The following is from Prof. Adam Dodek re his forthcoming book about the making and unmaking of a great Canadian law firm.


I worked at two large law firms early in my career, one in San Francisco and the other was in Toronto (BLG). San Francisco’s esteemed Bronson Bronson & McKinnon had been established in 1914 and was one of the Top 10 firms in California in its heyday. 

By the time I arrived in San Fran as a student in the summer of 1994, the firm was on the decline. And when I returned as a first-year associate in 1996, it was in serious trouble. But I had no idea about any of this, at least then. The firm collapsed in 1998. One of many spectacular firm collapses in the U.S. 

But nothing of such scale had ever happened in Canada. 

Until Heenan Blaikie.  It was the first – and remains the only – national law firm in Canada to fail.  There is a dearth of empirical scholarship about the legal profession in Canada.  When Heenan Blaikie collapsed in 2014, I thought I had a unique opportunity to: access the more than 1,000 lawyers who worked there between 1973 and 2014; write a book about how to build a law firm; what it’s like to work at a law firm, and in that law firm; and, ultimately, how and why it collapsed. 

Every previous book about law firms in Canada was either commissioned by the firm or written by a firm insider. In other words, to speak plainly, a vanity project, to some extent.

I started the research and interviews in 2016, and although I got sidetracked when appointed Dean of the Faculty of Law at Ottawa in 2018. Then again sidetracked by COVID in 2020, but in that context was able to return to the project and complete. Yes, it’s a cliché, but truly a labour of love. So many interesting people and compelling stories.

Heenan Blaikie was no “ordinary” law firm.  It was full of colourful characters.  Most notably the three founders: Roy Heenan, Peter Blaikie, and Don Johnston. But many others including Joe Groia, Bob Donaldson, and Marcel Aubut (who wanted to succeed Roy Heenan as Chair of the firm but was blocked for certain internal reasons). And of course, there was Pierre Trudeau and Jean Chretien.  But also, Justice Paul Rouleau (the judge who headed the inquiry into the Emergencies Act) and Justice Marie-Josée Hogue who is now heading the Foreign Interference Inquiry. Some of her colleagues told me they thought Justice Hogue could have led the firm through its biggest crisis.   

I interviewed over 200 former Heenan Blaikie lawyers and over 50 legal industry leaders. They were incredibly generous and welcoming to me: one gave me a cupcake on my birthday, another a Heenan Blaikie mug, and one lawyer`s young children generously even shared their McDonalds fries with me. As Eugene told me, ‘your book will be gourmet, not fast food’.