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Faskens merges with Ottawa firm

|Written By Helen Burnett

Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP is expanding into the national capital region by merging with Ottawa firm Johnston & Buchan LLP.

Johnston & Buchan is a 13-lawyer firm with expertise in communications law and trade law. The firms announced their intention last week. The merger is set to take effect April 1, after which the firm will become the Ottawa office of Faskens.

“As a national firm, as Ottawa is the nation’s capital, we wanted to be there,” says Faskens Toronto managing partner Walter Palmer.

He says the firm did not want to open an office or make an acquisition just for the sake of doing so but adds that Johnston & Buchan is “in our view, the jewel of independent firms in Ottawa.”

“Part of our strategy is to find areas of expertise where we can excel,” says Palmer. Faskens wants to target communications law.

Merger discussions between the two firms began 18 months ago.

Laurence Dunbar, a partner at Johnston & Buchan will become co-chairman of the firm’s expanded 15-lawyer communications law practice, along with Faskens lawyer Barbara Miller.

Dunbar told Law Times the merger will give the Ottawa office “access to an ability to offer clients a much wider range of legal services than we can at the moment.”

“We haven’t been able to offer our small and mid-size clients always the range of legal services that they might like to have, and we have sometimes found it a disadvantage to be small in trying to serve some larger international-type clients that have approached us,” he says.

“From our perspective, the merger will allow us to round out our practice, hopefully provide a wider range of services to our existing clients and also attract new clients,” he adds.

He says the combination of the communications and trade groups of the two firms will put them in the forefront among Canadian law firms.

Following the merger, Faskens will boast more than 640 lawyers with offices in Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa, Montréal, Québec City, London, Johannesburg, and New York.

All 13 lawyers at Johnston & Dunbar will continue to work out of the Ottawa office. Dunbar says the next step will be an expansion of the office as the firm tries to grow its client base in Ottawa and internationally.

News of the merger comes several weeks after Faskens became the first Canadian law firm to merge with a U.K. law firm, melding with London boutique Stringer Saul LLP on Feb. 1.

Palmer says the Johnston & Buchan merger has a distinct link to the Stringer Saul union.

“It ties into the strategy of having areas of expertise, not only in Canada for the benefit of Canadian clients, but also globally,” he says. “We see our offices in London as a platform to expand the practice of Johnston & Buchan.”

Dunbar says, “We’ve been doing a fair amount of international-type work, both in the communications and trade sectors and having offices in places like London and New York are going to be advantageous to us, particularly in pitching international-type clients.”

While there are no other imminent mergers at this stage, Palmer says Faskens is regularly looking for such opportunities.

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