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Heenan-Piper talks in trouble

Canadian Olympic Committee President Marcel Aubut listens during an announcement in support of the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport's work in anti-doping November 5, 2013 in Ottawa.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Talks between a group of about 60 former Heenan Blaikie lawyers from the collapsed firm's Toronto office and U.S.-based global legal giant DLA Piper about starting a Canadian branch appear to have gone off the rails.

A spokesman for the group of former Heenan lawyers, Bob Richardson, confirmed in an e-mail late Friday that the talks had been suspended.

But according to a report from Dow Jones, a spokesman for DLA Piper told the wire service the talks were "ongoing."

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Former Heenan co-managing partner Norman Bacal, who has been involved in the talks, could not be immediately reached.

He has previously confirmed that talks were under way with DLA Piper. But earlier Friday, he said he could only confirm that he and others were in talks with "a law firm." He would not identify the law firm, or say whether talks with DLA Piper were continuing.

Lawyers have been moving quickly to form new ventures and negotiate mergers following Heenan's announcement Wednesday that it is closing its doors. The 40-year-old law firm said it will dissolve in an orderly wind-up over the next several months.

Prominent Quebec lawyer Marcel Aubut, who is president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, is expected to leave failing law firm Heenan Blaikie LLP and join Quebec business law firm BCF, sources say.

Mr. Aubut is expected to move to BCF with a number of other colleagues. Talks to complete the deal are complicated by the fact that Mr. Aubut is currently in Sochi for the Winter Games, sources said.

André Morrissette, partner and chairman of BCF, would not comment on the rumour.

"We are negotiating with a number of Heenan partners, and I cannot unveil their names as of now," he said on Friday. The full list of partners who will join the BCF, which specializes in corporate law, will be unveiled shortly, he added.

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Mr. Aubut did not respond to requests for comment. A Canadian Olympic Committee spokesman said Mr. Aubut did not want to talk about Heenan Blaikie at this time. "He prefers not discussing these matters during the Olympics," said Ray Lalonde.

On Friday, a group of ten lawyers from Heenan's Ottawa office said they are forming a new boutique firm that will specialize in constitutional law and litigation. Heenan partner Mark Power said the firm will continue to serve clients across Canada in public law cases.

The firm, which will be called Power Law LLP, will be assisted by former Supreme Court of Canada Justice Michel Bastarache – a leading expert in constitutional law – who is expected to be an associate counsel to the firm.

Mr. Power said his experience at Heenan has convinced him law firms need to lower their costs to compete in the current market, and his new firm estimates it can cut its hourly rates by 30 per cent to 40 per cent.

"Our goal is to try to create a different business model where the overhead would be a lot less than in big firms in the hopes of being able to select our work and attract clients who otherwise would not be able to pay for our services," he said.

Giant U.S. law firm DLA Piper had confirmed Thursday it is in talks to combine with 60 to 70 Heenan lawyers in Toronto and Calgary to give DLA a new toehold in the Canadian market.

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Also Thursday, another group of 14 lawyers from Heenan's Vancouver offices announced they are splitting off to form a new boutique law firm.

Heenan Blaikie's Toronto condominium law practice group is moving to Toronto law firm Aird & Berlis LLP, the group said on its blog Thursday, which is edited by practice group leader Denise Lash. She said the new firm will provide "seamless service" to clients, who include condominium corporations and developers, during the transition.

Four Heenan partners in Toronto also left Thursday to join Toronto boutique firm Mathews, Dinsdale & Clark LLP, which specializes in labour an employment law.

Mr. Aubut has been one of Heenan Blaikie's most high-profile partners with strong contacts in the business community broadly and decades of experience in sports law.

He joined the firm in 1998 when Heenan merged with his law firm, Aubut Chabot, and was previously chief executive officer of Trans-Canada Productions Ltd. and the founding president of Quebec Metro High Tech Park. According to his biography, he has also served on dozens of corporate boards in past decades.

Mr. Aubut is best known in Quebec as the architect behind the creation of the Quebec Nordiques hockey team who served for 16 years as a governor of the National Hockey League.

He has served as president of the COC since 2010, leading the Canadian Olympic team into the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympic games and again in Sochi this year.

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Chief Quebec correspondent

Sophie Cousineau is The Globe and Mail’s chief Quebec correspondent. She has been working as a journalist for more than 20 years, and was La Presse’s business columnist prior to joining the Globe in 2012. Ms. Cousineau earned a master’s degree in journalism from the University of Illinois and a bachelor’s degree in economics and political science from McGill University. More

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Janet McFarland is the real estate reporter for The Globe and Mail’s Report on Business, with a focus on residential real estate trends. She joined Report on Business in 1995, and has specialized in reporting on corporate governance, executive compensation, pension policy, business law, securities regulation and enforcement of white-collar crime. More

Toronto City Hall Reporter

Jeff Gray is The Globe and Mail’s Toronto City Hall reporter. He has worked at The Globe since 1998. He spent six years as the law reporter in The Globe’s Report on Business, covering Bay Street law firms and writing about fraud, insider trading and corporate tax avoidance. More

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