Norton Rose seals merger deals to launch in Canada and South Africa

Norton Rose is to launch in Canada and South Africa through mergers with Canadian law firm Ogilvy Renault and leading South African firm Deneys Reitz.

Both firms will join the Norton Rose Group on 1 June 2011, taking headcount at the combined firm to more than 2,500 fee earners across 38 offices around the world.

News of the South African merger was first reported by RollonFriday earlier this morning, with Norton Rose then confirming both merger deals.

The three firms have been in discussions for around a year, with final partnership approval reached through an open vote conducted at a Norton Rose partner meeting held in London over the weekend (13-14 November).

Ogilvy Renault managing partner John Coleman (pictured above left) and the deputy chairman of Deneys Reitz, Rob Otty (pictured above right), will join the Norton Rose’s executive committee, with management of the overall Norton Rose Group remaining unchanged.

Peter Martyr (pictured above centre) will continue as group chief executive, alongside Don Boyd as group deputy chief executive and Stephen Parish as group chairman.

The takeovers come around 18 months after the City firm announced its merger with Australia’s Deacons, which went live in January this year.

Ogilvy and Deneys will join Norton Rose on a similar basis to Deacons, with both joining Norton Rose Group but maintaining their own remuneration and partnership structures separate from the main Norton Rose limited liability partnership. However, the firms are retaining the option of merging profit pools in the future.

Martyr said the mergers tie in with the firm’s sector focus as well as its international strategy, which is particularly focused on Asia. Both firms are strong in energy as well as financial institutions, while Ogilvy also has a life sciences practice – an area that Norton Rose has targeted for expansion.

Life sciences will be added as an official part of the firm’s ‘headlights’ strategy when the merger goes live on 1 June next year, joining corporate finance, financial institutions, transport, energy & infrastructure, and technology.

Martyr said: “These firms have a substantially similar practice focus to ours, which is obviously a large part of the reasoning why we have chosen to tie up with them. The joint offering will have a strong position in energy and mining as well as financial institutions, and it also gives us the opportunity to grow into the life sciences sector.”

“The additions also tie in with how we are seeing the world develop at the moment, fitting in with our focus on resource-rich countries. We have recently had a strong focus on our Asia-Pacific practice where we have achieved significant growth and this ties in with that, since these are markets which are very important to China.”

Deneys Reitz, one of South Africa’s top-tier firms, specialises in commerce, industry, mining and finance. The firm has 142 directors and associates across offices in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town.

Meanwhile, Ogilvy Renault has offices in London, Montreal, Ottawa, Quebec, Toronto and Calgary and is the 11th largest firm in Canada. It specialises in business law, litigation, intellectual property, and employment and labour, with close to 450 lawyers across its six offices.

News of the two mergers marks the first full tie-up between a City and South African firm, although rivals such as DLA Piper, Eversheds and SNR Denton have set up alliances in the region.

Berwin Leighton Paisner managing partner Neville Eisenberg commented: “They are both good firms so it seems to be a positive move for Norton Rose.”

“In pursuing our international strategy we always aim to focus on the quality of the service from the client’s perspective, because at the end of the day clients are the best arbiters of the value of such combinations.”

For more analysis, see What’s Behind Ogilvy Renault’s Merger with Norton Rose? from The Am Law Daily.