Norton Rose Inks the Latest Canadian Mega-Merger

Sept. 12, 2016, 10:28 PM

Norton Rose Fulbright Canada LLP announced on Wednesday it is combining with a 126-year-old Vancouver-based law firm, Bull Housser, making it the latest global law firm to expand its reach in Canada.

The deal gives global giant Norton Rose Fulbright a first-time presence in British Columbia and marks the opening of its sixth office in the country, bringing the overall total number of attorneys in Canada to 650.

Charles Hurdon, Norton Rose’s Canadian managing partner, said that his firm had been looking for an opportunity in Vancouver for quite awhile.

“It’s the last and obvious market to fulfill our national platform,” he said.

In 2013, London-based Norton Rose and the Texas-based Fulbright & Jaworski merged to become Norton Rose Fulbright, making it one of the 10 largest law firms in the world with 3,800 attorneys in 50 offices. Norton Rose’s Canadian arm was the result of a combination between two Canadian legacy firms, Montreal-based Ogilvy Renault in 2011 and the Calgary-based Macleod Dixon 2012.

Global law firms are increasingly looking to partner up with Canadian regional firms to exploit connections and to tap clients from the country’s vast oil and mining industries. Just last year, DLA Piper, a US-British giant with 4,200 attorneys across the globe, merged with Vancouver-based Davis LLP, a mid-tier law firm with 260 lawyers and seven offices across Canada and an associate branch in Japan. Davis rebranded itself as DLA Piper Canada LLP. In 2013, another Canadian regional firm, Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, merged with two foreign firms in what would become Dentons LLP.

Hurdin said in Canada that while there is a trend among firms to globalize, he does not believe that means “the death of the regional firm” in Canada.

Hurdin said, however, this particular combination “makes sense” given the two firms’ shared client base. “We have worked together and referred matters to each other — there’s sort of a long history where we have interacted,” he said. “That interaction has intensified over the past year.”

Hurdin said that Norton Rose Fulbright’s Alberta office has strong practices in mining and commodities, energy, oil and gas, what will be complimentary to Bull Housser’s electricity practice. Other shared practices include financial services, life sciences and transportation and rail practices.

Janet Groves, a managing partner of Bull Housser, said that her 90-lawyer firm resides in a city that is playing an important role on the global commercial stage.

“Vancouver has garnered real international attention from an investor standpoint,” she said, noting that many companies view the city as a hub between North America and Asia-Pacific. Some of Bull Housser’s major clients in Vancouver already include Seaspan, an association of Canadian companies involved an a variety of shipping businesses, and Rio Tinto Alcan Inc., an aluminum mining and production company, which recently underwent a multi-billion dollar upgrade to its Kitimat aluminum smelter operation. Additionally, the firm represented the Port of Prince Rupert on a number of expansion projects.

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