Foundations of Sand:  The Making and Unmaking of a Great Canadian Law Firm

Our members’ book for 2024 is Adam DodekFoundations of Sand:  The Making and Unmaking of a Great Canadian Law Firm, published by the University of British Columbia Press. Adam Dodek, L.S.M., is a Professor in the University of Ottawa Faculty of Law and a former Dean of the faculty. Foundations of Sand chronicles the rise and fall of Heenan Blaikie. Heenan Blaikie was founded in Montreal in 1973 by Peter Blaikie, Roy Heenan, and Donald Johnston. Johnston left in 1978 to serve as an MP and the firm became Heenan Blaikie. A full-service law firm, it experienced rapid and exponential growth, establishing offices in Toronto as well as western Canada, Ottawa and Quebec. It was one of the first Canadian firms to become a genuinely national law firm. It also had satellite offices in Paris, Los Angeles and Singapore.  At its height the firm had over 500 lawyers and was the sixth biggest in Canada. It stood out in an era of the tremendous growth of interprovincial and transnational law firms in Canada in the 1980s, 1990s and early twenty-first century, in part because of its unique culture which encouraged individualism among the partners. Yet the flip-side of this unique culture were deficiencies in management and governance which led to serious financial problems in 2013, numerous high-profile defections, and the firm’s dissolution in early 2014. The book is deeply researched, and largely based on interviews with over 200 lawyers who worked at Heenan Blaikie at some time, and another 50 lawyers and other people form outside the firm. This book is full of large and colourful personalities, pithy quotations, and dramatic incidents. But it does not just tell a fascinating and somewhat tragic story, it is also full of analysis, especially of the deficiencies of governance and management that led to the firm’s ultimate downfall.