Canadian lawyers have always itched to be on the world stage.
The first sign of stardom was last summer, when BHP Billiton, advised by Slaughter and May and Blake Cassels & Graydon, launched a $39bn (£23.97bn) hostile bid for Saskatchewan-based PotashCorp, represented by Jones Day and Stikeman Elliot.
More recently the mooted tie-up between Canada’s TMX with the London Stock Exchange and the forthcoming combination of Norton Rose and Ogilvy Renault have kept UK-Canadian relations top of the legal news agenda. Yet in an analysis earlier this year (The Lawyer, 31 January) Canadian managing partners were lining up to pooh-pooh the impact of the Norton Rose-Ogilvy deal. You’d think Canada was exempt from globalisation.
Of course, none of those lofty dismissals is in the least convincing long-term. Toronto folk argue that Skadden’s and Shearman & Sterling’s offices haven’t transformed the market, that the Norton Rose deal is an irrelevance and that Canadian firms are too reliant on referrals to opt for a potentially disruptive international merger.
Some observations, then. First, the Canadians are spectacularly missing the point with Skadden and Shearman: their strategic positioning is such that they keep their offices lean, and they’re hardly in the game for domestic mandates. Second, Ogilvy may not be one of Canada’s so-called ’seven sisters’ elite, but the Norton Rose deal marks a decided shift. As we report today (see cover), both DLA Piper and Clyde & Co have for different reasons put Canada top of their shopping lists, and they won’t be the last. Third, it’s not as if the local firms have got all the bases covered – Calgary, Canada’s mining centre, is where much of the interest is centred, but seven sisters firm Torys only opened there last week. That’s a pretty belated defensive move.
So while the seven sisters may avoid wholesale takeovers thanks to their lower profits, it doesn’t mean they’re safe from raids. You’ve only got to see how spooked some of the Australian firms are by Allen & Overy’s and Clifford Chance’s incursions into their territory to see how things could pan out. It only takes a visit from Wim Dejonghe and his chequebook to put the cat among the pigeons.