Monday, March 5, 2018

Breakdown: An Insider Account of the Rise and Fall of Heenan Blakie by Norman Bacal

This is a somewhat interesting book by the former manager of the law firm Heenan Blakie.  Bacal started when the firm was a small Montreal player and went on to open the Toronto office, grow the firm into a large national and international player, become co-managing partner and ultimately shepherd the firm through its demise.  At the same time he developed a name for himself as a tax expert in the film financing market, married his high school girlfriend, raised four children and became a black belt in karate before his knees gave out on him.

Of course, I think the audience for this book is limited - even as a former lawyer I skimmed over some of the detail about law firm politics and tax shelters.  And Bacal did seem to take pains to blame others for the firm's demise - he paid lip service to the role he played, but minimized mistakes he and his co- managing partner made.  Bacal was clearly a risk taker and some of his risks didn't pay off.

The book also got confusing - there were just too many players.  I know all of them played an important role in the firm, and in Bacal's life, so mentioning them was important.  I just couldn't keep them all straight at times.  And I read the e-book which made it harder to flip back and forth to remind myself who someone was.

That being said I do recommend this book as a cautionary tale for law firm managers, or frankly any managers, on how even a large, seemingly invincible, firm can fall apart at the seams.

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