John Altorelli

Who is to blame for the recent troubles afflicting Dewey & LeBoeuf, the global mega-firm created from the 2007 merger of Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf Lamb? In our recent reader poll, we offered four options: the legacy Dewey side, the legacy LeBoeuf side, both sides, or neither side.

Prominent M&A and private equity lawyer John Altorelli, who recently left Dewey to become a partner at DLA Piper, has some opinions on this issue. In a recent interview with Am Law Daily, he offered a candid diagnosis of what brought D&L to where it stands today, as well as an assessment of its future prospects.

Altorelli was less forthcoming when the New York Post contacted him over the weekend about his alleged love affair with a beautiful Russian spy (her picture after the jump)….

Let’s begin with business before proceeding to pleasure. On Friday night, Am Law Daily posted a write-up of John Altorelli’s conversation with reporter Sara Randazzo. Right out of the gate, Altorelli tackled the topic of what went wrong at Dewey:

I was one of the first guys coming into Dewey after the failed Orrick merger. Mort Pierce recruited me to put a stamp on Dewey, to say: It’s okay. By the way, it was. I had five of the best years of my career. It was absolutely the right move. The firm did prosper. If they had merged two years earlier or later, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. It’s just unfortunate timing. I wish the firm had had more time, another year or two to run off the expenses of the merger….

If we didn’t have this long of a recession, we wouldn’t be having this conversation. The firm was too strong, the people are too good. It crept up. We kept thinking it’ll get better tomorrow, then it doesn’t get better. The next thing you know it’s been four years.

A diplomatic response. Presumably he would have voted for “it’s no one’s fault” in our reader poll. Blame it on the rain (or lack thereof, due to the recession).

At the same time, even as he defended chairman Steven Davis, Altorelli did not express optimism about the firm’s future direction:

I’m not sure how they can weather the departures. To be fair, I expect there will be more. There are younger guys down the food chain not making that much money. It’s hard to fault those who are making $300,000 or $400,000, if they could be making $600,000. You can’t balance the books on the backs of young partners who really are just making their way.

“I’m not sure how they can weather the departures.” Ouch. Dewey defenders, don’t accuse the media of fanning the flames; your former partners are doing a fine job of that without any help from us.

A lot of us guys at the top have agreed to forego completely or defer compensation, which is what you’re supposed to do. It never came out in the right way [in the press], but people voluntarily gave up compensation. It wasn’t like the firm was running around saying, we’re not paying you. They asked.

That’s an interesting and important point. Much has been made, in these pages and elsewhere, about Dewey’s debts to certain current and former partners. What Altorelli wants people to keep in mind is that many partners consented to the compensation cuts (or headed for the exits, as about 50 partners have done in 2012).

Some partners at Dewey & LeBoeuf, both legacy and lateral, received less than what their contracts provided for. But John Altorelli, despite negotiating and drafting contracts for a living, is not a big believer in them in the law firm context:

I did not have a contract [while at Dewey]. Other people did. I do not believe in contracts. I don’t have a contract here at DLA. I don’t worry about getting paid. I produce every year. I could have gotten one at Dewey. That is not how it has to work. If you’re any good, you don’t need a frickin’ contract. Its silly. If you deliver, you’ll get paid.

“If you deliver, you’ll get paid.” I like John Altorelli’s voice. He reminds me of Tony Soprano. Perhaps he’ll be played by James Gandolfini in “Dewey: The Movie.”

Just like Tony Soprano, Altorelli had a relationship with a beautiful Russian woman. You’ve definitely heard of and seen her before, but we’ll refresh your recollection with a picture….


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