Dissolution

Today we’ll give you a double dose of Dewey. This morning we published an eloquent email from a Dewey paralegal, which looked at the story from a human-interest perspective. Now we shall return to the business aspects of the crisis.

Last week, we mentioned that tax partners Fred Gander and Hershel Wein were in talks to leave Dewey. Those talks have come to fruition: Gander is heading to KPMG, where he will lead its U.S. tax practice for Europe and the Middle East, and Wein is joining him there.

Now let’s look at the big picture: Dewey’s looming debt deadline, and the possible rescue by Greenberg Traurig….

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Thus far, the story of Dewey & LeBoeuf has been told primarily from the perspective of lawyers. On the whole, the coverage has been quite partner-focused, centered on which partners are defecting to which rival law firms. There has been some discussion, but not a huge amount, of the plight of associates.

There has been even less discussion of the support staff. But if Dewey goes under, staffers will also lose their jobs. And in this day and age of law firms slashing staff, secretaries and paralegals may have a harder time finding new positions than attorneys.

Here is one paralegal’s perspective on what’s going on at D&L….

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What must it be like right now to be working at Dewey & LeBoeuf? One imagines a lot of whispered conversations, furrowed brows, and closed office doors. It’s a difficult and stressful time at D&L. To our friends at Dewey, keep your chins up (but, at the same time, do what you need to do to protect yourself and your career).

The anxiety at Dewey is increased by the firm’s cash crunch. Lawyers and staff at the firm are having a harder time doing their jobs because certain resources aren’t available to them.

Even in the digital age, with so many documents transmitted electronically rather than physically, FedEx is still a mainstay at major law firms — but not at Dewey. “We are restricted from using the account and now have to rely on UPS or express mail for overnights,” a source at Dewey told us. “Even if a package is labeled to go out via FedEx, when it goes down to mailroom it is relabeled for one of our new shipping methods. Do you know any other company that can stay afloat without FedEx?”

Will Dewey be staying afloat? Let’s hear the latest about other services that D&L lawyers and staff can’t use, some possible partner departures, and the firm’s ambitious plan for saving itself — via bankruptcy….

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(Plus more potential defections, and bankruptcy planning.)”

It’s time for your daily dose of Dewey & LeBoeuf news. There’s a lot to cover, including updates about incoming associates, overseas offices, and contingency planning.

Word on the street is that Dewey is deferring incoming associates to January 2013. We reached out to the firm for comment, and they haven’t gotten back to us yet. But it seems logical for the firm to defer associates to early 2013, given how the situation at D&L remains in flux. By next year, Dewey will have a better sense of its ultimate size and its long-term associate needs.

Of course, incoming associates at Dewey might want to make some backup plans. Which brings us to the other D&L news….

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If you think that making partner is like winning the Biglaw race, you haven’t actually been paying attention to what’s been happening to partners over the past few years. Sure, Biglaw partnerships overall are enjoying higher profits now than they were during the darkest days of the recession (while associate salaries remain stagnant, of course). But average “profits per partner” numbers can be misleading.

Steven Harper, the former Kirkland & Ellis partner turned law professor, writes that the income gap between the top earning partners and everybody else is “exploding.” It’s never been more lucrative to have a nice book of business.

And to keep it for yourself….

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Sandusky realizes he's been sacked.

* “The most valuable assets of a law firm go home every night.” If only Biglaw firms realized that prior to dissolution, we’d probably have a lot more happy partners and associates. [WSJ Law Blog]

* If we can’t deregulate the legal profession, then what can we do to improve it? One law professor suggests reforming law schools. Gee, I think I’ve heard that somewhere before. [Washington Post]

* Penn State totally fumbled the Sandusky sexual assault allegations. In other news, the purported child abuser’s autobiography is called Touched. I don’t know if I should laugh or cry. [Bloomberg]

* Kitty Genovese’s killer has been denied parole for the fifteenth time. And he should keep getting denied for as long as bystander effect is taught in Psych 101 classes. [New York Law Journal]

* Justin Bieber plans to prove that he’s still a virgin not the baby daddy of Mariah Yeater’s child. If he’s right, he’s going to sue and hope for one less lonely girl in his life. [New York Daily News]

Robert Ruyak

One of the most colorful characters in the saga of Howrey LLP, the once-thriving law firm that dissolved this past March, was Robert Ruyak, former chairman of the firm. How many law firm leaders write inspirational poetry for their summer associates?

Alas, many at Howrey found Ruyak’s leadership to be less than inspiring. He was frequently cast as the villain in the demise of the firm, which he led for over a decade before its dissolution. As noted by the WSJ Law Blog, Ruyak was criticized “[i]n some corners of the blogosphere” for “not respond[ing] swiftly enough to declines in the firm’s productivity” and “not sufficiently shar[ing] management responsibilities with his fellow partners.” According to the American Lawyer, he caused the firm to overexpand, taking on too much risk — in the form of lateral partners and contingency cases, among other things — when it should have been buckling down for tough times ahead.

Today brings news that Robert Ruyak has found a new professional home. Where’s he going?

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For some reason, something must end before we learn our lessons. That is precisely the reason that Sophia Petrillo from The Golden Girls attended her own funeral. She wanted to hear how much people appreciated her while she was still alive, correctly realizing that eulogies are much more valuable at a “funeral” where the individual is still alive to hear the nice things said about her.

This is also why every tech blogger and new source is discussing what we can learn from the retirement of Steve Jobs. My favorite “eulogy” is from a Wall Street Journal blog, The Juggle, recalling a commencement address Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005 about never settling. While I am pretty sure I did not listen to his advice, it is nevertheless sound. He said:

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Heller Ehrman announced its dissolution in September of 2008. The firm was required to give employees 60 days paid notice under the WARN act, but they couldn’t even get that right. Many associates and staff had their pay terminated before their 60 days were up. And many more employees were not compensated for their unused vacation time and other expenses.

These people have had to wait in a long line to get their piece of the steaming Heller carcass.

But the wait is almost over, though the payout will be underwhelming. Take heed, Howrey folks. We could be looking at your future….

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Although it officially passed away back in March, when its partners voted for dissolution, the law firm of Howrey LLP continues to twitch in its grave — or maybe even step out of its grave and walk around a bit, like a zombie from a horror flick.

Howrey continues to have a presence on Twitter, for example. A D.C.-based reader pointed out to us that the April 2011 issue of Washington Lawyer magazine contained a partnership announcement for the firm, on page 44: “Stephen D. Palley and Andrew R. Sommer have been named partner at Howrey LLP.” (Both landed on their feet: Palley is now a principal at Ober|Kaler, and Sommer is now of counsel at Winston & Strawn.)

And, strangely enough, Howrey is still seeking client engagements….

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