Law Firms Seek Growth in the U.S.

Randall Pratt, Rob Lando

Nov 3, 2010

While [some] Canadian law firms ... are busy expanding into countries like France, Saudi Arabia, China, Britain, South Africa, Colombia and Brazil, others are sticking closer to home.

The reality is that the United States is still Canada's biggest trading partner by far and there's no one on the horizon to eclipse that anytime soon.

So it shouldn't surprise anyone that Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt has now quietly built its Manhattan office up to 28 lawyers ...  Randall Pratt, managing partner of the U.S. office, noted that his firm has long had a presence south of the border, but the original focus was to operate as a representative office, with a handful of Canadian lawyers chasing down inbound work to Canada.

Now, the focus is servicing Canadian companies that need help navigating U.S. capital markets, understanding laws like ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act), and servicing U.S.-based companies looking to do cross-border deals with Canadian firms.

As U.S. corporate partner Rob Lando put it, the firm works with "U.S.-based clients with cross-border needs."

...

The firm treads carefully building its U.S.-based clientele so that it doesn't bite into the referral network of deals the Canadian offices get from U.S.-based law firms.

"The referral thing is something we need to be cognizant of and manage," Mr. Pratt said.

...

Kevin Cramer, a corporate partner in New York, said having a U.S. office makes sense for a national Canadian law firm because it allows "seamless" service to companies that want to do business in the United States. "To do that under one firm is a competitive advantage."

So Osler has slowly been growing the New York office one lawyer at a time -- the same way it has built its national presence, eschewing mergers. "You need to build a critical mass of lawyers," Mr. Pratt said, adding that "we have got the complement of lawyers we need to serve the business we are doing." Now he's filling gaps and adding expertise to build out the business.

Infrastructure lawyer David Spencer recently joined the New York office ... [saying] he was attracted to Osler because it has an "international view."