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Heenan Blaikie Dissolution Shakes Up Local Law Sector

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Written by Glen Korstrom

Two boutique firms have emerged from the ashes of Heenan Blaikie LLP’s Vancouver office, which last month was the scene of the largest closure of a national law firm in Canadian history.

Better for those involved is that the two firms have been able to keep most clients in what is a sluggish local legal market.

A liquidation committee is winding up complex business aspects of Heenan’s dissolution, including what happens to the firm’s three-floor lease at the Guinness Tower on West Hastings Street.

The firm’s lawyers have moved on.

Sixteen members of Heenan’s litigation and labour practice moved a block west and are leasing one floor of the Hastings Building at the corner of West Hastings and Bute streets. Six are partners at the newly formed Gall, Legge, Grant & Munroe LLP.

Meanwhile, former Heenan corporate lawyers Marshall Pawar, Arthur Evrensell and Ryan Patryluk are now partners in MEP Business Counsel, along with six other associates, on one floor of the Rosewood Hotel Georgia tower.

“We’re all talented lawyers,” Pawar told Business in Vancouver. “At the end of the day, we decided we’re stronger as a team.”

Not all Heenan lawyers joined the two new boutique firms.

William Skelly, for example, joined Borden Ladner Gervais LLP as counsel.

Heenan’s orderly evolution stems in part from the high quality of many of its lawyers, said Counsel Network managing partner and recruiter Warren Smith.

For example, he said Evrensell, a Lions Gate Entertainment (NYSE:LGF) board member, is one of Canada’s top entertainment lawyers and has A-list celebrities as clients.

“My sense is that Heenan, in Vancouver, went through a lot of internal restructuring and got their house in order – not that they were planning for this eventuality,” Smith said.

Regardless of how smoothly a firm is operating, Smith said partners at all of Vancouver’s large law firms should discuss at annual retreats how to avoid a situation similar to Heenan’s surprisingly quick dissolution.

“Some firms are a bit vulnerable,” Smith said. “Will there be a domino effect? I don’t think so.”

Large Vancouver firms have been shedding lawyers in recent years – a time that many agree has been challenging.

McCarthy Tetrault LLP told BIV in 2012 that it had 96 Vancouver lawyers. That shrunk to 86 lawyers in 2013 and then, in mid-2013, eight commercial real estate lawyers left McCarthy to found Terra Law.

McMillan LLP has also been shedding lawyers. It merged with another national firm, Lang Michener LLP, in 2011, amid speculation that both firms needed to regain clout as new competitors gained strength.

McMillan had 92 Vancouver lawyers in 2012 but only 85 in 2013.

MICHAEL, EVRENSEL & PAWAR LLP