Managing partner: McInnes Cooper building a regional powerhouse

Managing partner: McInnes Cooper building a regional powerhouse
Jim Middlemiss

McInnes Cooper managing partner Bernie Miller is running the Atlantic regional firm at an interesting time. The firm is revamping its offices and riding the benefits of its August 2005 coup, when it landed the Halifax office of its rival, Patterson Palmer. That move led to further consolidation in the Atlantic Canada market, with Cox Hanson and the majority of the remaining Patterson Palmer offices joining forces. Miller talks about how his firm is building a regional powerhouse and its recent move to a new office space in Halifax.


You've built quite the new structure in Halifax. Are the other offices jealous?

What it does is allows us the opportunity to give each office a consistent look as we do

lease renewals and expansion in the other regions. Moncton is very much modeled on the

Halifax office. We're doing Saint John in the fall.

We've kept our lawyer premises very functional but not opulent. One thing that's unique

is we are taking our so-called back office — our IT, accounting, and our marketing and

client development — and putting it in separate downtown space for lower cost. We were

able to achieve savings. One of the things we're looking at is distributing our resources a

little bit more to lower-cost centres.

Atlantic Canadian firms have built some of the biggest law organizations in Canada in

terms of multiple offices. What are the challenges to building a regional firm?

You're right. Until we consolidated our two Halifax offices into one, we had seven

offices. Many of the Bay Street firms have less than that or similar. We have some of the

same types of administration and management challenges that large global and Canadian

law firms would have. We have to make sure lawyers in each office are providing a

consistent level of quality client service. We have to make sure that each office is

recruiting and retaining the best people they can get. It involves a lot of communication

and a lot of travel.

What is your partnership and management structure?

We are a single partnership, a single management structure. We believe a single

partnership model is better and gets better results for clients. We don't have a managing

partner in each province or each office. It's a unified management structure. After we did

the merger (with Patterson Palmer's Halifax office), we did a governance review and

restructured the way we did things. We adopted a board of directors and appointed a

managing partner.

What's the biggest challenge to building a regional firm in Atlantic Canada?

Right now it's recruitment of, and retention of, the type of specialist lawyers that can fit

into a practice group. Places like Calgary are doing well and paying salaries that are

attractive. Recruiting and retaining specialists in corporate finance, that's our biggest

challenge. The lure of larger dollars in Calgary or Toronto may not offset the loss of a

really good place to work.

What's the economy like in Atlantic Canada?

We're not having a boom like Alberta. We are having very strong growth. Newfoundland

is doing extremely well. Nova Scotia is ahead of projections for growth. New Brunswick

is also doing well. St. John's, Fredericton, Halifax, and Moncton are each enjoying a

reasonable level of prosperity. There is a fairly good level of entrepreneurship activity.

That was quite a coup, landing most of the Halifax office of Patterson Palmer. How's that

merger going?

The rationale for the merger and the philosophy for merging, for both sides, was to be in

a better position to service our client base. That's what motivated both of us and what

was behind the decision to merge. They had depth in areas we didn't in corporate finance

and we had depth in areas like labour and litigation. That made it easy for people to rally

behind it.


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