July 18, 2011
Predictions are rife that Canada's major law firms will be examining their business models to determine whether remaining purely domestic will enable them to provide the kind of service their clients expect from them and to attract new ones.
Ultimately, though, the future success for large law firms is all about strategy, according to Les Viner, managing partner of Torys.
Eleven years ago, its predecessor firm, Tory Tory DesLauriers & Binnington, merged with New York corporate firm, Haythe & Curley, rebranded as Torys LLP and established a presence in the Big Apple. Les, who joined the firm in 1987, explains that having a presence in New York City is very important, additionally because New York law is the currency used for transacting deals outside Canada in the Americas.
Following its move into New York, Torys began establishing footprints in China, India and the Gulf region in the Middle East, all of which have "strong investor appetite" for Canada. That hunger, primarily directed at the country's natural resources, made opening an office in Calgary this past March the next logical step of Torys' master plan.
"It's not only a great city economically, but it also has oil and gas business on outbound work to South America and inbound investment from Canadian, Chinese, Indian and Gulf sovereign wealth funds into the oil sands. That global business connects beautifully with the rest of our energy business in Toronto and New York that includes hydro, nuclear and renewable energy," says Les.
"The path we've chosen in this current internationalization trend is one that focuses on New York, South America, China, India and the Gulf as it intersects with Canadian business."
However, he insists that Torys has no immediate plans to merge into a global mega-firm, despite rumours that have tied it to hooking up with British-based international firm Allen & Overy LLP. The chatter about a possible consolidation came on the heels of their high-profile involvement serving as co-counsel in the proposed $3.2 billion merger of the TMX Group Inc. and the London Stock Exchange Group PLC, represented by Torys and Allen & Overy (A & O) respectively.
Torys has a long-standing historical, non-exclusive referral relationship with A & O, "and that’s it," says Les, who notes that Torys' strategy continues to have the firm "build out" its international platform from within. Ogilvy’s recent alliance with Norton Rose Group – though much discussed among all the major law firms – has offered no temptation for Torys to follow suit.
Ogilvy Renault – now Norton Rose– took a huge step, says Les, forgoing its name and autonomy to be part of a global network. It is to be applauded for differentiating itself from other Canadian firms by instantly establishing a global platform, which is sure to be of interest to some clients.
"But at the end of the day, it's all about how you recruit and keep the best talent, and it's not self-evident to me that having a bunch of offices around the world is a magic elixir for recruiting the best people and getting the best work. You need to be able to attract the best lawyers, and that requires some combination of having a great brand and appropriate autonomy and exciting work."
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