Canada - Law Firms A Canadian Initiative Addresses "An Underappreciated Place To Do Business"

Friday, April 1, 2005 - 01:00

Editor: Mr. Conti, would you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Conti: I was born and raised in Philadelphia. I have an MBA and a LL.M. in taxation in addition to my law degree. My first job as a lawyer was with the Chief Counsel of the IRS in Washington, DC. After that I spent a few years with anow "Big Four" accounting firm (which was not my cup of tea), so I went into the private practice of law with the Philadelphia-based law firm of Saul Ewing.In 1989 Ijoined Holland & Knight. At that time there were just over 220 lawyers located solely in Florida offices, with the exception of a small office (about 15 lawyers) in Washington, DC.Today we have over 1,250 lawyers in 26 offices in the U.S. and 6 offices internationally. For the past 16 years, I have been practicing primarily as a corporate and transactional lawyer.

Editor: Would you describe your practice?

Conti: My practice is focused on serving as outside general counsel to middle market public and private companies, with a heavy dose of mergers and acquisitions and corporate finance. Advising substantial companies regarding partnerships and limited liability companies is an area of my practice that is growing.

Editor: You have also enjoyed a parallel career with the Florida Bar Association and with the ABA. Would you tell us about these activities? How do they connect to your practice?

Conti: At the Florida Bar Association, I serve on the Executive Councils of both the Business Law Section and the Tax Section. I am a former chair of the Corporations, Securities and Financial Institutions Committee of the BLS, and a former chair of the Tax Section. I have also served as either chair or co-chair of Florida Bar Association drafting committees which have re-written statutes for our general partnership, LLP, LLC and corporate statutes. In addition, this legislative session will review a bill to revise our limited partnership statute.

At the ABA, I am a member of the Business Law Section, where I have served in leadership positions, including as chair ofa task force on drafting LLC operating agreements. I have also served as an ABA advisor to the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws drafting committees which created uniform LLC and LLP acts.

Editor: You have been named coordinator of Holland & Knight's Canada Initiative. May I take it that the firm has developed an interest in Canada?

Conti: The firm's interest in Canada is very resolute. It initially developed from the strong economic relationship between Canada and Florida. Back in the early 90s, I was one of a handful of partners who first thought it would be a good idea to focus on Canada as a source of business. George Mencio (a Cuban-American partner in our Miami office and the head of our international practice), Tom Farrar (another then Miami partner), and I talked about the growing economic ties between Florida and Canada, and the fact that with our Mexico City office we were a natural for NAFTA trade matters. Since we had so many Spanish-speaking professionals in the firm, offices in Latin America, and a strong Central and South American client base, we could also certainly help Canadian businesses penetrate Latin America, and, at the same time. help Latin American clients expand into the U.S. and Canada.

We decided early on that we did not want to open an office in Canada to practice Canadian law, so that meant we had to get to know the top law firms across Canada - both to refer work to them and to let them know about us and our capabilities in Florida and Latin America. As Holland & Knight opened new offices, we promoted our Canadian and Latin American strengths and relationships to our lawyers in these new offices to further build this initiative.

Editor: Would you give us your thoughts about Canada as an investment destination and place to do business?

Conti: From my 11 years visiting Canada and working with Canadian lawyers and business leaders, I believe that Canada is an underappreciated place to do business. The provincial laws take some getting used to, the tax structure might be deemed high by some, and of course there was a time when Quebec Province was seen by many businesses in the U.S. and Latin America as fairly volatile, but that is no longer an issue. The Canadian people are simply wonderful.The performance and growth in all areas of technology in Canada is impressive. The universities are outstanding. The quality of life is extremely high. The arts, culture, recreation, restaurants and infrastructure are world class.The capital markets and the bankers, lawyers and accountants are top shelf.Really, one cannot help but be impressed by the caliber of the professionals in the major Canadian markets. Canada's two biggest drawbacks may be the relatively small size of the market for some businesses or industries, and the fact that the population is so spread out geographically, with very marked differences between the border provinces.

Editor: Is the firm's Canadian Initiative focused on U.S. corporations desiring to do business in Canada or on Canadian enterprises interested in U.S. markets?

Conti: The initial focus was to help Canadian businesses that wanted to do business in the U.S. or Latin America. However, it has now expanded into actively trying to promote our strong ties to the elite Canadian law firms and banks as a resource for U.S. and Latin American companies wishing to do business directly or through joint ventures in Canada. So it really works both ways. In those instances where our clients want to set up shop or distribute in Canada, we largely serve as a facilitator since we do not practice Canadian law.

Editor: Are there particular practice areas that are involved in this initiative? Do you plan to expand the services that you offer to the firm's existing Canadian clients? In what areas?

Conti: We don't have a particular industry or practice area focus to the Canada Initiative. Certain areas of Canada are rich in various natural assets and industries which extract or harvest those assets, and these companies look for expertise within these specialized areas.Given our depth of experience in so many diverse areas and niches, we provide our services whenever we can comfortably do so. For example, we have helped Canadian banks in their efforts to establish their business groups in the U.S. We have also helped Canadian public companies acquire U.S. companies, and establish operations in Central and South America.

We have found that building on our existing relationships is the best way for us to expand the work we do for our Canadian clients. We recognize that these same clients are served very well by their Canadian lawyers, who work with their clients as much as possible beyond Canadian borders. In fact, some Canadian firms are opening offices in the U.S. to practice U.S. law in an effort to keep as much of that work as possible. The size of the market in the U.S. and Latin America for Canadian business is very attractive to Canadian firms.

Editor: How do you coordinate the efforts of the various groups concerned with this initiative?

Conti: One thing we do extremely well is to put the client into the hands of the best lawyers for their particular matter, so we assemble the most qualified team from across the firm. If a client is looking to go into Mexico, or has a problem in Mexico, we call on the most experienced lawyers in that area in our Mexico City office to handle the matter. Similarly, if the client is in an industry such as aviation or maritime finance, we utilize our lawyers with the best expertise in these areas.In addition, our technology and infrastructure enable us to provide exceptional client service no matter what offices the Holland & Knight lawyers are in, so it is both cost efficient and seamless.

Editor: Is there a possibility that Holland & Knight will open an office in Canada in the near future?

Conti: We have talked about this every year, and every year we conclude that we should not be opening an office in Canada, nor should we be merging with an established national Canadian firm. We have found that relying on the network of exceptionally talented Canadian lawyers with whom we have established a rapport is most beneficial for our clients. Should we ever decide to make the plunge and open an office in Canada, it will be based on how we can best serve our clients.

Editor: Where do you hope to be with this initiative in five years?

Conti: The firm will continue to nurture this initiative so that we can build even stronger relationships across the continent. In five years, we would like the Canada initiative to be even more extensive than it is now because we see more cross-border transactions and more Canadian companies doing business in the U.S. and Latin America (and vice-versa) every year. Our goal is to continue having Holland & Knight thought of as a leading legal advisor to businesses and professionals on both sides of the Canadian/U.S. border.

Please email the interviewee at louis.conti@hklaw.com with questions about this interview.