On Thursday morning, while talking to my therapist — no, not the People’s Therapist — I mentioned that I’ve been quite busy at work these days, covering the fast-moving story of a law firm implosion. I started to explain, but he interrupted.
“You mean Dewey?” he asked. “I know all about it. An old friend of mine is a partner there. He just asked me for a referral.”
Sign #1 that a law firm story has gone mainstream: your shrink knows about it. Sign #2: it’s getting covered by esteemed general-interest outlets like Slate and the Economist. (In Slate, Reynolds Holding argues that the experience of Ruden McClosky, the Florida firm that pulled off the bankruptcy-cum-merger maneuver last year, could provide helpful lessons for Dewey.)
Aside from a report that some partners want criminal charges brought against chairman Steven H. Davis, as noted in Morning Docket, things have been relatively quiet on the Dewey front over the past day or two. Perhaps too quiet, for some people….
In August of 2009, while driving around Silicon Valley after speaking at Santa Clara Law, I saw an office park in East Palo Alto with a sign that jumped out at me. Being a Biglaw groupie, I stopped and snapped a picture:
I parked, got out of my rental car, and walked around. I was struck by the beauty of the overall office complex, with its expansive plaza, immaculate landscaping, and fountains. It was a veritable law firm Xanadu!
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.
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 somediscussion, 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….
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….
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….
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.
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?
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:
If you are considering a virtual law practice, you know that many of today’s solo firms started that way. But why are established, multi-attorney law firms going virtual?
Many small firms are successfully moving part—or even all—of their practice to a virtual setting. This even includes multi-jurisdictional practice spanning several states and practice areas, although solo and small partnerships are still the largest adopters of virtual law.
Can you do the same? The new article Mobile in Practice, Virtual by Design from author Jared Correia, Esq., explores how mobile technology bring real-life benefits to a small law firm. Read this new article—the next in Thomson Reuters’ Independent Thinking series for small firms—to explore how a mobile practice:
Reduces malpractice risk
Enables you to gather the best attorneys to fit the firm, regardless of each person’s geographic location
Leverages mobile devices and cloud technology to enable on-the-spot client and prospect communication
Transitioning in-house is something many (if not most) firm lawyers find themselves considering at some point. For many, it’s the first step in their career that isn’t simply a function of picking the best option available based on a ranking system.
Unknown territory feels high-risk, and can have the effect of steering many of us towards the well-greased channels into large, established companies.
For those who may be open to something more entrepreneurial, there is far less information available. No recruiter is calling every week with offers and details.
In sponsorship with Betterment, ATL and David Lat will moderate a panel about life in-house and we’ll hear from GCs at Birchbox, Gawker Media, Squarespace, Bonobos, and Betterment. Drinks, snacks, networking, and a great time guaranteed. Invite your colleagues, but RSVP fast, as space is limited.
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 seven years. You can reach them by email: email@example.com.
It’s that time of year again when JDs are starting to apply for 2L summer jobs and 2L summers are deciding which practice area to focus on.
For those JDs with an interest in potentially lateraling to or transferring to Asia in the future, please feel free to reach out to Kinney for advice on firm choices, interviewing and practice choices, relating to future marketability in Asia, or for a general discussion on your particular Asia markets of interest. This is of course a free of cost service for those who some years in the future may be our future industry contacts or perhaps even clients.
For some years now Kinney’s Asia head, Evan Jowers, has been formally advising Harvard Law students with such questions, as the Asia expert in Harvard Law’s “Ask The Experts Market Program” each summer and fall, with podcasts and scheduled phone calls. This has been an enjoyable and productive experience for all involved.