Century-old Vancouver law firm merges with British multinational

Bull Housser, a Vancouver-based law firm with 126 years of history in B.C., will combine with a British multinational that describes itself as one of the world’s fastest-growing global law firms.

Bull Housser announced Monday its merger with Norton Rose Fulbright, a London-based firm with more than 50 offices around the world. The move is the most recent in a series of law firm mergers as the legal industry continues to consolidate across Canada and the world.

Bull Housser managing partner Janet Grove said the development speaks to B.C.’s emergence as a “real international hub.”

“Many of our clients are now expanding globally and so this now allows us to help them, really, wherever they go,” said Grove.

“As business goes borderless, if we’re going to do our job and serve our clients, we need to go borderless too.”

Bull Housser, also known as Bull, Housser & Tupper LLP, has been a fixture of the B.C. legal community over the decades, including advising on some of the province’s largest infrastructure projects. The firm, which has about 90 lawyers, will merge with the larger British firm, with more than 3,800 lawyers globally, with the combined company operating under the Norton Rose Fulbright name.

There are no plans to significantly change staffing levels at the Vancouver office as a result of the merger, Grove said.

Through a series of earlier mergers with Canadian firms, Norton Rose Fulbright already had offices in Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal, and Quebec City.

Vancouver was “certainly the missing strategic bit for our purposes,” said Crae Garrett, Norton Rose Fulbright’s Canadian head of infrastructure, mining and commodities. “I can’t speak for other countries, but certainly within Canada, we think that we have completed our jigsaw puzzle right now.”

“We try to go where our clients want us to go,” said Garrett. “We’ve been hearing the message loud and clear from a number of our clients, from Japanese trading houses to local mid-tier mining companies based in Vancouver that want to do business with counterparts in Asia, that this is where we needed to be.”

Such mergers have become more common in Canada and around the world, said Peter Zeughauser, chairman of Zeughauser Group, a U.S.-based consulting company that advises law firms.

Globally, the legal business has traditionally been more “fragmented” than the accounting or advertising industries, where a few major players have larger market shares, said Zeughauser, and the pace of consolidation in the legal industry is likely to accelerate in the future.

“Canadian companies do business all over the world, and they need lawyers with that reach. It’s hard to build that kind of global firm yourself if you’re a firm in Vancouver,” said Zeughauser. “It’s much smarter to go with a firm that’s already got a significant global footprint and is running it successfully, like Norton Rose… And Canada is an increasingly attractive market, with more and more cross-border (business), so for Norton Rose, it makes sense to have a significant footprint in Canada.”

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