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Dale H. Lastman, C.M. quoted in "Goodmans: Building alliances", National Post

September-25-2004

Lawyer Dale H. Lastman, C.M.

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Excerpt from "Goodmans: Building Alliances", by Diane Francis:

Dale Lastman is an unabashed jock who runs profitable Goodmans law firm like a sports franchise, with team spirit and camaraderie the watchwords.

"We have avoided internal bickering," he said in an interview this week in his corner office laden with sports memorabilia. "Happy lawyers make good lawyers."

Dale has been co-chair of the firm since the tender age of 36, along with Allan Liebel, an Olympic sailor.

Dale, a runner, marathoner and unabashed sports fan, has successfully stickhandled some of the country's biggest sports deals involving the Blue Jays, Maple Leafs and Raptors. He is on the board of directors of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment Ltd. plus others, in addition to practicing corporate, commercial and securities law.

"The law firm runs itself," he said. "I spend 95% of my time practicing law, which I define as helping people get to yes."

Goodmans is one of Canada's five largest law firms -- with 225 lawyers and 400 support staff -- and one of its most innovative. It has offices in Toronto, Vancouver and Hong Kong and was founded by the father of Eddy Goodman, a legendary philanthropist and wheeler-dealer in political circles in Ontario.

Dale was hand-picked at a young age for his entrepreneurial and political smarts. He comes by them honestly.  His father is entrepreneur Mel Lastman, Toronto's bombastic former Mayor.

"Allan and I are responsible for direction and policy and maintaining the cameraderie. We are here to assist, not manage," he said.

Chairing a law firm can be like herding cats, or pampering super-stars.

"We have a system to deter that kind of conduct," he said. "The 100 partners know what the firm made in profits every year. They know what everyone's individual compensation is, but they have no access to billings.

"Only the compensation committee does and it bases payments on seniority, people skills, community service and other criteria. This has worked for us. The committee has a memory and a conscience."

Dale sees the job as empowering lawyers then letting go. It's a combination of coach, CEO and handholder. He and Allan are also involved in the hiring and firing process.

"Young lawyers won't make it here if they are not respectful," he said.

"Our job is to attract and retain great lawyers then everything will take care of itself."

The firm discourages the creation internally of teams from various legal specialties that work on deals together. "It's great if a lawyer is on the right team but not if he or she is on the wrong team. This is why we discourage set teams. We want inclusion and sharing of ideas," he said.

As testimony to their spirit of fraternity, Goodmans has happily retained arch-rivals and former premiers Mike Harris and Bob Rae in the firm.

"Mike Harris does Mike's thing. He's involved in client service and gives advice on a bunch of issues," he said. "Bob Rae is relevant to helping certain clients get where they want to go."

The firm, like others, has realized that practicing business law is about solving problems, which can include political and human resources judgment or public relations issues.

"Legal knowledge is a given. We are solution oriented and add values or help so that clients can get where want to go," he said.

Like other firms, Goodmans has a piece of many corporate legal budgets. But some of the firm's trophy accounts include Apotex Inc., Four Seasons Hotels Inc., Maple Leaf Foods Inc., Roots Canada Ltd. and Onex Corp. It has been involved in most of the popular income trusts that have been brought to stock markets.

"We didn't invent them but we certainly are at the forefront," he said.

It also has a different growth strategy than others have had and is not merger-driven.

For instance, it the office in Hong Kong because of its involvement with Four Seasons' expansion throughout Asia using a local firm. It han an office in Vancouver for the same reason.

"Our locations are driven by people. If there's a great lawyer in Connecticut who wants to work with us, then we'll open an office in Connecticut. But if everyone says you have to have an office in Connecticut, that's not important to us. I don't think that's the way the world works," he said.

"It's all about relationships. Clients call lawyers not law firms, so we want great lawyers, not great locations."

Dale and his brother, Blayne, grew up in the goldfish bowl of his father's highly publicized retail business and political career.

Blayne went into the family retail business while Dale studied criminology. He thought about going into medicine until he realized he could not stand the sight of blood, then settled on law.

"I enjoy people. Law's a vehicle. I teach securities law at law school and love it. What's really neat about practising law is the opportunity to meet a whole bunch of people, then develop trust and confidence that survive beyond the deal," he said.

Dale and his wife have four children from seven to 18 years. Besides working long hours, Dale loves to watch his three sons play hockey.

"I also panic about my daughter going away to school a lot," he added.

Being a Lastman in the rough and tumble of press and politics has not always been easy. His parents have had a tough time on a personal level.

"My Dad did his thing and I did my thing. I love him," he said.

"I've learned to live my own life and that I can't control everyone."

Clearly, Dale has what it takes to enter a life of politics and, when asked if he will run some day, he delivered a political answer.

"Not in 2004," he said