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Chrétien lands at Dentons after Heenan collapse

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien delivers a speech in April, 2013.

Dave Chan/The Globe and Mail

Former prime minister Jean Chrétien, left without a job after the dramatic collapse of Heenan Blaikie LLP last week, is joining the Canadian arm of international law firm Dentons, while a large group of Toronto partners at his former employer continues to look for a new landing spot.

Mr. Chrétien's move to Dentons Canada LLP came after U.S.-based DLA Piper, the largest law firm in the world, confirmed it had ended talks on absorbing a group of former partners from Heenan Blaikie's Toronto office.

The Heenan lawyers, originally believed to number at least 60, could end up following Mr. Chrétien and move to Dentons. The global firm was created last year when Canada's Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP joined with London- and Washington-based SNR Denton and London's Salans to form a 2,500-lawyer firm.

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Two sources said the former Heenan partners and Dentons were in talks. Neither Dentons nor former Heenan national co-managing partner Norman Bacal would comment, but Bob Richardson, a spokesman for the former Heenan lawyers, confirmed on Monday that discussions were under way with unnamed law firms.

At least one Heenan Blaikie partner, Michael Ledgett, joined Dentons just as the crisis hit his old firm. Dentons also took on at least two other Heenan partners last December.

DLA Piper said in a statement on Monday that it was still interested in the Canadian market but was "unable to agree to economic terms and accommodate the needs of the lawyers at Heenan Blaikie."

Mr. Bacal said in an e-mail that the talks with DLA "led us to conclude that our philosophies, culture and approach were not completely aligned."

As he did with Heenan Blaikie, Mr. Chrétien will serve as counsel to his new firm, a title often given to senior lawyers and former politicians who offer strategic advice to clients but are not partners. Law firms often make use of former politicians' contacts to open doors for clients seeking to do business in other countries.

Heenan Blaikie partners voted to dissolve the firm last week. The 40-year-old firm, with more than 500 legal professionals, hundreds of support staff and offices across Canada and in Paris, was still making money, but profits per partner had dropped 15 per cent in 2013, a bad year for mergers and corporate deals at many business law firms.

Internal rivalries between practice groups and offices at Heenan had led to an accelerating pace of partner departures in recent weeks, leaving the firm reeling.

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Other big names with Heenan Blaikie are surfacing at other firms.

Thirty former Heenan lawyers are following prominent Quebec lawyer Marcel Aubut and joining Montreal-based BCF, which has close to 200 lawyers and focuses on corporate work in Quebec.

"They have an entrepreneurial spirit and I can identify myself with them," Mr. Aubut said in a phone interview from Sochi, Russia, where he is attending the Olympic Games as president of the Canadian Olympic Committee.

In addition to being a partner, Mr. Aubut will become vice-chairman of BCF's board when he and his colleagues officially join the firm Feb. 17.

The influential Quebec lawyer arrived in Sochi a week ago, when it was clear Heenan Blaikie was unravelling. Mr. Aubut said he considered about 10 offers. "I finally knew what was like to be a free agent," the former chief executive officer of the Quebec Nordiques said.

By late Thursday, his mind was made up. "The choice wasn't easy," he said.

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BCF's offer appealed to him because it allowed Heenan lawyers in Quebec City to stay together as a group. "I have always demanded the highest level of loyalty from the people I work with, and I didn't want to abandon them," Mr. Aubut said.

Mr. Aubut said he was confident other Heenan lawyers would find new firms: "Of course this is sad. There were no financial reasons for [Heenan] to stop its operations; it was in good shape. But a partnership is exactly that, and when there is nothing holding it together, one must move on."

Meanwhile, Borden Ladner Gervais LLP announced it was welcoming 12 lawyers from Heenan Blaikie LLP's labour and employment practice in Montreal. And Gowling Lafleur Henderson LLP announced it was taking on Guy Tremblay, a former national co-managing partner at Heenan, as well as Lucie Guimond, a well-regarded labour and employment partner at the now-defunct firm.

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Toronto City Hall Reporter

Jeff Gray is The Globe and Mail’s Toronto City Hall reporter. He has worked at The Globe since 1998. From 2010 to 2016, he was the law reporter in Report on Business, covering Bay Street law firms and white-collar crime. He won an honourable mention at the National Magazine Awards for investigative journalism in 2010. More

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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