Law Firms

DLA Piper ends talks with Heenan Blaikie group, will look elsewhere for Canadian merger partner

A potential merger between DLA Piper and a group of lawyers from Heenan Blaikie that would have established a Canadian office for the global megafirm is going nowhere.

However, DLA Piper will be looking elsewhere for a possible match to establish a Canadian office for the more than 4,000-attorney firm, and Heenan Blaikie lawyers are being welcomed with open arms at other law firms. Among them, 30 are following Marcel Aubut to BCF, a 200-attorney Montreal-based firm that focuses on corporate matters, the Globe and Mail reports.

“They have an entrepreneurial spirit, and I can identify myself with them,” Aubut told the newspaper during a telephone interview from Sochi, where he is attending the Olympic Games. He is president of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

His group’s move will officially take place Feb. 17. It follows a partner vote and announcement last week by Heenan Blaikie that the firm will wind up its operations in an orderly manner.

Also landing recently at new firms were former prime minister Jean Chrétien, who served as counsel to the Heenan Blaikie and is joining Dentons Canada as counsel in its Ottawa office.

Chrétien “is a renowned global leader, bringing his international experience and diplomacy to our Dentons team. We greatly look forward to working with him, as will our clients,” Dentons global CEO Elliott Portnoy said in a press release. The Globe and Mail has a story.

At least eight other Heenan Blaikie lawyers have been hired by Dentons, according to Reuters coverage last week.

A 12-lawyer labor and employment practice group from Heenan Blaikie is joining Borden Ladner Gervais in Montreal.

“This is a terrific opportunity for BLG to expand its practice with some of Quebec’s leading labour and employment lawyers,” CEO Sean Weir said in a comment provided to Benefits Canada. “We are pleased that this team of esteemed and exceptionally talented lawyers have chosen to continue their practice at BLG, building on both our regional and national capabilities.”

More such announcements are expected as the day and the week progresses.

But a DLA Piper merger is not to be. In a written statement provided to the Financial Post, the Wall Street Journal Law Blog (sub. req.) and other news media, DLA Piper said it had ended negotiations with a group of up to 70 lawyers from the Calgary and Toronto offices of the dissolving firm: “As we announced last week, DLA Piper was in discussions with a group of lawyers at Heenan Blaikie about joining the firm in Canada. However, on Sunday night, after additional due diligence and consideration over the weekend, we were unable to agree to economic terms and accommodate the needs of the lawyers at Heenan Blaikie. As a result, we have ended all negotiations.”

DLA Piper continues “to strongly believe that Canada is an important market for the firm and will explore future opportunities there that complement our global business strategy,” the statement adds.

Founded on a handshake over 40 years ago, the storied Heenan Blaikie fell apart not because of reduced revenue but reduced trust, founding partner and former longtime chair Roy Heenan told the Toronto Star.

Amidst what some are calling a perfect storm of cost-conscious clients, competition among firms and a difficult legal economy, among other factors, Heenan, who led the firm from 1973 to 2012, says partners fought over differing visions of the future and pointed fingers at individuals and groups accused of not pulling their weight.

“It’s very hard to see it end as a result of squabbles, because I really think that’s what brought the firm down, rather than the financial situation,” he told the newspaper. “Once you start pointing fingers at this person or that person and this office or that office, that leads to discontent, and discontent is what leads to departures.”

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