Alberta (Photo: Dougall_Photography/iStockphoto.com)
Two of Canada’s largest provincial law firms announced their intention to merge on Wednesday. The union, the latest in a series of combinations between firms up north, will create one of the largest full-service firms in western Canada.
The proposed tie-up between Winnipeg-based Aikins, MacAulay & Thorvaldson and Regina-based MacPherson Leslie & Tyerman (MLT)—the largest firms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan, respectively—is expected to go live on Jan. 1, 2017.
MLT Aikins, the entity created by the merger, will have 240 lawyers located in six cities throughout Canada’s four western provinces. Aikins partner David Filmon will become the new firm’s chairman, while MLT managing partner Don Wilson will hold the same role at MLT Aikins. Herb Peters, managing partner at Aikins, will take over as the new firm’s local leader in Winnipeg.
Like its predecessors, MLT Aikins will be a full-service firm operating in a few key practice areas: corporate and commercial, litigation and various specialties areas such as IP, securities and tax. Filmon said the pooled expertise of both firms would allow each firm to fill in the gaps of the other and compliment the work in already developed practice areas.
“Combine that with a geographic footprint that will allow us to have effectively a one stop shop from Manitoba west to British Columbia, in all four provinces, we think that this is going to be a very good value proposition for clients,” Filmon said.
Wilson said the merger, which was about 18 months in the making, is an extension of a vision that MLT developed around 12 years ago that looked to fill a hole in the Canadian legal market.
“What was missing was a western Canadian law firm that was only in western Canada that targeted western Canadians,” added Wilson (pictured right).
After establishing strong bases in Saskatchewan and Manitoba, which traditionally have smaller communities and therefore smaller markets, the two firms saw similarities in each other that would allow them to expand services to their clients but do so in a distinctively communal way.
“[Companies] want local people that can introduce them to the local mayor of the community they’re building their mine by, but at the same time, they need somebody who can do a sophisticated project agreement for the development of a $2 billion potash mine,” Wilson said.
Western Canada, known for its commodities-based industries like agriculture, oil and gas, potash and uranium, has been the focus of expansion for national and international firms. In 2010, Toronto-based Miller Thomson absorbed 30-lawyer Saskatchewan firm Balfour Moss.
Earlier this week, The Am Law Daily reported on DLA Piper’s acquisition of 16-lawyer IP firm Dimock Stratton in Toronto, a move that came more than a year after the global legal giant swallowed up Davis, a 260-lawyer firm based in Vancouver. Last week, Dentons forged an alliance with a consultancy led by former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, while Norton Rose Fulbright combined with 95-lawyer Bull, Housser & Tupper in Vancouver.
Norton Rose Fulbright was the first global firm to enter the Canadian market in a big way back in 2010 when it absorbed Montreal-based Ogilvy Renault into its Swiss verein network. Last year Ottawa-based Gowling Lafleur Henderson announced a cross-border combination with British firm Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co. that earlier this year formed 1,400-lawyer Gowling WLG.
Canada’s recent economic woes has increased the pressure on the country’s domestic firms, and of those remaining independent outfits in British Colombia could be eyeing deals with out-of-town suitors, according to a report this week by Business in Vancouver.
Despite the encroachment of international firms into Canadian markets, those behind MLT Aikins are optimistic that their “uniquely local and uniquely knowledgeable” western Canadian firm will put them in a competitive position alongside the legal giants, said Aikins’ managing partner Herb Peters. (Aikins and DLA Piper faced off five years ago on a $170 million deal that brought the National Hockey League back to Winnipeg.)
“We’re Canadian and uniquely western Canadian and we maybe take a perverse pride in that,” Peters said. “But there’s something about people who come from a smaller place like ours that has us punching above our weight.”
Besides its offices in Regina and Winnipeg, MLT Aikins will also have outposts in Calgary, Edmonton, Saskatoon and Vancouver once its combination is complete later this year. It will be the only major firm with offices in those six cities.