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Dentons picks up more than 20 Heenan Blaikie lawyers

Law firm Heenan Blaikie was dissolved last week and many of its lawyers and practice groups have since jumped to other firms.

Christinne Muschi/The Globe and Mail

At least 23 lawyers from the Toronto and Montreal offices of dissolved law firm Heenan Blaikie LLP are signing on with Dentons Canada LLP, jumping to the Canadian arm of the global law giant.

The move comes after several days of talks, and the failure of negotiations over the weekend involving U.S.-based legal titan DLA Piper and a larger group of up to 70 former Heenan Blaikie lawyers. Now, a smaller group has agreed to move to Dentons – following in the footsteps of Jean Chrétien, the former prime minister and counsel to Heenan, whose move to Dentons was announced Monday.

Heenan Blaikie dissolved last week and many of its lawyers and practice groups have since jumped to other firms, including Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, BCF and Lavery de Billy.

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The names of the lawyers leaving the defunct firm for Dentons were not released Tuesday, but they represent practice areas ranging from corporate and tax law to entertainment and financial services.

Dentons was created last year when Canadian firm Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP joined with London and Washington-based SNR Dentons and London-based Salans, both already international firms, to create a new global firm with 2,600 lawyers in more than 50 countries.

Chris Pinnington, the chief executive officer of Dentons Canada, said in an interview Tuesday that 15 partners in Toronto were coming to his firm, along with an unknown number of associates.

Among the partners is Norman Bacal, the former co-managing partner of Heenan Blaikie, who said in an interview that he would be joining Dentons in an as-yet undetermined leadership role. He said he believed strongly in Dentons' global approach, and that a merger with a global firm was something Heenan Blaikie was already beginning to explore under his leadership: "I have believed for a long time that the future of law firms from a Canadian perspective means affiliating in an international alliance."

He said as many as 15 former Heenan associates could be joining Dentons – but Dentons says the number is lower.

Mr. Pinnington says Dentons, which has about 500 lawyers in Canada, is also taking on at least four partners in Montreal and four associates, as well as an undetermined number of articling students. He said talks with other former Heenan Blaikie lawyers are continuing and more moves could be announced soon.

Mr. Pinnington said the move shows that Dentons' global character helps it attract good talent – talent that could have chosen to jump to other firms. "These are all individuals who have had choices."

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In an interview, Dentons global chief executive Elliott Portnoy said the move was a big win, not just for the firm's Canadian arm, but for the global business.

However, he said there was no joy in watching a rival firm collapse: "It was a great firm, a storied firm, great lawyers, great values. We take no glee in its demise."

Gowlings said Tuesday it has hired eight commercial litigation lawyers from Heenan, adding heft to the firm's Ottawa office. They include Heenan partners Pierre Champagne, Benoit Duchesne, Rodrigue Escayola and Louis-Pierre Grégoire.

The announcement means Heenan's Ottawa team of lawyers has entirely disbanded as the office prepares to close as part of the "orderly wind-up" announced last week.

On Friday, 10 lawyers from the Ottawa office said they are forming a boutique firm that will specialize in constitutional law and litigation, while the firm's labour and employment law specialists from Ottawa have also moved to other firms.

Also Tuesday, Fasken Martineau said it has hired five lawyers from Heenan's Toronto office who specialize in labour and employment law. They include Brian Burkett, Douglas Gilbert, John Craig, Mathias Link and Sarah Graves.

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