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Bar Talk

Bay Street rainmaker Jeff Barnes made waves when he left Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP for Heenan Blaikie LLP in 2006. FMC had just given him a hefty fixed salary and made him chairman, just five years before. But Mr. Barnes and the firm parted, citing strategic differences.

Now, just four years later, he is on the move again. Mr. Barnes has left Heenan Blaikie behind for Borden Ladner Gervais LLP, saying the much larger BLG will give him a better platform for the cross-border deal making for which he is well known.

"I looked at it in terms of a balanced national firm with strong office across the country," Mr. Barnes, 59, said in an interview. "I knew that that would be a good place to spend the rest of my career."

Mr. Barnes is no stranger to switching trains. He worked his way through law school in the early 1970s in the train yards of the Canadian National Railway Co. (where his father was a yard foreman and union chairman). Later, as a lawyer in the early 1990s, Mr. Barnes worked on CN's privatization.

In his latest career move, he is bringing some of his high-profile clients with him. He will continue to act for the independent committee of the board of MI Developments Inc., which is examining a proposal that would see company founder Frank Stronach would trade control of MI in exchange for racetrack and gambling assets.

Mr. Barnes is cautiously optimistic that merger-and-acquisition activity will continue to pick up in 2011. But the number of deals that Bay Street lawyers are fighting over remains well below the heights of 2006, he said.

Mergers aren't the only source of billable hours, however. Mr. Barnes, along with others at Heenan Blaikie, advised Vancouver-based Lions Gate Entertainment Corp. in its recent battle with U.S. billionaire shareholder Carl Icahn. Mr. Barnes expects to be busy offering advice to boards or shareholders as U.S.-style proxy fights and shareholder activism continues to rise in Canada.

Another legal merger

Aylesworth LLP, a small Bay Street law firm that traces its history back to 1861, has been swallowed by Detroit-based Dickinson Wright PLLC. Aylesworth has 25 lawyers at its Toronto office. Dickinson Wright, with more than 260 lawyers, also has Michigan offices in Ann Arbor, Bloomfield Hills, Lansing and Grand Rapids, as well as offices in Las Vegas, Nashville, Phoenix and Washington.

"We are a growing firm, and this expansion of our Ontario affiliate is part of a very deliberate strategy to cement our leadership position in an increasingly competitive North American legal marketplace," said William Burgess, Dickinson Wright's chief executive officer, in a press release Tuesday announcing the deal.

On the move

Guy Giorno, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's former chief of staff, is returning to his old law firm, Fasken Martineau DuMoulin LLP, where he will work for its corporate governance practice in Ottawa and Toronto.

Mr. Giorno, who served as an aide to former Ontario premier Mike Harris and is an expert on laws governing political lobbying, announced in September his intention to step down at the end of 2010, after two-and-a-half years running the PMO for Mr. Harper.

While Mr. Giorno was credited with boosting organizational discipline, critics saw him as a sharply partisan influence amid the controversies that dogged the Conservative government last year. (His replacement is former Onex Corp. executive Nigel Wright, who has had to fend off opposition questions about whether his likely return to Onex after his term ends posed a potential conflict-of-interest.)

Veteran financial services and insolvency lawyer Joanne Foot has left Borden Ladner Gervais for Miller Thomson LLP, where she is a partner. Long-time tax lawyer Sheldon Silver, called to the Ontario Bar in 1962, has left Goodmans LLP to join Miller Thomson as associate counsel.

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