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October 4, 2011 6:52 PM

Norton Rose Merges with Canada's Macleod Dixon, Eyes U.S. Partner

Posted by Brian Baxter

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A firm whose name once circulated around the globe for a famous and perhaps apocryphal e-mail chain, Norton Rose is now making headlines for all the right reasons.

Against the backdrop of a new quarterly report touting a dramatic rise in law firm mergers in the U.S. market—and four months after completing a tie-up with Montreal-based Ogilvy Renault—the rapidly expanding Norton Rose is growing again, this time by joining forces with 250-lawyer Macleod Dixon.

The merger between Norton Rose and Macleod Dixon, which is known for its oil and gas expertise, is expected to be completed by January 1, 2012, giving the combined global firm, which uses the Swiss verein structure, roughly 2,500 lawyers across the world.

The American Lawyer profiled Norton Rose's expansion efforts in its March issue, chronicling the London-based firm's merger with Australian giant Deacons two years ago to its tie-up with Ogilvy and South Africa's Deneys Reitz last year.

The Deacons merger helped Norton Rose boost its revenue 9 percent within the last year, according to our previous reports, and the firm surged from sixty-seventh to thirty-fourth in The American Lawyer's annual Global 100 rankings released in the October issue. Norton Rose is now setting its sights on a U.S. merger partner, though such a marriage is apparently not imminent.

"I said it would take about two-to-five years about two-to-five years ago," says Norton Rose group chief executive Peter Martyr, somewhat jokingly. "But while being in the U.S. is imperative, the timing is not. We have to make sure we get it right and that it's a good fit."

Martyr says that in order for Norton Rose to feel comfortable with a U.S. merger partner, that firm needs to have complementary practice areas that benefit Norton Rose—a client base that includes large financial institutions, a robust securities practice, and a healthy presence in sectors like pharmaceuticals and health care and energy and natural resources, for instance.

Martyr debunks recent reports in the legal press that Norton Rose could be eyeing a union with Fulbright & Jaworski. While acknowledging that Fulbright is one of Norton Rose's referral firms, Martyr says that the two have never had formal merger talks, noting that as part of Fulbright's strategic review of its own operations it's natural that Norton Rose would be a consideration in broadening its own platform.

Meanwhile, Norton Rose's global footprint will get a boost through its combination with Macleod Dixon. The Calgary-based firm, which reigns atop the market for legal work linked to Canada's lucrative oil sands, also has offices in such far-flung locales as Kazakhstan, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, and Russia. Indeed, it was Macleod Dixon's presence in those natural resource-rich jurisdictions that proved particularly enticing to Norton Rose, Martyr says. (Macleod Dixon has an alliance in Brazil with Veirano Advogados, one of the country's largest firms.)

Macleod Dixon managing partner W.H. "Bill" Tuer says that his firm was keen on establishing itself on a global platform through a merger with Norton Rose, whose Canadian arm Norton Rose OR (a hat tip to legacy firm Ogilvy Renault), will be renamed Norton Rose Canada. John Coleman, a former Ogilvy partner who serves as managing partner of Norton Rose OR, says that Canadian clients increasingly want to be connected to markets around the world.

When Coleman and Tuer were asked whether their legacy firms had ever considered a merger on their own ahead of their absorption into Norton Rose, Tuer acknowledged that as heads of leading Canadian firms—a handful of which dominate the country's legal market—they had held preliminary discussions over the years on various opportunities.

Now, they have essentially teamed up to create a 700-lawyer Canadian megafirm within Norton Rose, which Coleman says will undoubtedly change the Canadian legal industry. "I know this will shake up the [Canadian] market, and I'm sure [other local firms] have plans of their own," he adds.

As for Norton Rose, Martyr says that the firm will continue using the template provided by many of the large global accounting firms in becoming an international player. Martyr says that entails "pulling existing high-quality businesses together" into large localized operations—like a Norton Rose Canada or Norton Rose South Africa—to create "big centers of gravity" without one centralized hub.

And if Martyr has his way, Norton Rose USA shouldn't be too far over the horizon.

 

Photo: Norton Rose (left to right: Martyr, Tuer, and Coleman)

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