DETROIT — Miller, Canfield, Paddock and Stone, Michigan’s oldest and largest law firm, has joined forces with Wilson Walker Hochberg Slopen of Windsor, Ontario, to provide its clients with cross-border representation.
The 150-year-old Miller Canfield has 280 lawyers practicing in Michigan, New York, Washington, D.C., and Florida, and in Poland.
For eight years, Wilson Walker has provided legal services to inbound Canadian investment and companies interested in starting operations in Canada, and its 19 lawyers represent the largest group of practicing attorneys in the Windsor area.
The merger enables Miller Canfield to serve its clients in respect to Canadian legal issues, said CEO Thomas Linn, and the firms are alike in that they cover the same practice areas.
Both are strong in the business area — such as tax law, labor and employment law, alternative dispute resolution, environmental issues, immigration, trade law, real estate and financial transactions, estate planning — and in the support litigation area for commercial litigation, said Mark Putney, managing director of Miller Canfield in Grand Rapids.
More than $1 billion in trade flows across the U.S.-Canadian border daily, and the Detroit-Windsor border is a major entry point. The trading relationship supports more than two million jobs in each country.
Jeffrey Slopen, a partner in Wilson Walker, said the strong trade and economic ties between the two countries offers incentives to Japanese, Asian and European companies interested in establishing or expanding operations in North America.
Miller Canfield believes that an office in Ontario will help boost its reputation as an international firm.
The combination of Canadian and U.S. legal experience also is expected to improve Miller Canfield’s Automotive Industry Group’s ability to provide additional services to the North American auto industry.
Many American manufacturing companies, particularly auto suppliers, opened facilities in Ontario following passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 10 years ago.
According to Miller Canfield, regional Detroit is the No. 1 exporter of goods to NAFTA countries, and the auto industry accounts for more than $300 million in daily trade for the U.S.
“Essentially, the Wilson Walker group will constitute our Canadian law group,” Putney said. “Obviously they have a lot of good relationships with established businesses in Ontario and a lot of those are relationships with auto supply and automotive industry-related companies that we also enjoy some representation of. So that was thought to be a good mix.”
Locally, the firm can now be a resource for clients interested in doing business in Canada or for Canadian interests that might own subsidiaries in western Michigan
“I think the interesting thing for us in West Michigan is that we can be a conduit for providing those services for people looking to do business in Canada,” Putney said. “This is an opportunity for us to expand our services out of this office. We’re excited about the merger.”
Putney said that a number of larger national law firms have affiliations throughout the world, but those kinds of affiliations aren’t commonplace among Detroit or West Michigan law firms.
Merger discussions began last year. Linn said the two firms knew each other fairly well because they had been referring work to one another for a number of years.
One of Miller Canfield’s partners is already licensed in both Michigan and Canada.
“We sort of surveyed the firms located within about 75 miles of Windsor, so we went through a little process to find what we thought was the strongest firm in terms of our practice,” Linn explained.
With the merger, the Wilson Walker partners have become international principals in Miller Canfield. According to the agreement, Miller Canfield, in effect, has control of the Wilson Walker partnership, he said.
Under rules of the Canadian Bar, Wilson Walker has to continue to practice under the name of attorneys licensed in Canada or former partners of the firm, so they will keep the Wilson Walker name as long as that rule exists. But in terms of a logo, their letterhead says Miller Canfield and they’re answering their telephones as Miller Canfield, he said.
Miller Canfield also has an established practice in Poland that includes three offices with 28 lawyers representing such companies as Ford Motor Company, Citibank, Nokia, Turner Broadcast System, Discovery Channel Europe, and Delphi Automotive Systems. Its largest office is in Warsaw.
“We had an affiliation with international firms through our Polish offices and the gentleman who was primarily responsible for that, Richard Walawender, also was much involved in the lead up to the decision to affiliate with the Wilson Walker people,” Putney recalled. “We had the experience in Poland that sort of set the table for discussions with the folks in Windsor.
“Our firm has developed a fairly substantial international law group that has kind of grown out of our Polish experience and our relationships with other international clients in Asia and Europe. But a lot of the international work is, of course, commercial in nature.”