With Canadian law firms falling all over themselves to attract Chinese clients shopping for Canadian natural resources - Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan being the latest and largest example - Bennett Jones LLP is announcing Wednesday that it has opened an office in Beijing.
The firm, with its Calgary roots and widely acknowledged strength in the oil-and-gas business, joins Blake Cassels & Graydon LLP as the only two Canadian firms with permanent physical presences on the Chinese mainland. It is the first foreign outpost for Bennett Jones.
Years ago, other big law firms had Chinese offices too, dating back to the 1970s. Most have pulled out, but other firms still have strong ties to Chinese clients and many Canadian lawyers travel there frequently.
Bennett Jones LLP managing partner Hugh MacKinnon said in an interview that the Chinese branch is not simply aimed at exploiting that country's insatiable demand for natural resources. "It's more than that. It's solar power, it's technology, it's everything."
Strangely, the push into China comes as Bennett Jones is turning down work. Mr. MacKinnon said the firm is forcing itself to turn down potential clients as it tries to keep itself free of any conflicts-of-interest so it could choose to act for a major bidder that emerges to compete with BHP Billiton Ltd. in its $38.6-billion (U.S.) takeover of Potash Corp. (A Chinese-led consortium is considered the likeliest possible white knight, involving chemical conglomerate Sinochem Group.)
So far, Mr. MacKinnon said, Bennett Jones has not been retained in the race for Potash Corp. But he said he wants the firm to be ready just in case.
"The hard part on those things - when you want to keep yourself pure for a big player - is you end up turning down a pile of smaller ones. So, I get that happy task," Mr. MacKinnon said. "... If the thing grows and gets bigger, and there's new entrants, people are going to have to be available."
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