DLA Eyes Canada After Heenan Blaikie Goes Bust

, The Am Law Daily

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Toronto's Bay Adelaide Centre, home of Heenan Blaikie

Ralph Lean, a 68-year-old political powerbroker in Toronto who joined Heenan Blaikie as counsel last year from rival Canadian firm Cassels Brock & Blackwell, told The Am Law Daily the recent spate of partner departures amounted to a “run on the bank.”

Lean spent 25 years at Cassels Brock and once chaired the firm's executive committee. He left after reaching the mandatory retirement age and joined Heenan Blaikie when it offered him a two-year contract, although in recent weeks Lean started searching for a new professional home. After a one-month vacation in Miami Beach, Lean says, he returned to Toronto in mid-January for a partners meeting during which he learned that Heenan Blaikie had underperformed by 15 percent in 2013. He was also told at the meeting that the firm planned to downsize and negotiate with its landlords in order to meet its financial obligations.

Compensation to partners was also being held back, according to Lean and a half-dozen other individuals who spoke with The Am Law Daily. Once that happened, it wasn't long before firms in better financial condition began wooing Heenan Blaikie partners with promises of more money. Amid the ensuing flood of departures, Lean says, it became apparent that the Heenan Blaikie partners who stayed behind would only be working to repay the capital contributions owed to their former colleagues.

“Now a lot of them aren’t going to get their capital back,” says Lean, a corporate lawyer by training who spends about 25 percent of his time doing political fundraising, including backing Toronto Mayor Rob Ford. “I don’t have capital in the firm, but I just feel awful about what happened here, because [Heenan Blaikie] had very good lawyers and quality, salt-of-the-earth people.”

Lean says by last week his priority—in addition to handling his normal workload and a teaching job at Toronto’s Ryerson University—was finding a new home for his clients. He found it at 715-lawyer Gowling Lafleur Henderson, which legal publication Lexpert lists as Canada’s second-largest firm by head count in 2013.

Gowlings and DLA aren’t the only firms recruiting Heenan Blaikie lawyers.

In recent weeks, dozens of partners have decamped for national Canadian rivals like Borden Ladner Gervais, Davies LLP, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin, McCarthy Tetrault and Osler, Hoskin & Harcourt, as well as smaller shops such as Montreal’s Lavery, de Billy and Robinson Sheppard Shapiro, Toronto’s Lenczner Slaght and Ricketts, Harris and Vancouver’s Coutts Pulver, Roper Greyell and Terra Law Corp. Other Global 100 and Am Law 100 firms have also been in the lateral hunt.

Dentons, which last year finalized a three-way merger with Paris-based Salans and leading Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain, announced this week that it had hired a six-lawyer real estate and financial services team in Montreal led by Heenan Blaikie partners Chantal Sylvestre and Joel Cabelli. Dentons also added Heenan Blaikie corporate partners David Carbonaro, Andrew Elbaz and Michael Ledgett in Toronto.

Last summer Dickinson Wright recruited former Heenan Blaikie insurance and risk management partner Vivian Bercovici in Toronto. Bercovici resigned from Dickinson Wright this month upon being nominated to serve as Canada’s next ambassador to Israel.

Even with all the departures, a number of the firm's top business generators stayed with the firm until the end, including former executive committee member and corporate partner Allen Garson, corporate partner Kevin Rooney, financial services partner Kenneth Kraft and IP litigation head Jonathan Stainsby, all of whom are in Toronto.

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