Vancouver

Canada’s Bennett Jones is doubling the size of its Vancouver office with the acquisition of 12 lawyers from corporate and securities boutique McCullough O’Connor Irwin.

The merger, which will go live on June 1, is a part of a growth strategy by the Calgary-based firm to grow not only in Vancouver, but expand its private equity and establishment funds offerings.

“[McCullough O'Connor Irwin] is a first-class law firm and a leader in corporate finance, private equity and funds,” said Bennett Jones’ Vancouver managing partner Radha Curpen, who will remain head of the combined firm’s operations in the city. “It has a stellar reputation not just in Vancouver, but across Canada and [in] the U.S. as well. It was the right time and the right mix.”

Jonathan McCullough, one of the boutique’s founders, will become co-head of Bennett Jones’ corporate department. In 2014, McCullough and his firm advised Dennis “Chip” Wilson, the billionaire founder of yoga apparel retailer Lululemon Athletica, on his $845 million sale of a 13.85 percent stake in the company to private equity firm Advent International Corp.

Founded in Vancouver in 1994, McCullough O’Connor Irwin has represented clients across various industries in public and private equity deals, debt financings, corporate restructuring and governance issues and securities regulatory and compliance matters, among others. In 2016, Canadian Lawyer magazine touted the firm as one of the top boutiques in the country.

It was Bennett Jones that first approached McCullough O’Connor Irwin about the possibility of a tie-up, said Curpen, adding that her firm and its clients had previously worked with the boutique.

For Bennett Jones, which has a budding corporate finance and securities practice and works with many large U.S. private equity firms, the combination was too good to pass up.

Radha Curpen

“[McCullough O'Connor Irwin] is a pioneer in what they’ve done [as a] corporate and securities law firm model in Canada,” Curpen said. “So bringing them together strategically makes a lot of sense.”

But it was the boutique’s location in Vancouver that made it a key target for Bennett Jones, which in 2013 became the first major Canadian firm to open an office in Washington, D.C., its first outpost across the border.

“Vancouver is an important market for Bennett Jones and for Canada,” Curpen said. “It’s a thriving market [and] one of the fastest-growing markets in Canada. It’s a gateway to the Pacific and Asia and also a gateway to a key corridor in the U.S.”

Vancouver has been a hotbed of law firm merger activity in recent months. Earlier this year, Toronto-based Fasken Martineau DuMoulin expanded its office in the city after acquiring corporate and commercial boutique Roxwal Lawyers, based out of the growing Vancouver suburb of Surrey, British Columbia. Cozen O’Connor also set up shop in Vancouver in early March after relocating a partner from its office in Seattle.

In late 2016, Norton Rose Fulbright absorbed Bull, Housser & Tupper, a 92-lawyer firm based in Vancouver. The move by Norton Rose Fulbright, which had already clinched two other combinations in Canada, came a year after rival global legal giant DLA Piper picked up Vancouver-based Davis, a 260-lawyer firm with several other offices throughout Canada.

As for Bennett Jones, the addition of McCullough O’Connor Irwin is its largest expansion since bringing on 11 mining industry lawyers in Toronto from 560-lawyer Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain in 2013 amid the latter’s combination forming Dentons. The entry of large foreign firms into Canada has pushed top domestic firms like Bennett Jones to expand their expertise and consolidate operations in order to compete with the influx of international giants.

Bennett Jones’ Vancouver office will have 31 lawyers once its deal closes in June with McCullough O’Connor Irwin, whose 15 staffers will also make the move to the firm. Victor O’Connor, a founding partner at the boutique, died in 2009.

The American Lawyer recently reported on the pace of U.S. law firm combinations remaining steady through the first quarter of 2018. The second quarter, which began this week, has been just as busy with three deals involving Am Law 100 firms being finalized. Smaller mergers have also been announced by a pair of Am Law 200 firms.

Boston-based Goulston & Storrs absorbed litigation boutique Miller & Wrubel in New York, while Columbus, Ohio-based Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease pickup up a 10-lawyer intellectual property boutique in Pittsburgh.