New Vancouver law firm rises from ashes of Heenan Blaikie

Partners of law firm Heenan Blaikie LLP, a Canadian legal powerhouse that for years has been a favourite place for retired prime ministers, premiers and cabinet ministers to spend their post-political days, announced Wednesday they would wind up the firm, sparking a legal shakeup that’s reached the Pacific.

Here on the West Coast, the decision will lead to the creation of at least one new firm, according to Geoff Plant, a partner at Heenan Blaikie’s Vancouver office and a former attorney general of B.C.

“I can tell you about one,” he told The Sun shortly after the national statement was released. “Sixteen lawyers from the Vancouver office will be announcing tomorrow the creation of a new firm called Gall, Legge, Grant and Munroe.”

Founding partners Peter Gall, John Legge, Robert Grant and Craig Munroe will head the litigation and labour-focused firm, said Plant, who will be counsel along with Donald Munroe, Roy Heenan — a founding partner of Heenan Blaikie — and former Supreme Court of Canada judge Michel Bastarache.

“Obviously what happened was pretty sad news for the national firm,” said Plant.

“It’s not the story that we wanted, but if we are going to have to live in this world after Heenan Blaikie, I think the lawyers in Vancouver are all going to find opportunities here that will help make sure they continue to do good work for their clients.”

Former Heenan Blakie partner Najeeb Hassan will join Roper Greyell LLP, according to a separate announcement Wednesday.

Plant said the firm has been working to make sure there’s no interruption in service to clients.

“This decision follows an in-depth analysis of the available restructuring options in the current context of Canada’s legal services market,” the firm said in a statement. “An orderly wind-up will make it possible to continue serving the Firm’s clients without interrupting or disrupting service and to ensure a harmonious transfer of their files to other law firms. It should be noted that several practice groups and even entire offices will continue to operate under new names.”

The end of Heenan Blaikie seemed inevitable this week. Employees and support staff in the Montreal office, where Heenan, Donald Johnston and Peter Blaikie established the firm in 1973, were told to start packing up their things on Tuesday.

Senior lawyers from Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto left Heenan Blaikie in droves on Wednesday to take up positions with other firms.

A few weeks ago, firm management told partners that income per partner had dropped about 10 to 15 per cent. This sparked a “run on the bank” of legal talent, as more than 30 senior partners moved to other more profitable firms, taking their clients with them.

Those familiar with Heenan Blaikie’s financial situation insist the firm is far from broke. It just hasn’t been able to absorb the rapid rate of partner and client departures.

On Sunday, Heenan Blaikie had issued a statement that warned of an upcoming “major restructuring.”

Firm management has contacted other Canadian law firms to ask if they might take on the articling students who were supposed to have started working at Heenan Blaikie later this year.

Reports say some partners in the Toronto and western Canadian offices are trying to organize a deal to become the Canadian office of a major international business law firm, possibly DLA Piper.

 

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