Top Canadian firm Bennett Jones has opened an office in Washington, D.C., after rehiring antitrust partner Melanie Aitken following her three-year stint as head of Canada’s Competition Bureau.
The move makes Bennett Jones the first major Canadian firm to open an office in the U.S. capital, says Aitken, who spoke Tuesday with
The Am Law Daily
by phone from
Toronto Pearson International Airport
while waiting to board a flight to D.C.
Aitken, a 46-year-old Toronto native, left the firm’s Toronto office in 2005 to join the Competition Bureau in Ottawa, where she spent the next three years as the regulatory agency’s senior deputy commissioner for merger review.
In 2009, Aitken was named commissioner of the Competition Bureau as Canada was in the process of revamping its antitrust regulations. The regulatory overhaul saw the country’s government
pass sweeping changes to federal antitrust and foreign investment laws
that put in place “
” provisions aimed at giving the Competition Bureau greater power to probe allegedly anticompetitive practices by companies under review.
Though she cut short her five-year term as commissioner by
stepping down two years ahead of schedule in September
, Aitken nonetheless worked closely with her U.S. antitrust colleagues at the U.S. Department of Justice in overseeing several key merger reviews during her three-year run in the top job at the Competition Bureau.
The strength of the Canadian economy—the current exchange rate with the U.S. dollar is about one to one—and the ongoing
stability of the country’s banking sector
amid volatile times in global capital markets further explains why international companies continue to seek out the services of the country’s large law firms, says Aitken. (She jokingly adds that Bennett Jones will pay her in U.S. dollars now that she’ll be based in D.C.)
Aitken says she always considered a return to Bennett an attractive proposition. After being a partner at rival Canadian firm
Davies Ward Phillips & Vineberg
, she left private practice in 2001 to become senior counsel with Canada’s Department of Justice, a post she held until 2003, when she joined Bennett Jones in her hometown of Toronto.
Aitken says the firm’s connections to U.S. business and political interests are likely to benefit its new outpost in D.C. She notes that two former Canadian ambassadors to the country—
—serve as senior advisers to the firm.
For now, Aitken will be the only Bennett Jones lawyer stationed in D.C., although the firm may soon send others down to assist her. Aitken will also work closely with Sheridan Scott, her predecessor as head of Canada’s Competition Bureau and cochair of the firm’s competition practice, and fellow antitrust cochair Randal Hughes, who joined the firm in a
high-profile lateral move two years ago
from Canadian rival
. (That firm scored a
high-profile lateral hire of its own last week
by bringing on former Quebec premier
as a corporate and public policy partner in Montreal.)