Opening The Door To Doing Business In Canada

Sunday, October 1, 2006 - 01:00
Michel A. Brunet

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

Brunet: I became a member of the bar 30 years ago, and my practice has been in the area of corporate law, specifically M&A transactions. This has included the acquisition, sale and financing of businesses. I provide counsel for public offerings, purchases, sales, takeover bids, and a range of debt project financings. Today I am a member of the firm's business strategies, transactions and securities practices.

I have also fulfilled a number of management roles for Fraser Milner Casgrain, including serving as managing partner of the Montral office. I have been a member of the firm's national board, and I have been engaged in the development of its presence across North America.

I take a great deal of pride in having been involved in a number of charitable and community organizations. At present, I serve on the governing board of the Qubec Cancer Society. I have been very active over the years on the boards of the Red Cross Society and other smaller charitable organizations, including a school for disabled children. This type of activity has permitted me to participate in a very different type of undertaking from that of a law firm, and I am very grateful.

Editor: How did you come to Fraser Milner Casgrain? What were the things that attracted you to the firm?

Brunet: I joined Byers Casgrain in 1994 because it was considered one of the best firms in Montreal, and I served as the managing partner from 1998 through its merger with Fraser Milner in 2000 which resulted in the national business law firm of Fraser Milner Casgrain.

Editor: During your years with FMC you have witnessed substantial growth and the development of a presence in just about all of Canada's major cities. Would you share with us the strategic thinking behind this evolution?

Brunet: Fraser Milner Casgrain's initial growth was the result of a series of mergers. These were implemented to enable the firm to offer its clients a broad range of expertise in certain critical practice areas, as well as in certain important industry sectors. The process was also designed to give the firm a presence in just about all of the places where its Canadian clients had a presence. The integration of the two firms that resulted in Fraser Milner Casgrain, for example, was the consequence of a strategic decision made several years earlier to serve the firm's clients most effectively through the vehicle of a truly national business law firm.

Since 2000, however, FMC has grown organically and at a steady pace. With a core of specialized expertise spread across six offices, we anticipate meeting all of the needs of our expanding client base.

Editor: And the Montral office? Why was it so important for the firm to have a presence in Montral?

Brunet: The integration of the Montral office into the newly merged FMC was a critical step necessary for both sides of the firm. Among other things, it permitted us to better serve our clients by assuming the status of a truly national law firm. Montral is one of Canada's key markets, and a law firm that does not possess a presence in Montral is not a truly national firm. Our six Canadian offices are strategically situated in the country's major centers of commerce, cities that have a need for business lawyers to serve both the public and the private sectors.

It is also absolutely vital to have a Montral office to ensure that the firm can serve its clients - both English-speaking and French-speaking - in the legal system that prevails in Qubec, which differs from those of the other Canadian provinces. We are governed by a civil law system, in contrast to the rest of the country, which utilizes common law.

Editor: Are there particular legal disciplines and practice groups that are associated with particular offices in the firm-wide structure?

Brunet: Due to the geographic proximity of clients, some of FMC's offices have higher concentrations of particular practice groups than others. Alberta's energy sector influences the disciplines and practice groups we have in Calgary and Edmonton, for example, as does the Qubec hydroelectric industry on the personnel we have in Montral. I am currently reviewing a firm-wide strategy to optimize FMC's expertise across Canada and ensure that the best resources are in place to address the firm's client needs, despite geographic boundaries.

Editor: The firm handles some very large matters. How do you go about staffing a project across three or four different offices?

Brunet: To implement the firm-wide strategy of ensuring that our clients have access to industry talent whenever and wherever it is needed, we have developed new processes to leverage our existing best practices. For example, increasingly lawyers from separate offices are collaborating on projects to produce the best outcome for our clients. In what we call the P-3 work - private and public partnerships - we draw upon the expertise residing in a variety of offices, including Montral, Toronto and Vancouver, to accomplish the client's goals. There are occasions when every office in the firm is contributing to a particular project.

Editor: And the clients? Are there certain industry sectors in which the firm has a particularly strong client base?

Brunet: Clients are our top priority. In 2005 FMC was one of the 34 law firms worldwide to receive the Client Choice Award of the International Law Office, the official online media partner of ACC and the International Law Association, as the leading law firm for client services in Canada. This was based upon responses from more than 1,000 international corporate counsel.

Nationally, FMC serves clients in all sectors, but the firm has been recognized for its particular expertise in mining, energy, natural resources, public-private partnerships, financial services, securities and private equity.

Next to Canadian clients, the firm's largest client group consists of enterprises which are either American or American-owned or -controlled. This is due to the extraordinary integration of U.S. and Canadian capital markets and the two economies.

Internationally, FMC sustains long-term relationships with firms in a variety of countries, including the UK, France, China and Hong Kong. We also refer clients to trusted counsel in other jurisdictions through our participation in the Pacific Rim Advisory Council.

Editor: Please tell us about FMC's cross-border practice.

Brunet: We have an effective continental strategy that entails a growing presence in key areas within the U.S. This includes New York, where we have an office, Houston, Chicago, Washington, DC and California. Within these areas we strive to meet the needs of corporate counsel by aligning those needs with the expertise residing in our various Canadian offices. Our Vancouver office, for example, is noted for its entertainment expertise and serves the American entertainment sector in general and that of Los Angeles in particular. Our Calgary and Edmonton offices have strong links with Houston and handle a considerable volume of energy and international transactional work that originates in the latter city. We also provide full service cross-border counseling and representation to our clients, in addition to the services we provide on specifically Canadian issues.

Editor: What is the direction of this work?

Brunet: It is a two-way proposition. We advise Canadian clients who have business opportunities in the U.S., and we refer certain of these matters to the American firms with whom we have relationships. At the same time, we are on the receiving end of work flowing north. Our cross-border practice is growing both in volume and complexity throughout the areas we have targeted in the U.S. The two-way stream of business between Alberta and Texas, for example, is growing at an exponential rate, and with the current price of oil we do not anticipate any diminution of that work any time soon.

Editor: Would you share with us the thinking behind FMC opening an office in New York?

Brunet: Over time, we noticed that the already close ties between Canada and the U.S. were becoming closer and the border between the two countries increasingly transparent. If that border were to be perceived as a barrier, cross-border activity - already on the increase - would remain unnecessarily complex and expensive for our clients. We came to realize that the firm needed to establish a presence in the U.S. if it were to compete effectively for the attention of American, European or Asian companies seeking an introduction to Canada.

Editor: What is the mission of the New York office today?

Brunet: The mission of the New York office is evolving. It is meant to connect all of the firm's Canadian offices with the myriad of international enterprises engaged in business in New York, and that includes the law firms and legal service providers that serve them. Our New York office serves as a channel by which U.S. and other corporations are introduced to doing business in Canada. At the same time, the office provides full service cross-border representation and advice to a variety of clients, both Canadian and international. Having an established New York presence, of course, we are able to communicate directly with many different business constituencies in New York. To that discussion we bring all of the expertise concerning Canadian business that resides across the firm.

Editor: Are there any areas of expertise that you would like to acquire or, if they are already in place, to grow?

Brunet: We will continue to enhance our expertise in energy, mining and natural resources. These are exceptionally strong areas of our practice, and we anticipate that they will only grow stronger with the passage of time. We also anticipate growth in our ADR practice. The firm's capabilities in certain key financial areas, including corporate finance, cross-border transactions, insolvency, public offerings, regulatory advice and securities, are also expected to grow over the near term. We are also prepared, because of our depth of talent and the degree of expertise in so many different legal disciplines that is spread across the firm, to compete in those areas which, at the moment, may not be targeted for growth but which may come to the fore at some point down the road.

Editor: Where would you like the firm to be in, say, five years?

Brunet: Over the next few years I would like the firm to be more recognized, both domestically and internationally, as a forward-thinking Canadian business law firm that relates to its top-tier clients as a partner. In addition, I would like it to possess a real competitive advantage of talent in growing industry sectors. Our brand and our reputation in key U.S. markets is growing, and in time I would hope that the firm is acknowledged as the essential source of counsel for the growing list of international enterprises with interests in Canada.

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