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A closer look at Dentons merger with U.S. firm

Lots of cross-border potential despite departures from McKenna Long
|Written By Julius Melnitzer

Although uncertainties continue to revolve around the recent merger of Dentons and McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP, what seems clear is the U.S. firm’s powerful connections to Canada will greatly strengthen Dentons Canada LLP’s cross-border practice.

The glue in the ointment is Gordon Giffin, the U.S. ambassador to Canada from 1997 to 2001, who leads McKenna Long & Aldridges’s public policy and international practice. A partner based in Washington and Atlanta, he boasts extensive experience at the state and federal levels in regulatory and administrative litigation in the energy, technology, and telecommunications fields; government procurement counselling and litigation; public policy strategic counselling and advocacy; corporate compliance counselling and internal audits; election law; international transactions; and trade matters, including trade disputes and policy counselling.

“We have a team that spans the border and understands the border,” Giffin tells Law Times.

“With this merger, we will harmonize seamless teams of Canadian and U.S. lawyers to deal with cross-border matters in the context of a strategic vision that embraces a North American law firm.”

Giffin, who has a two decades-old relationship with Dentons Canada and its predecessor Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP, spends 40 per cent of his time in Canada and expects to spend “more time than ever” here going forward.

Chris Pinnington, chief executive officer of Dentons Canada, is looking forward to the relationship when the firms merge later this year.

“McKenna Long has a particular understanding of Canada in all of its dimensions and of how to move things across the border seamlessly,” he says.

The merger also gives Dentons a presence in Denver, a leading mining and energy hub.

“Denver is a good geographic, client, and industry match with the Canadian practice,” says Joe Andrew, the London, England-based global chairman of Dentons.

Still, there’s a bit of a cloud hanging over the McKenna Long & Aldridge combination, which followed less than three months after Dentons announced a merger with Chinese firm Dacheng in January. The issue is that McKenna has suffered a raft of departures in the last 18 months. The most recent to leave is Mark Lange, head of the Atlanta-based firm’s national tax practice, who decamped in late April for Holland & Knight LLP.

When Dentons announced the Dacheng merger, the firm claimed a global total of 6,550 lawyers. At the time of the merger with the U.S. firm, McKenna Long & Aldridge’s web site took credit for “500 attorneys and public policy

advisors.” At the time of the announcement of the merger with the U.S. firm, Dentons’ global count was “6,600 lawyers and professionals,” an increase of less than 100.

In a new release, Dentons explained the anomaly: “Dentons has gained lawyers since the . . . [Dacheng] announcement. The way the category of ‘lawyers and professionals’ is counted differs from region-to-region.

Through the integration process with [Dacheng] . . . we have decided to take the most conservative figure approach on a go-forward basis, which does not include a category of several hundred lawyers in China who are awaiting final certification. That category accounts for the difference in the number announced in January and the current 6600 lawyers and professionals — including the outstanding 1100 lawyers and professionals in the US — that we will have once both the combination and the merger are effective later this year.”

In a further statement, Dentons said: “The numbers, which are always estimates until launch, are more than 6200 lawyers and professionals for Dentons and [Dacheng] . . . and more than 400 lawyers and professionals for McKenna Long.”

What’s interesting about the last statement is the language: the original claim from Dentons after the Dacheng merger was 6,550 “lawyers.” The current count, including the Chinese lawyers awaiting final certification, is 6,600 “lawyers and professionals.”

Following an initial interview that broached the subject, Law Times asked Dentons to clarify the difference between lawyers and professionals but didn’t receive an answer. The failure to do so may reflect continuing uncertainty about the number of lawyers who will remain at McKenna Long & Aldridge after the merger is complete.

There’s no doubt that the merger with Dentons has been problematic for McKenna Long & Aldridge since it surfaced. The initial negotiations collapsed in November 2013 after the U.S. firm made a last-minute decision not to merge.

In the year following, gross revenue plunged 10.6 per cent. Although revenue per lawyer rose by 1.5 per cent, profits per partner fell 8.3 percent. The number of lawyers fell from 530 at the beginning of 2014 to about 425 at the end of the year.

During the first four months of this year, the count declined even further to about 400, but that included “professionals.”

When interviewed by Law Times, Giffin’s assessment was that “at least 75 per cent” of the lawyers who were at McKenna Long & Aldridge would remain there, a number he calls a “huge percentage of colleagues.”


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