an increasingly attractive destination for global resource investors. Canadian law firms such as Ogilvy are known for their strength in areas like energy and mining, although Norton Rose is also hoping to tap the firm’s strength in life-sciences, Mr. Parish said.

 

“Natural resources drives an awful lot of this,” said Mr. Parish. “As China looks to see where it’s going to get its resources we’re right on their coattails.”

 

For more, click here for a story from the Toronto Globe and Mail; here for the story from The Lawyer; here for the story from Legal Week.

 

(Courtesy The Wall Street Journal)

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