Rock moves from UN to Windsor law firm

WINDSOR -- When Canada''s Ambassador to the United Nations, Allan Rock, ends his term June 30, he will be returning not to Ottawa, where he was born and raised, nor to Toronto, where he practised law for more than 20 years, but to Windsor, a city largely off Canada''s legal beaten track but with one big exception and hence his reason for moving here: his chance to practise with old friend and one of the country''s top litigators, Harvey Strosberg.

Rock broke the news during a June 8 speech honoring Strosberg at the city's annual Negev Dinner, a benefit for the Jewish National Fund. Saying he and his wife Deborah Hanscom had been looking for a place to live and work on returning to Canada, they decided on Windsor, a "friendly place" and "not too big or small," with a nice climate, healthy economy, good housing, bright future, and "near the water."

And while Rock and Hanscom, who specializes in corporate and civil litigation, will be able to view the Detroit River and Detroit skyline from their condo tower along the city's riverfront, a few minutes' walk from their new downtown offices, the real reason the couple opted for Canada's southernmost city and largely blue-collar town is because of the personal connection to Strosberg.

"We go back 30 years," Rock told Law Times from his New York office.

 The two met at the old Fasken Calvin law firm in Toronto, a forerunner to today's Fasken Martineau. Strosberg articled there in 1969 and, he says, "Rock followed a year or two later." Strosberg, good friends with then fellow practitioners John Laskin and Ronald Rolls, first met Rock through them and the friendship grew.

When Strosberg became a law society bencher in 1987, Rock was already one "and we renewed our friendship," Strosberg says. Both would go on to become law society treasurers.

But this month's announcement that the 58-year-old Rock is joining Sutts Strosberg LLP didn't necessarily come out of the blue. Strosberg says he had been trying to lure Rock to his practice for almost 15 years.

"It's been a long courtship," he sighed.

Strosberg says back in the early 1990s, "Rock and I talked about practising law together" along with Laskin. But Rock "decided he wanted to be a politician and the first thing that he did after he was appointed minister of Justice was to appoint Laskin to the court of appeal, thereby decimating my potential law firm."

Rock went on to serve as the minister of Justice, Health, and Industry in the federal Liberal cabinet of Jean Chr?tien.

Then when Rock decided not to seek re-election after serving 10 years as an MP, Strosberg approached him again.

"But he decided he wanted to be a diplomat," Strosberg jokingly complained, and took the posting to head Canada's UN mission in New York.

Strosberg says with the recent change in government and Rock's leaving his UN post, he was deluged with offers from other firms.

"That's when I made my pitch," says Strosberg. "So I guess I made him an offer he couldn't refuse. I felt like this was our third marriage but it doesn't mean that he doesn't love me."

 But Rock's foot was possibly in the door already.

Over the past year his wife, Deborah Hanscom, had signed on with the firm even though she too was living in New York. Rock lauds Sutt Strosberg's sophisticated software, which meant Hanscom could work online and has been doing research, drafting and legal writing.

For his part, Rock always kept the idea of practising with Strosberg in the back of his mind.

"He always said we'd be a great combination," says Rock. "I've agreed with that but I've always been doing something else. First it was politics. Then it was the UN. So I've been sort of listening, half-listening."

But with the imminent end to his ambassadorship, Rock looked at the offer more seriously, having always found Windsor a "pleasant place" with "the advantages of being a city but it's not so large that it's impersonal."

The other named senior partner, Cliff Sutts, practises corporate and commercial law.

Rock says Strosberg spends a lot of his time in Toronto as it is, and he imagines he'll do the same, noting Windsor provides "the best of both worlds" because of "ready access to the courtrooms in Toronto."

Strosberg says Rock will be practising general litigation, mediation, and arbitration and "whatever interests him, whatever comes through the door." He describes Rock as "one of Canada's leading commercial litigators before he hung up his gown for politics."

Rock excels at mediation and arbitration, which got a full workout at the UN. One of his final acts as ambassador was being instrumental in negotiating a peace treaty between the Sudanese government and the main rebel group in Darfur.

Rock isn't divorcing himself from the UN entirely, however. He will still take on special assignments. This fall, for instance, he's travelling to Sri Lanka to investigate the use of child soldiers by the government and some rebel groups

Strosberg admitted the local legal community was "taken by surprise" by the announcement.

Another big-name lawyer and politician also made it to Windsor. Howard Pawley, former Manitoba NDP premier, moved to the city in the 1990s when he took a teaching post at the University of Windsor and hasn't looked back. The former small-town general practice lawyer chose Windsor for similar reasons as Rock.

"I don't want to run down other communities but it wasn't as stiff as you might find in Toronto, for instance," Pawley says.

The city's mayor, Eddie Francis, who graduated from University of Windsor law in 2002 and did a short stint at Windsor-Detroit firm Miller Canfield Paddock and Stone before running for office, exhibited requisite civic pride, saying Rock's decision just goes to show "the strength and profile of the legal community" here.

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