After 40 years building an iconic Canadian firm well known for its labour and employment practice as well as the home of former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien and others, partners of Heenan Blaikie voted Wednesday night to proceed with an “orderly wind-up” of the firm’s operations. It's is the largest failure of a law firm in Canadian history.
The process will take place over several months and clients will continue to be served “without interruption and to ensure a smooth transition of their cases to other firms,” a statement from the firm said.
An official press release from the firm at 9:45 p.m. Wednesday said:
This decision follows an in-depth analysis of the available restructuring options in the current context of Canada’s legal services market. 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.
It offered no further details.
Associates learned the news earlier in an e-mail 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.
"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 the condition of anonymity said 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 labour and employment group are said to be considering jobs with Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, Mathews Dinsdale & Clark LLP and/or McCarthy Tétrault LLP — all depending on where some Heenan partners in the practice group had already landed. For any who don’t find jobs, along with support staff, it will mean the firm will have to deal with termination obligations.
Also Wednesday evening Roper Greyell LLP, an employment and labour law firm in Vancouver, announced J. Najeeb Hassan will join the partnership Feb. 11.
Hassan was a senior partner in Heenan’s Vancouver labour and employment group. His legal career also includes serving as vice chairman of the BC Labour Relations Board and holding several senior positions with the Health Employers Association of BC, where he provided hands-on labour relations advice to its members.
“We are excited to have Najeeb on our team. His 20-plus years of experience and expertise in the hospitality, gaming, retail, construction, mining and health sectors will certainly benefit our public, private and First Nations clients,” said Tom Roper, Roper Greyell’s chairman.