Ed. note: This is a new series from Bruce MacEwen and Janet Stanton of Adam Smith Esq. and JDMatch. “Across the Desk” will take a thoughtful look at recruiting, career paths, professional development, human capital, and related issues. Some of these pieces have previously appeared, in slightly different form, on AdamSmithEsq.com.
At the time I wrote, I treated it more or less as a thought experiment, but we now see that shirking that obligation can come back to bite firms with sharp and large teeth right here in the real world, as seen in Henry Bunsow’s high-profile suit against Dewey’s former leadership (accusing them of running a “Ponzi scheme,” and alleging he’s out $1.8-million in lost capital, among other damages). The gist of Bunsow’s action is that Dewey’s leadership painted a misleadingly rosy picture of Dewey’s financial health, and failed to disclose its obligations in deferred compensation. Bunsow further alleges that former chairman Stephen Davis withdrew his own capital investment after he was forced out of his leadership role and “took those funds personally to the disadvantage of the firm and his fellow partners.”
My three-year-old proposal was that firms be obliged to prepare the equivalent of a Private Placement Memorandum for laterals — equally available to incumbent partners as well, of course.
I also noted that the reaction of most readers would probably fall into polar camps: That my proposal was “fascinating” or else “preposterous”….
As we mentioned in the Labor Day edition of Morning Docket, there’s some interesting news on the Dewey & LeBoeuf front. The one former Dewey partner being sued by Citibank for allegedly defaulting on a capital loan — energy lawyer Steven Otillar, now a partner in the Houston office of Akin Gump — is opposing Citi’s attempt to collect on the debt, by arguing that he was “fraudulently induced” to borrow the money in question.
How much are we talking about? How does the debt compare to Otillar’s compensation while at Dewey? And what are Otillar’s specific allegations about “fraudulent inducement”?
Today at 5 p.m. is the deadline for former partners of the bankrupt Dewey & LeBoeuf law firm to sign up for the “Partner Contribution Plan.” Under the terms of the Plan, which in its latest iteration seeks $90.4 million in “clawbacks” from ex-partners, participating partners would contribute specified amounts to the Dewey bankruptcy estate in exchange for releases from future liability (to the Dewey estate, to other participating partners, and to Dewey lenders, thanks to recent revisions to the PCP).
When talk of the Plan first surfaced, I opined that “[s]uch a deal sounds reasonable in principle.” I later observed that even if the PCP might not be perfect, “[i]f you’re a productive partner, happily ensconced at a new and stable firm, and just want to forget the D&L debacle and return to serving your clients, this deal may Dewey the trick.”
But now, after numerous revisions to the Plan, seemingly endless extensions of the deadline to join, and a still-insufficient amount of participation, I’m beginning to think that maybe it just won’t fly — and Dewey should just be allowed to die, i.e., slip into a straight-up liquidation. Perhaps Dewey’s bankruptcy advisers should stop trying to flog a product that nobody seems interested in buying.
UPDATE (4:35 PM): It looks like the Dewey estate’s perseverance has paid off. The $50 million participation threshold has been reached.
Here’s one good thing about the Partner Contribution Plan: thanks to the PCP, we now have detailed information about how much each of Dewey’s partners received from the firm in 2011 and 2012. And yes, we’re willing to share the data for the top earners with you, in spreadsheet form.
Some people are big believers in the virtues of black-box compensation. But here at Above the Law, we’re all about transparency….
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?
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….
On Friday, we broke the news of lawyer and staff layoffs at Dewey & LeBoeuf. There have been reports of the firm experiencing financial issues, and these cost-cutting measures appear to be part of a larger plan of attack. According to the memo sent out by chairman Steven H. Davis, Dewey plans to “reduc[e] the number of lawyers and administrative staff globally by approximately 5% and 6% respectively.”
But associates and support staff aren’t the only ones who will be feeling the pain. It appears that Dewey is seeking sacrifices from certain partners as well….
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been receiving interesting reports about Dewey & LeBoeuf. They were nothing but vague rumblings for a while, but they’ve now reached the point where we have enough to write about.
So let’s check in and ask: How do things stand at this major, top-tier law firm? In other words, “Where’s LeBoeuf?”
Partners at the differently abled challenged Howrey law firm continue to leave the reservation in droves. Last night, Am Law Daily reported on the departure of antitrust litigatrix Roxann Henry. She’s joining Dewey & LeBoeuf, which has picked up a number of Howrey refugees (including Henry Bunsow, former vice-chairman of the firm).
What’s next for Howrey? According to Legal Week, the remaining partners plan to vote next week on whether to wind down the firm. (For a discussion of possible Howrey endgames, see Am Law Daily, which interviewed partnership law expert Robert Hillman, a professor at UC Davis.)
After the dissolution vote, Howrey can focus on talking to Winston & Strawn about which associates and staff Winston might want (as well as other assets, like the Howrey name). As previously discussed, a few weeks ago Winston made offers to about 75 percent of Howrey’s partners. It looks like about 35 percent of Howrey’s remaining partners have agreed to join Winston, and Legal Week reports that confirmation letters went out to them last weekend.
Developments are flying fast and furious out of Howrey. Yesterday we passed along reports that Howrey’s merger talks with Winston & Strawn were off. Today we’re hearing that they might be back on (or that they never stopped in the first place).
According to the U.K.-based Legal Week (via the ABA Journal), the talks are ongoing. The parties are represented by Thomas Fitzgerald, managing partner of Winston, and Sean Boland, vice chairman of Howrey. Winston is apparently attracted to antitrust at Howrey, an area where Winston wants to expand.
Corroboration of continued Winston / Howrey discussions from a U.S. source, plus some interesting internal emails from Howrey leadership, after the jump.
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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@example.com.
Deal flow has clearly picked recently up for most US associates, counsels and partners in Hong Kong/China and Singapore. We are on the phone with a lot of these folks on a daily basis, many of whom we have known for years. Further, the head of our Asia team, Evan Jowers, and Kinney’s founder and president, Robert Kinney, frequently meet in person with leading US partners in Asia to assess their needs and keep on top of the inside scoop at as many firms as possible. The need for legal recruiting help in Asia from experienced recruiters appears to be live and well. In March, Evan and Robert were in Beijing at such meetings, in April, Evan was in Hong Kong, and for half of June Evan will be in Shanghai and Hong Kong. Thus its pretty easy for us to tell when there has been an across-the-market pick up in capital markets and corporate work.
On an average day in Asia when Evan and Robert visit firms, they typically have 5 to 9 meetings a day, mostly with US partners in the market. The reason they have these meetings is not simply because Kinney makes a lot of US attorney placements in Asia and that a particular firm may have openings; instead these are just visits with friends. After years of working together as business partners, the folks at Kinney are actually these peoples’ friends. The firms Kinney work closely with in Asia (which is just about every law firm – call us if you want to know the one firm in the world we will never place anyone with again, ever, and why) look forward to the visits, or at least act like they do. After seven years in the market, many of the client partners are former associate candidates. Also, these US partners see Kinney as a very good source of market information as well, because they know how deep their contacts are in the market and how frequently they are speaking to counterparts at peer firms.
In a land that is right here and in a time that is right now, a technology has arisen so powerful that it can replace basic human document review. Is it time to bow down before our new robot overlords?
First, here’s a little story about me: my life in the legal world began as a paralegal. My first case was a GIANT patent infringement case that was already six years old and had involved as many as five companies, multiple US courts, the ITC and an international standards committee. I knew nothing about any of this.
On my first day, my supervisor (a paralegal with at least eight other cases driving her crazy) sat me down in front of a Concordance database with a 100,000+ patents and patent file histories. “Code these,” she said. I learned that “coding”, for the purposes of this exercise, meant manually typing the inventor’s name, the title of the patent, the assignee, the file date, and other objective data for each document. I worked on that project – and only that project – for at least the first six months of my job. After a week or so, time began to blur.
What I know, in retrospect and with absolutely certainty, is that as time began to blur, so did my judgment. So did my attention to detail. If you could tell me that I did not make at least one mistake a day – one inconsistent spelling, one reversed day and month, one incorrectly spaced title – I frankly would need to see your evidence. I would not believe it. The human mind is trainable but it is not a machine.
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