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Legal giant DLA Piper shops for Canadian law firm

Scales of justice

Christine Balderas

The chairman of the global board of international legal giant DLA Piper says his firm is talking with several of Canada's top law firms about a possible merger.

Frank Burch, co-chairman of DLA Piper's Baltimore-based U.S. operation, told a British legal publication, The Lawyer, that his firm had engaged in discussions with most of Canada's top 10 firms, just months after word that Montreal-based Ogilvy Renault LLP had decided to merge with London-based Norton Rose LLP.

"We've talked to six or seven firms and continue to talk to three or four of the top 10," Mr. Burch said in an article on thelawyer.com. "There's now a high level of interest among the top Canadian firms in being an early mover [and merging with a global law firm]"

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"It's just like everywhere else - when the game of musical chairs starts, you need to find a seat," he said, in comments clearly referring to the Ogilvy Renault move, which set off speculation in Canadian legal circles about more mergers with global giants.

A spokesman for DLA Piper confirmed that Mr. Burch was quoted accurately, but would not comment further for this story.

The Lawyer speculates that Heenan Blaikie LLP and Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP were likely candidates for a merger with DLA Piper. Neither firm would confirm they were in talks.

In an interview Monday, the national co-managing partner of Heenan Blaikie, Norman Bacal, said there were no talks taking place between his firm and DLA Piper.

"I haven't had any discussions with anyone," Mr. Bacal said. "… I'd be very flattered if they called."

He said that his firm had no current plans to pursue a merger, having just opened its own Paris office: "We would never reject anything out of hand. But that being said, it is not front-and-centre on our radar screen right now."

Chris Pinnington, the chief executive officer of Fraser Milner, said in an e-mailed statement that his firm was engaging in discussions with various global law firms on "strategic partnerships," but would not confirm or deny any talks with DLA Piper.

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Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, which denied reports in 2008 that it was negotiating with DLA Piper, also said on Monday it was currently "not in merger talks" with the U.S. firm.

Marc-André Blanchard, McCarthy Tétrault's chairman and chief executive partner, also said his firm was not in merger talks with DLA Piper.

Ogilvy Renault's merger with Norton Rose will create a global firm with 2,500 lawyers, and is to officially take place in June.

DLA Piper, created by the merger of U.S. and British firms, merged earlier this year with its Australian associate firm, DLA Phillips Fox, to become the world's biggest law firm, with more than 4,000 lawyers.

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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

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