02/05/2014 21:18 EST | Updated 04/07/2014 05:59 EDT

Heenan Blaikie, law firm home to Trudeau and Chrétien, closing down

Heenan Blaikie, a prestigious Montreal law firm whose lawyers have included former prime ministers Pierre Elliott Trudeau and Jean Chrétien, is closing down.

The company made the announcement in a statement Wednesday evening, saying it planned an orderly wind-up over the next few months.

“This decision follows an in-depth analysis of the available restructuring options in the current context of Canada’s legal services market,” the statement said.

“An orderly wind-up will make it possible to continue serving the firm’s clients without interrupting or disrupting service and to ensure a harmonious transfer of their files to other law firms.  It should be noted that several practice groups and even entire offices will continue to operate under new names.”

Among the new practice groups is a Vancouver break-away firm involving 16 lawyers from Heenan Blaikie’s Vancouver practice. The new firm, to be called Gall Legge Grant Munroe LLP, will focus on litigation, labour law and human rights law.

The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that U.S.-based DLA Piper, the world’s biggest law firm, is in talks with former Heenan Blaikie partners in Calgary and Toronto, with plans to establish a Canadian operation specializing in corporate law.

DLA Piper told the WSJ the deal has yet to be finalized.

Heenan Blaikie had seen many of its lawyers courted by rival firms over the past few weeks, after its future became unclear.

A few weeks ago, firm management warned partners that income per partner had dropped about 10 to 15 per cent and said major restructuring was inevitable.

The law firm is believed to have been hurt by a decrease in mergers and acquisitions in Canada, but also by a change in the climate for large law firms, which are losing out to more nimble boutique operations.

Heenan Blaikie was formed in 1973 by Roy Heenan, Donald Johnston and Peter Blaikie and at its peak had 500 staff under its roof.

In an email to CBC, Blaikie, who left the firm 20 years ago, expressed “profound sadness” at the breakup of the firm.

“I am deeply saddened to learn that the partners of Heenan Blaikie have decided to dissolve the firm. I am particularly distressed by the fact that hundreds of lawyers and members of the Heenan Blaikie staff, who have together provided the highest quality of legal services to their clients, will have their lives disrupted,” the email said.

Support staff at the Montreal offices of Heenan Blaikie were asked to clear out their desks on Tuesday.