Skip to main content

Fraser Milner Casgrain chief Chris Pinnington called the merger ‘a transformational step in the evolution of the Canadian legal profession.’

Michelle Siu/The Globe and Mail

Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP plans to merge with two global law firms in a three-way combination that would establish a massive new international player and shake up Canada's legal industry.

FMC's partnership board has unanimously recommended a deal to the firm's partners that would see it join with London- and Washington-based SNR Denton and London's Salans, creating a 2,500-lawyer global giant with offices around the world.

If approved in votes by all of the firms' partners, the merger would see FMC and the others involved rebranded as Dentons. It would also redraw Canada's legal landscape, erasing the nameplate of one of Canada's top firms but introducing another competitor with new global reach into Canada's formerly cloistered legal marketplace.

Story continues below advertisement

"It really is an opportunity for transformational change for our firm and we think frankly it's a transformational step in the evolution of the Canadian legal profession," Chris Pinnington, FMC's chief executive officer, said in an interview.

He confirmed the proposed merger Wednesday, after The Globe inquired about stories on the merger that appeared in British legal trade publications. The deal had been scheduled to be announced formally next week.

Mr. Pinnington stressed that the move was "not a takeover," but the creation of a new firm by three equal partners. He said new firm's global network will help FMC's clients that do business around the world.

The deal follows the move last year by Ogilvy Renault and Macleod Dixon to join massive London-based Norton Rose. Some say that deal marked the beginning of the globalization of Canada's legal industry, which has been rife with mega-merger rumours ever since.

Canadian legal industry observers have long pegged FMC as a possible merger target for U.S. or British mega-firms, many of which have been looking to Canada to expand as their corporate clients aim to buy into Canada's natural resources.

FMC has offices in Montreal, Ottawa, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Vancouver.

SNR Denton, which has more than 1,200 lawyers, is itself the product of a 2010 merger between U.S.-based Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal LLP and London's Denton Wilde Sapte LLP. The firm boasts 60 locations worldwide, including associate firms and special alliances. Salans has 770 lawyers, and 20 offices around the world.

Story continues below advertisement

The new global firm, they say, will be the world's seventh-largest by head count.

"We see ourselves, in doing this, as being very much a leader in the profession," Mr. Pinnington said.

FMC, which has 112 of its 557 lawyers in its Calgary office and deep roots in energy and mining, was previously rumoured to have been courted by U.S.-based DLA Piper, the world's largest law firm, with 4,200 lawyers. DLA Piper announced last year that it was talking to as many as four unnamed Canadian firms, but so far no deal has been announced.

The FMC merger could prompt renewed soul-searching among senior partners on Bay Street considering similar deals, says Jordan Furlong, a lawyer and law-firm consultant: "Now that this second major top-10 Canadian firm has, apparently, gone global as well … every large Canadian firm has to be on red alert."

In Australia, a wave of mergers involving global firms has dramatically changed the local legal market, he pointed out, predicting that Canada could soon see similar changes. (A handful of smaller Canadian firms have also recently announced cross-border mergers.)

Under the merger, FMC and the other merged firms will use what is known as a "Swiss Verein" structure that would not see their finances combined. FMC would have three of the 14 seats on the new firm's global board. If approved, the deal would take effect next year.

Story continues below advertisement

Report an error Licensing Options
About the Author
Toronto City Hall Reporter

Jeff Gray is The Globe and Mail’s Toronto City Hall reporter. He has worked at The Globe since 1998. From 2010 to 2016, he was the law reporter in Report on Business, covering Bay Street law firms and white-collar crime. He won an honourable mention at the National Magazine Awards for investigative journalism in 2010. More

Comments

The Globe invites you to share your views. Please stay on topic and be respectful to everyone. For more information on our commenting policies and how our community-based moderation works, please read our Community Guidelines and our Terms and Conditions.

We’ve made some technical updates to our commenting software. If you are experiencing any issues posting comments, simply log out and log back in.

Discussion loading… ✨

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Combined Shape Created with Sketch.

Thank you!

You are now subscribed to the newsletter at

You can unsubscribe from this newsletter or Globe promotions at any time by clicking the link at the bottom of the newsletter, or by emailing us at privacy@globeandmail.com.