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Expect lateral moves as Ogletree expands Toronto beachhead

Multi-national firm scoops Gowlings star to head first Canadian office
|Written By David Dias

As the incentive grows for American companies to access cheaper labour in Canada, (now worth 70 cents on the U.S. dollar) an international labour and employment firm has opened up shop in Toronto with the promise of helping them do it.

Hugh Christie says the whole process started with a chat about how conflicts were impeding cross-border growth for labour firms.
Yesterday, South Carolina-based labour defence firm Ogletree Deakins Nash Smoak & Stewart PC — one of the world’s largest labour defence firms with 750 lawyers across 45 offices in the U.S, and three global outposts in London, Berlin, and Mexico City — announced it would be establishing a Canadian beachhead in Toronto after stealing away some top-shelf talent from Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP.

Hugh Christie, former chairman of the national employment and labour practice group at Gowlings, has been named managing partner of Ogletree’s Toronto office. He’ll be joined by former Gowlings partner Ed Majewski and associate Michael Comartin.

Christie says the opportunity came about after an initial meeting with Ogletree’s managing shareholder Kim Ebert. The two got to talking about how conflicts were impeding cross-border growth for labour firms.

“We’d been talking over some time about the obvious changing structure of the legal profession and the growing problem for people in labour and employment practice areas in big full-service firms . . . and it kind of more morphed over time. And a few months ago . . . we started to think of the idea that has now culminated in this announcement.”

In a released statement, Ebert said the Canadian market was an important one for Ogletree, given the number of U.S. clients with operations in Canada and a need for representation on cross-border matters. Ebert also indicated the firm’s intention to quickly grow the Toronto office with more high-profile hires.

“The opportunities for us to grow in Canada are substantial, and we expect others to join us in Toronto soon,” said Ebert.

As discussions progressed, those opportunities became clear to Christie.

“The largest trading relationship in the world is the one that exists between Canada and the United States,” he says, “and that has clear implications for labour and employment lawyers and their clients who have operations on both sides of the border.

“When you sit back and look at it, it’s an obvious business decision.”

Last August, another international name in labour and employment law entered the Canadian market when Littler absorbed well-known Toronto boutique Kuretzky Vassos. Littler is the largest global labour and employment firm, with more than 1,000 lawyers in 60-plus offices worldwide.

In the near term, Christie and Majewski will serve the clients who’ve followed them to Ogletree, and the firm expects a bump in activity as referrals begin to trickle in from the firm’s U.S. practitioners.

“Initially, they will be getting the word out to clients whom they currently act for in the U.S.,” says Christie, “and letting them know that they now have capabilities in Canada through the Toronto office. . . . I would expect a bit of a ramp-up in the reaction of Ogletree clients to the announcement.”

Over the longer term, however, Christie says he’ll be looking to grow the office with some more big names. He’s already in talks with a number of colleagues.

Asked whether we can expect some news in the short term, Christie says, “I sure hope so.”


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