Bankruptcy, Biglaw, Crime, Dewey & LeBoeuf, Dewey Ballantine, Dissolution, Kimba Wood, Law Firm Mergers, Law Firm Names, LeBoeuf Lamb, Money, Musical Chairs, Partner Issues, Partner Profits, White-Collar Crime

Dewey Know Whom To Blame? Some Say ‘Steve’

Dewey & LeBoeuf's sign at 1301 Avenue of the Americas. (Photo by David Lat. Feel free to use.)

Let’s take a step back from the hurly-burly of day-to-day, hour-by-hour coverage of Dewey & LeBoeuf, the once-powerful law firm that could soon find itself in bankruptcy or dissolution. We will return to bringing you the latest Dewey news in tomorrow’s Morning Docket. (Of course, as you may have noticed, we added many updates to Tuesday night’s story; refresh that post for the newest developments.)

Let’s take a step back, and ask ourselves: Who is to blame for this sad state of affairs? And what lessons can be learned from the Dewey debacle?

Multiple UPDATES, including a short bio of Stephen DiCarmine, after the jump.

Various theories of responsibility have been previously floated. For visual representations of what did Dewey in, see this Flickr page (if you can handle black humor).

This isn’t the first time we’ve discussed the issue of blame for the Dewey disaster. Early last month, my colleague Elie Mystal wrote a story entitled Legacy Dewey Ballantine and Legacy LeBoeuf Lamb: Choose Your Weapon. He included a reader poll, and here’s how you voted:

But what if we had added three other options to the poll?

  • Steven H. Davis, former chairman of Dewey & LeBoeuf;
  • Stephen DiCarmine, former executive director of Dewey & LeBoeuf; and
  • current and former members of the Executive Committee of Dewey & LeBoeuf.

Steven Davis

We suspect the poll would have turned out differently. Many observers hold the opinion that “the Steves,” Steve Davis and Steve DiCarmine, deserve a large amount of the blame for Dewey’s demise, if and when that occurs.

Critics of the Steves — many of whom have axes to grind and are not disinterested observers, in fairness to Davis and DiCarmine — make allegations that, if true, paint a disturbing portrait of life at Dewey. They describe the place as the Biglaw version of Caligula’s court, where the Steves had too much power, too much money, too many palace favorites, and too much personal indulgence. Left unchecked by the members of the Executive Committee — who were too busy practicing law, and paid off with extravagant guaranteed contracts — the Steves ran wild.

Caligula has been described as “a noble and moderate ruler during the first two years of his rule.” Similarly, Steve Davis started off his career auspiciously, racking up personal and professional accomplishments before the current disgrace. As a longtime family friend of Davis told us, “Steve had a great reputation before this” — “this” being not just Dewey’s unraveling, but the possible criminal investigation into Davis that has forced this high-powered lawyer to lawyer up himself.

Davis, who is now 58, grew up in a middle-class Jewish family, in Stuyvesant Town in New York City. “His parents were very nice people,” said a source who knows the Davis family, and Davis’s late mother “always talked about him.”

And if you were a Jewish mother with a son like Steve Davis, you’d brag about him constantly too. For starters, he went to a trio of prestigious schools: Stuyvesant High School, the noted Manhattan magnet school, where he graduated near the top of his class (along with his future law partner, Richard Climan); Yale College, from which he graduated in 1974; and Yale Law School, from which he graduated in 1977.

After graduating from YLS, Davis became an associate at LeBoeuf Lamb, one of the predecessor firms to Dewey & LeBoeuf. He moved to Manhattan and lived for a time on East 50th Street (between Second and Third Avenues, we’re told — he later gave this apartment to his mother, after he moved to the suburbs).

LeBoeuf was not a marquee name back when Davis joined the firm. It focused on utilities work, a somewhat sleepy practice area, although it tried to increase its sex appeal by casting itself as an “energy” firm. (In fairness, the firm was not entirely without sex appeal: Judge Kimba Wood (S.D.N.Y.), the top-ranked female Superhottie of the Federal Judiciary, overlapped with Davis at LeBoeuf.)

“Why he went there and stayed there, I’m not sure,” said a source. “But I don’t think LeBoeuf was attracting the best people back then. Steve was a star there, and he rose quickly.” He made partner right on time.

Judge Loretta Davis

Somewhere along the way, during his time at LeBoeuf, Davis got married to his wife Loretta, also a lawyer. Steve and Loretta Davis moved to Westchester County upstate to the tony town of Tuxedo Park, where Loretta Davis was elected town justice. You can check out the Facebook page for her reelection effort here (and maybe try “liking” her; right now she has only 22 “Likes”). Steve and Loretta Davis have kids (two or three, we believe).

(We’ve heard conflicting reports about their current marital status — that they’re divorced but still friends, that they separated for a time but got back together, that they’ve been together all along — and other interesting things about Steve Davis’s personal life, some of which I can relate to. If you can enlighten us, feel free to email us, subject line “Steven Davis.”)

As noted in his D&L bio — which hasn’t been updated to note his recent ouster from the chairman’s office, by the way — Davis eventually moved into juicy positions at LeBoeuf. In 1994, he became head of the firm’s top-shelf energy and utility practice. From 1999 to 2007, Davis served as co-chair and then sole chairman of LeBoeuf Lamb.

Davis’s career at LeBoeuf was sizzling — but he wanted more. “Steve was very impressed with himself and wanted to be a player,” a source who has known Davis for a long time told us. “He came from middle-class parents who were hardly players.”

Cue the merger with Dewey Ballantine….

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