On Friday we brought you the story of Edward De Sear, a former partner at several top law firms who now faces a charge of child pornography distribution. De Sear — a graduate of Columbia and UVA Law, who is now one of the nation’s leading capital-markets lawyers — has been a partner at Allen & Overy, Bingham McCutchen, McKee Nelson, Orrick, and Milbank Tweed. As we mentioned in our prior post, the charges against De Sear came as a shock to fellow New York lawyers and to neighbors of his in Saddle River, New Jersey (my hometown — I can walk to De Sear’s place from my parents’ house).
After our story appeared, a former colleague of Ed De Sear came forward, to share some recollections. “I’m completely stunned,” said this attorney.
I grew up in the town of Saddle River, New Jersey, a suburb about 40 minutes outside of New York City. With its wooded rolling landscape and small-town charm, Saddle River is a pleasant place to live. Large houses, a mix of stately older homes and well-executed McMansions, sit on sizable plots of land, thanks to two-acre zoning.
It was a peaceful and bucolic locale, and when I visit my parents, it seems much the same. My colleague Staci Zaretsky, our newest full-time contributor here at ATL, also grew up there — and concurs with my assessment.
But Saddle River, like the suburbs depicted in such films as American Beauty and Happiness, is not without its drama. Yesterday Edward De Sear, 64, a resident of Saddle River and a capital-markets partner at the distinguished international law firm of Allen & Overy, was arrested at his home and charged with distributing child pornography. The charge of distributing child pornography carries a mandatory minimum penalty of five years in prison and a maximum penalty of 20 years and a $250,000 fine.
UPDATE (12:00 PM): Make that a former partner of Allen & Overy. De Sear has resigned from the firm, according to a statement issued by A&O. Read it in full after the jump.
Let’s learn more about the allegations against Ed De Sear, hear from someone who knows him, meet his high-powered defense counsel — and check out his beautiful and historic home….
Legal recruiters find work for lawyers — and sometimes they create work for them. We previously covered, for example, the litigation between mega-recruiter Major Lindsey & Africa and one of its former employees, Sharon Mahn.
Sometimes recruiters go after each other, and sometimes they go after law firms — firms that don’t pay them the placement fees to which they’re entitled. Recruiter Alan Miles, principal of Alan Miles and Associates, went after Bingham McCutchen — and won, big time.
After enduring a rough few years caused by the collapse of the structured finance market, the elite specialty firm of McKee Nelson has agreed to be acquired by the larger Bingham McCutchen.
Partners at both firms were informed Monday morning of the merger, which is scheduled to take effect August 1. The combined firm will be called Bingham McCutchen, and will include all of McKee Nelson’s lawyers.
No word on whether the McKee attorneys have the CHARACTER to become Bingham attorneys. But the merger looks good on paper:
McKee Nelson, which is known as one of the pre-eminent firms for tax planning and tax litigation, was viewed by Bingham as an attractive addition. “It’s really rare to find a firm that is this size that has three market-leading practices,” says Bingham chairman Jay Zimmerman, referring to McKee’s expertise in tax, financial institution litigation, and capital markets-structured finance. Structured finance might be moribund now, but Zimmerman sees it as an area worth investing in. “It will be part of our longterm strategy for serving the financial institution industry.”
How does this work on the McKee side of the ledger? We check in after the jump.
Today’s firm-wide meeting at McKee Nelson did not yield good news. A statement from the firm reveals the extent of the bloodletting:
This morning, McKee Nelson LLP laid off 17 of its corporate/finance associates, reducing this practice from 94 to 77 attorneys. The layoffs are concentrated in the MBS, ABS and CDO parts of our capital markets practice.
Our firm also laid off 15 administrative staff. All of the affected attorneys and staff members are in good standing at the firm. None of these layoffs are performance based.
At least the firm was honest about the reason for the layoffs. No stealth layoff / performance review rhetoric from the firm partners:
For the past 16 months, the partners of this firm have been committed to bearing the costs of the overcapacity in our structured finance group in order to keep our team intact. The devastation that befell the credit markets in September, however, was unprecedented. We have analyzed and created a projection of what we believe the structured finance business will look like over the next two years and what resources, capabilities and experience will be required to do that work. This layoff is a necessary part of the firm’s adjustment to this new reality.
Is something going down at McKee Nelson today? A tipster reports that there is a surprise, all-attorney video conference scheduled for 1:30 today.
Managing partner William Nelson announced the meeting succinctly via firm-wide email this morning:
There will be an all attorney meeting at 1:30PM.
Recently, these mystery meetings have been held to release good news. In September, Covington & Burling held a surprise meeting to announce the acquisition of Heller Ehrman’s IP department (admittedly, that was not good news for Heller Ehrman). Last month, Jenner & Block held one to reassure associates (shortly before a number of partners were let go).
Okay… so these meetings aren’t always “good news,” but they have been “good spin.”
What does the future hold for McKee Nelson? Well, one of their biggest clients is JPMorgan Chase, one of the only banks left standing. Things can’t be too bad, right?
We’ll let you know where the chips fall.
Update (2:15): McKee Nelson confirmed that they laid off 17 associates and 15 staffers today. Read additional coverage here.
This morning we brought you a special sneak preview of the 2009 Vault law firm rankings (to be released in full on Tuesday, August 12, over at the Vault website). We passed along two compilations: (1) firms ranked 26-50 by prestige, and (2) firms 11-20 on the “best to work for” list.
Now, as promised, we bring you the balance of the rankings: firms 1-50 by prestige, and all 20 of the “best to work for” firms.
Check out the lists, plus comment from Vault law editor Brian Dalton, after the jump.
An interesting article in today’s New York Times — by Lynnley Browning, author of the earlier Biglaw perks piece — focuses on the subprime mortgage mess and current investigations into the adequacy of disclosures to investors.
Investigators are focused on Wall Street, but lawyers involved in the securitization process may also face scrutiny. Government investigation is the last thing these struggling law firms need, as they try to retool in the face of a grim outlook for structured finance and real estate work.
The article focuses on McKee Nelson:
McKee Nelson burst onto the scene in 1999 and quickly grabbed lucrative Wall Street work from long-established rivals. William F. Nelson, one of its co-founders, said the firm, which is known for its sophisticated tax work, did not employ any special legal maneuvers to outflank its competitors. “There’s no secret, magic elixir that we sprinkled,” Mr. Nelson said.
In any case, the mortgage turmoil is now hitting the highly regarded McKee Nelson hard. The firm recently pared its structured finance department to 80 lawyers from about 115 through buyouts, sabbaticals and transfers to other departments. More cuts are unlikely, a spokeswoman said.
So that’s good news. And the firm is trying to take lemons and make the proverbial lemonade:
[A]fter profiting from the mortgage boom, McKee Nelson is now positioning itself to profit from the bust by riding the coming wave of lawsuits. In January, the firm flew its partners and their spouses to Charleston, S.C., aboard four Delta commuter jets, to map out its strategy.
“We’re heavily committed to doing more litigation,” Mr. Nelson said. The firm hopes to represent investment banks, hedge funds and other financial companies, as well as their executives, in a variety of litigation, he said.
We previously commended the firm of McKee Nelson for the steps it’s taking to accommodate its associates in the wake of the credit crunch. Credit market woes have significantly affected the firm’s once booming capital markets practice, but the firm is bending over backwards not to do layoffs.
So far backwards, in fact, that we’re going to go even farther: we wish we worked at MN. To paraphrase Crazy Eddie, the offers they’re making to associates are INSANE.
On Friday, the firm offered these options to its associates:
(1) a full bonus, and four months’ pay, to anyone willing to depart from the firm; or
(2) the option to take a year-long sabbatical, at 40 percent pay, AND with a full bonus for 2007.
Wow. How is option (2) — or even option (1), for people who wanted to change jobs or career paths anyway — not the sweetest deal ever? You get a year off from the Biglaw grind, at 40 percent of your pay (McKee is on the $160K scale), AND with a year-end bonus? (Their bonus table appears here — the firm is paying standard year-end bonuses, although not “special” bonuses.)
There are some caveats, according to our tipsters. First, there’s no guarantee of a job at the end of the sabbatical — whether you can return to the firm will depend on what the business climate looks like in a year. Second, you’re supposed to do something public-interest-oriented during that year — or, as the managing partner put it, “something that makes the world better.” So you can’t just go to Ibiza and party for twelve months (although cynics claim that turning lawyers into layabouts “makes the world better”).
On the other hand, there’s no requirement that you work for a 501(c)(3) during your sabbatical; the concept has some flexibility. Could you perhaps use the year — and the money — to study painting, or to finish the novel you started writing back in law school?
So many lawyers talk about the dreams that died when they went to law school. How is the McKee Nelson sabbatical program not a great opportunity to resurrect those dreams, with the luxury of free time and financial security? Earlier: Nationwide Personnel Reconfiguration Watch: McKee Nelson
The evolution of relationships between the genders continues. Currently, in law firms, there is an interesting conundrum; balancing the desire for a gender-blind workplace where “the best lawyer gets the work and advances” and the reality of navigating the complicated maze created by the fact that, in general, men and women do possess differences in their work styles. These variations impact who they work with, how they work, how they build professional connections and how organizations ultimately leverage, reward and recognize the talents of all.
Henry Ford sat on his workbench and sighed. A year earlier, he had personally built 13,000 Model Ts with his own hands. Fashioning lugnuts and tie rods by hand, Ford was loath to ask for help. Sure, there were things about the car that he didn’t quite understand. This explains the lack of reliable navigation systems in the Model T. But Ford persevered because he knew that unless he did everything, he could not reliably call these cars his own.
“Unless my own personal toil is responsible for it, it may as well be called a Hyundai,” Ford remarked at the time.
The preceding may sound unfamiliar because it is categorically untrue. And also monumentally stupid. Henry Ford didn’t build all those cars by hand. He had help and plenty of it. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford opened up the most technologically advanced assembly line the world had ever seen. Built on the premise that work can be chopped up into digestible pieces and completed by many men better than one, the line ushered in an age of unparalleled productivity.
Today, an attorney refers business because he can’t do everything the client asks of him.
There are three reasons why this is way dumber than a made-up Henry Ford story…
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months, and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.