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More law firm merger mania

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Norton Rose, the London-based legal giant that took over first Ogilvy Renault and then Macleod Dixon to gain a large Canadian foothold, has long been looking south of the 49th parallel for its next move.

The global firm, with offices all over the world, still has no U.S. address.

But despite recent reports out of Britain, Norton Rose says it is not yet in talks with an American firm. And it is in no hurry.

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A possible union with Houston-based Fulbright & Jaworski LLP, itself a global player with offices around the world and nearly 900 lawyers, came up recently in an article in Legal Week, a London-based trade publication.

But in an interview with The Globe and Mail on Wednesday, Peter Martyr – Norton Rose's group chief executive – says his firm has a good relationship with Fulbright, but there are no formal talks under way.

"There's usually an annual rumour to this effect," said Mr. Martyr, who is in Toronto for meetings.

While he denied any merger talks were imminent, he did say that Fulbright would be a good fit if a deal ever did come together.

"I think they are an extremely good firm. They are one of our oldest, best friends," Mr. Martyr said.

"They are on record saying they are looking at their options. We are on record saying that we're looking – ultimately but without any urgency on the time frame – to do something in the States. They would be an option if both parties thought the same thing at the same time."

The Canadian legal world has gone through waves of talk about possible mergers between global giants and other Bay Street firms since Norton Rose came on the scene. But no major deals have emerged.

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Mr. Martyr says he believes other Canadian firms are at least exploring the idea, and points to Australia, where a wave of alliances with foreign law firms has swept the legal industry.

In the meantime, it is smaller firms that have been seeking out global alliances. For example, DAC Beachcroft, a British-based global law firm with niche specialties in health, insurance and real estate, has just announced an two-year alliance with Toronto-based McCague Borlack LLP, a litigation firm with 70 lawyers and strengths in insurance litigation.

In a statement issued last week, DAC Beachcroft said the deal, which will see the two firms share resources, is a precursor to a full merger.

It's not the first British invasion of Canada's insurance law market. Last June, London-based Clyde & Co., a full-service law firm with a specialty in insurance law, swallowed up insurance-law boutique Nicholl Paskell-Mede, which has offices in Montreal and Toronto.

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