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Musical Chairs: Former Dewey CFO Finds New Employment

Many of the lawyers from the bankrupt law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf have found new professional homes. But what about the managers? Since the firm filed for bankruptcy, we haven’t heard much about the fates of D&L’s leadership troika: former chairman Steven Davis, former executive director Stephen DiCarmine, and former chief financial officer Joel Sanders. What’s going on with them? Have they found new jobs?

Of course, they can afford to take some time off before returning to the workforce. As we previously reported, DiCarmine and Sanders each received more than $2.9 million — in salary, bonuses, and expense reimbursement — in the year leading up to the firm’s bankruptcy filing.

So, assuming he has reasonable living expenses, former CFO Joel Sanders can afford to coast for a while. But that’s not what he’s doing. He’s already back in the workforce.

What if we were to tell you that the chief financial officer of Dewey has found a new position? At a law firm — a pretty sizable one, in fact?

The rumors about Joel Sanders’s new job have been floating around since mid-August, but now we have confirmation. Am Law Daily reports:

Sanders — the longtime Dewey & LeBoeuf chief financial officer who functioned as a member of Dewey’s ruling triumvirate in the years leading up to the firm’s high-profile demise — assumed the same post at Fort Lauderdale–based Greenspoon Marder about six weeks ago, according to Greenspoon co–managing shareholder Michael Marder. Sanders is in the process of relocating to South Florida from New York and will work out of the firm’s headquarters, Marder says.

Confirming that the firm had hired Sanders, Greenspoon executive director David Lane says the firm, which has roughly 140 lawyers, was eager to expand its finance office after its late-2011 acquisition of the remnants of Ruden McClosky, a Florida firm that went bankrupt in November amid a stream of partner departures hastened by the collapse of the local real estate market.

Greenspoon Marder to world: “Give me your tired, your poor, your refugees from bankrupt law firms, yearning to have paychecks.”

Interestingly enough, the Greenspoon firm selected Sanders even though it had many other candidates under consideration:

Marder, who cofounded the firm in 1981, says Greenspoon hired Sanders following a nationwide search led by an unidentified recruiting firm. In his new role, Sanders is responsible for overseeing the firm’s entire finance operation. Among those who report directly to him: former Greenspoon finance head Kathryn Bates, who is now the director of finance.

How would you like it if you went from running your firm’s finance department to being #2 to the ex-CFO of the biggest bankrupt firm in U.S. history? That can’t make Bates happy.

(So Joel, watch out for Kathy Bates — she’s one tough cookie. Did you see her in Misery?)

Lane and Marder say they view Sanders’s Dewey experience in a positive light. “We thought he could teach us some things” about how large firms do business, Lane says.

And about how they cease to do business? After overexpanding, overborrowing, and overpaying their partners?

Adds Marder: “We had to put everything in the proper context. We had to understand the dynamics. We had to look at his career and all of the depth of his experience as opposed to one thing that we don’t believe defined his abilities.”

Well, Dewey wasn’t just a random blip in Sanders’s career. As Am Law points out:

Sanders, who has a law degree, came to Dewey through predecessor firm LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, which he joined in 2000. LeBoeuf merged with Dewey Ballantine seven years later. Earlier in his career, he worked for a decade at Time Warner, Marder says.

So Sanders spent more than a decade at Dewey & LeBoeuf and its predecessor firm, LeBoeuf Lamb — which was the financially weaker stronger partner going into in the merger. Perhaps the “proper context” for viewing Sanders’s record at Dewey is that (1) he did a fine job running LeBoeuf pre-merger, and (2) after the merger, he took marching orders from the Steves, and so shouldn’t receive much blame for Dewey’s demise.

Let’s close by looking on the bright side of Sanders’s new gig. It’s nice to see someone recover from a setback. We write in these pages about lawyers and law students involved in unfortunate situations, situations that one might view as career-killers. But as the case of Joel Sanders shows, it’s possible to recover from almost anything.

Dewey have second chances for leaders of a failed firm? Oh yes we do. At least for Joel Sanders, LeBoeuf is far from cooked.

Former Dewey Finance Head Sanders Lands at Florida Firm [American Lawyer]

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