February 6, 2014 / 5:36 PM / in 3 years

Heenan Blaikie winds down in biggest closure of a Canadian law firm

4 Min Read

TORONTO, Feb 6 (Canadian Lawyer/Law Times) - Heenan Blaikie, a Canadian law firm well known for its labor and employment practice, said late on Wednesday its partners had voted to dissolve the firm in the face of financial pressures, making it the largest failure of a law firm in Canadian history.

The Montreal-based firm, which traces its roots back to the 1970s, said the move to wind down operations came after an in-depth analysis of its restructuring options in the current legal market.

Heenan Blaikie, which at different points was home to former Canadian Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Pierre Trudeau, said the wind-up process will take a few months.

Along with many of its Canadian rivals, the firm was hurting from sharp revenue declines as many corporate clients, keen to keep costs in check, demanded steep discounts of 25 or 30 percent, sources in the legal industry said.

The collapse of Heenan is the largest failure of a Canadian law firm since the demise of Goodman and Carr LLP back in 2007, which at its peak employed over 140 lawyers.

Heenan had roughly 500 partners and associates at the end of 2013. It also employed more than 600 more support staff in offices in Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and smaller cities across Canada. The firm also had an office with a small team of lawyers in Paris.

The storied firm, founded by Peter Blaikie, Roy Heenan and Donald Johnston in 1973, also counted among its partners a number of other prominent Canadians, including former federal Justice Minister Martin Cauchon and current president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, Marcel Aubut.

Heenan said that during the wind-down process it aims to continue to serve its clients without interruption and to ensure a smooth transition of their cases to other firms.

Its associates learned the news earlier in an email from Toronto office founding partner Norman Bacal.

"It saddens me to advise you that the partners of the firm formally voted to wind down the affairs of Heenan Blaikie. The process will officially commence next week," Bacal wrote.

"It has been a privilege working with all of you. I will be out of town on client business tomorrow but available to speak to any of you on Friday and into next week."

One associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the associates were told they would be paid up to Feb. 15. All employees will apparently have their cell phones cut off at the end of the month.

Some associates in the labor and employment group are said to be considering jobs at rival firms Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, Mathews Dinsdale & Clark LLP and McCarthy Tétrault LLP. Some of Heenan's partners in this practice area have already made moves to these firms recently.

Roper Greyell LLP, a boutique employment and labor law firm in Vancouver, also announced Wednesday evening that J. Najeeb Hassan will join the partnership Feb. 11.

Hassan was a senior partner in Heenan Blaikie's Vancouver labor and employment group. His legal career also includes serving as vice chairman of the British Columbia Labour Relations Board and holding several senior positions at the Health Employers Association of British Columbia.

With additional reporting by Euan Rocha; Editing by Gail Cohen, Jeffrey Hodgson and Peter Galloway

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