Canadian Legal Market Merger Implications
For years, international legal behemoth, DLA Piper, has been courting a number of Canadian law firms looking for a willing bride. After a number of rumoured dalliances, it was announced last week that an impending merger will happen in April 2015 with Vancouver-based Davis LLP.
Those in the Canadian legal market who have been awaiting this news can now afford to relax.
Or can they?
Baker & McKenzie has had a Canadian presence in Toronto since 1962, and British-based Clyde & Co. opened a Toronto office in 2011.
The arrival of DLA Piper comes hard on the heels of other global giants that have cannon-balled into Canada in the last four years, such as Norton Rose Fulbright and Dentons that, with offices in a number of Canadian cities, have managed to sprawl across the country and beyond.
Like Ogilvy Renault LLP and Macleod Dixon LLP that merged with Norton Rose in 2011 and 2012 respectively, and Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP that joined Dentons in 2013, Davis will surrender its name in exchange for an alliance with a 4,200-lawyer mega firm with international scope.
As the first-mover in the Canadian-International merger shakeout, Ogilvy Renault captured both imagination and awe when, as a second-tier firm, it vaulted a league of top-tier Canadian firms to join a global tier-two firm, Norton Rose, as part of a series of mergers that would result in Norton Rose Fulbright. Shortly afterward, Fraser Milner Casgrain followed suit with Dentons. And now Davis with DLA Piper.
With global firms operating in Canada, what are the implications for Canadian Big Law firms, such as those that claim top- and second-tier status? Will sameness continue to be the safety position along with hunkering down and hoping the evolutionary madness passes? Or will there be a bursting out of brand differentiation – innate to each firm with the verve to let its colours fly – along with adopting new lean legal structures, such as those being hatched elsewhere in the world with enormous success?
As legal work shrinks, alternative legal services flourish, and global firms expand and take root, tension within the legal community, in particular Big Law and to some extent Mid Law, can’t help but tighten.
This evolution is not a trend; it’s a reckoning. It’s happening now and has been for some time.
As with any transformative age, there will be those that stumble and fail as well as those that survive, often in another form. The survivors who thrive will be those that act with firm resolve on the understanding that change affords advantage and fortune favours the audacious.