Miller Canfield Crosses Border For Merger

May 3, 2002
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GRAND RAPIDS — Miller, Canfield, Paddock & Stone PLC now has a connection in Canada, as earlier this year the Michigan law firm merged with Wilson, Walker, Hochberg, Sloppen LLP of Windsor, Ontario.

The international alliance is likely the first ever for a local law office, and was made to take advantage of the trade relationship that exists between Canada and this country.

That business bond happens to be the world's largest and most comprehensive union linking two nations together, as more than four million jobs are directly related to it.

"We are each other's largest trading partner, with over $1 billion in trade flowing across our borders daily, and the Detroit-Windsor border is a major entry point," said Thomas Linn, Miller Canfield CEO.

Miller Canfield is near that entry point, being based in Detroit and close to the river that separates the two nations. But the law firm also has seven other offices in Michigan cities, including Grand Rapids, and each has the potential to benefit from that alliance.

"We acquired the resources we need to have fully-integrated, cross-border transactions," said Mark Putney, resident director of the Miller Canfield GR office.

"Particularly our southeastern group does a lot of work in the automotive sector. There is an awful lot of that work in Windsor, too, and these folks are obvious experts on Canadian law and have dealt with NAFTA and other issues on a regular basis. The alliance really facilitates that part of our practice," he added.

But the gains aren't limited to the firm's automotive group. Wilson Walker will also play a significant role in all cross-border lending and real estate transactions being done by clients of Miller Canfield.

"They have been active in that area for a long time," said Putney of the Windsor firm.

"That is an area where banks in this country can benefit from that resource that we now have fully integrated into our firm.

"Real estate transactions in Canada are substantially different than these are in the United States," he told the Business Journal.

"Here, a lot of things get done through title companies and realtors. There, everything that deals with a real estate transaction is handled through counsel," he added. "That is another area where we can deal with that idiosyncrasy of Canadian law."

Still another is tax law, as the merger with Wilson Walker gives Miller Canfield a special relationship for clients who invest in Canadian holdings.

Yet another advantage is helping clients get their products through customs, especially with stepped-up security at the border. And experience in Canadian immigration law is one more benefit for the local firm.

"There is a lot of cross-border employment that takes place in conjunction with doing business in Canada and with Canada. So the whole immigration area is an area where we have a pretty sophisticated team of people working across the border on those kinds of issues," said Putney.

So how much business does this country do with Canada?

In 2000, $489 billion worth was transacted with the Maple Leaf. That figure represents 50 percent more trade than the United States did with Japan that year and 62 percent more than it did with the United Kingdom.

The United States sells three times as many goods to Canada than it does to Japan, and Canada buys more products from the United States than the 15 countries of the European Union do.

On an average day, trade between this country and Canada is valued at $1.3 billion.

"I'm not certain as to exactly what concerns there are in West Michigan that do business in Canada or with Canada. But I'm sure there must be many of them and we'll be looking forward to trying to identify those people and make it clear that we have this resource and can hopefully be of some benefit to them," said Putney.

The merger with Wilson Walker in January started the 150th anniversary year of Miller Canfield, the state's oldest law firm, which began practicing in 1852.

The Canadian union also marked the first of its type for a state firm and, of course, its local law office.

"We're pretty happy about it because I think we're somewhat uniquely situated by virtue of that affiliation," said Putney.

"I'm not aware of any other significant affiliations across borders at least with folks in this state and particularly in this town."

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