Zolfo Cooper

For some reason, very few law firms are prepared to deal with the headcount issues. It is interesting because the reaction from them also is peculiar. I think it was reported—I don’t know, maybe 12 months ago—that Weil Gotshal had a significant layoff of lawyers. They reduced—I think it was their associates, but maybe it was of counsel as well—and there was quite a negative reaction in the press to that.

I am not privy to any of their numbers or anything that is going on in the firm, but, as a restructuring person, my reaction is, “Look, this is someone getting their house in order. This is an appropriate thing to do.” It is no secret that revenues across the industry are down. And, so, you either need to take market share, or you need to right size your organization.

Joff Mitchell of Zolfo Cooper, during an interview with David J. Parnell of Forbes, speaking about how layoffs are frowned upon in Biglaw.

(For the record, Weil laid off 60 associates — about 7 percent of its associate ranks — and 110 staff members, about half of whom were legal secretaries.)

‘That’ll be $27,000… XOXO, Dentons’

* Let’s get ready to rumble! Not wanting to be left out of the party, Oklahoma has also asked the Supreme Court to take a look at its same-sex marriage statute which was recently slapped down by the Tenth Circuit. [National Law Journal]

* Dewey know what financial restructuring adviser Joff Mitchell of Zolfo Cooper said to this failing firm’s partners right before it flopped for good? “Look, there is no way here to save this firm.” Ouch. That had to have sucked. [Forbes]

* The examiner who was appointed to monitor law firm billing for the City of Detroit’s bankruptcy is now questioning Dentons’ fees of up to $27K per month to talk to the press. Whoa there… [Detroit Free Press]

* Working Mother and Flex-Time Lawyers have released the latest ranking of the Top 50 Law Firms for Women. Vivia Chen feels “a bit dirty” after reading the list — and you probably should, too. [The Careerist]

* Leisure Suit Larry’s successors are here to stay for a while: Case Western Reserve Law’s co-interim deans will stay on in their current positions for the upcoming school year. [Crain's Cleveland Business]

Albert Togut: man with a plan (of reorganization).

Maybe the floundering firm of Patton Boggs can actually right itself. It doesn’t have the Biglaw mark of Cain, namely, a name that lends itself to bad puns — e.g., Dewey and “do we,” Howrey and “how are we,” and Thelen (rhymes with “feelin'”). In hindsight, Patton Boggs did the right thing when it dropped George Blow’s name from the marquee and went from “Patton Boggs & Blow” — a name we would have had a field day with — to simply “Patton Boggs.”

(Yes, Patton Boggs has some pun potential. But there are only so many “bogs down” and swamp-related plays on words to be had. Yes, even for us.)

Luckily, for the time being we can use some “Dewey” puns. Because Patton Boggs, for whatever reason, is using all of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s old advisers….

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For those of you who haven’t tuned out Jarndyce v. Jarndyce Chevron Corp. v. Donziger, the never-ending litigation between oil giant Chevron and plaintiffs’ lawyer Steven Donziger, today brings some news. It shouldn’t come as any surprise to those who have been following the case, but Judge Lewis Kaplan (S.D.N.Y.) just ruled in favor of Chevron, enjoining Donziger and his Ecuadorean-villager clients from trying to enforce here in the United States the multi-billion-dollar pollution judgment they secured against Chevron in Ecuador — a judgment that was the result of fraud, according to Judge Kaplan. (Links to coverage and to the parties’ reactions to the ruling appear at the end of this post.)

The Chevron/Ecuador case is one of those matters that’s most interesting to those who are actually involved in it; to the rest of us, it’s a lot of noise. Speaking for myself, I’m interested in only two aspects of it: (1) its impact on the revenue and profit of Gibson Dunn, which has been litigating the case aggressively on behalf of Chevron, and (2) its meaning for the deeply troubled law firm of Patton Boggs, which made the ill-advised decision to align itself with the Ecuadorean village people.

In a media call this afternoon that I joined, Chevron’s general counsel, R. Hewitt Pate, declined to discuss the size of the company’s legal fees in the litigation. So we’ll have to focus on that second item: the bog that is Patton Boggs. Which right now looks like the Lago Agrio oil field, prior to remediation….

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This morning I attended the confirmation hearing for the Chapter 11 bankruptcy plan of Dewey & LeBoeuf. As I mentioned on Twitter a few minutes after leaving the hearing, Judge Martin Glenn confirmed the plan.

Under the plan, secured creditors will recover between 47 to 77 cents on the dollar, while unsecured creditors will wind up with 5 to 14 cents on the dollar. Secured creditors hold about $262 million in claims; total creditor claims, secured and unsecured, amount to about $550 million.

So that’s the bottom line. But what was the hearing itself like? Here are my observations, including a few photos — because bankruptcy court coverage is totally WWOP….

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* Dewey know whether Judge Martin Glenn approved this failed firm’s $71.5 million partner contribution plan? We certainly do, and D&L’s chief restructuring officer, Joff Mitchell of Zolfo Cooper, is simply “delighted” about it. [Wall Street Journal (sub. req.)]

* Bitch better have my money? The United States is suing Wells Fargo under the little known Financial Institutions Reform, Recover, and Enforcement Act for allegedly screwing it out of approximately eleventy billion dollars. [DealBook / New York Times]

* “Flat is the new up for the legal sector,” except in Cleveland, because law firms there have been on hiring sprees throughout 2012. But unfortunately, there is a down side — it’s Cleveland. [Cleveland Plain-Dealer]

* Diversity: no longer just an old wooden ship. Almost every law school-related amicus brief filed in Fisher v. University of Texas has backed the consideration of race in admissions decisions. [National Law Journal]

* There’s officially at least one benefit in attending Thomas M. Cooley Law — the school collects so much money from students that it’s able to attract big-name speakers, like ex-rocker Henry Rollins. [Michigan Live]

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….

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As we noted in Morning Docket, many former partners of Dewey & LeBoeuf are less than pleased with the proposed settlement between the D&L bankruptcy estate and ex-partners of the firm. Preliminary reactions “rang[e] from skepticism to anger,” according to Am Law Daily.

In the words of Mark Zauderer, counsel to almost 60 former Dewey partners, “I’m not seeing overwhelming enthusiasm for the proposal.” A former D&L partner was even more blunt: “I think this is destined to fail. Let the trustee [of a Chapter 7 liquidation] go for it.”

But not everyone holds such negative views. One ex-partner — who claims that he’s being asked to pay more than he thought he owed, and that he’ll have to postpone his retirement by several years due to Dewey’s downfall — told Thomson Reuters that he will vote for the deal anyway. “My view is there’s nothing less desirable than having this drag out for years,” he said. “I’m willing to pay a lot of money to have this go away.”

Dewey have other issues besides how to deal with former partners? Most certainly. There are pressing problems regarding the disposition of client files, as well as issues regarding retirement benefits for former Dewey & LeBoeuf employees….

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(And bad news for D&L 401(k) participants.)

Debtor in possession -- of a sign? Dewey still seems to have signage outside 1301 Avenue of the Americas. (Photo taken on Tuesday by yours truly.)

Ever since the once high-flying Dewey & LeBeouf filed for bankruptcy in late May, observers have been wondering about what type of financial arrangement the firm might work out with its former partners. Last month, we discussed the outlines of a possible settlement between D&L and its ex-partners, in which former partners would pay a certain amount of money into the Dewey bankruptcy estate in exchange for being released from future claims by Dewey’s estate, the firm’s creditors, and fellow ex-partners.

Would such a plan fly? We noted that the broad outlines sounded reasonable enough, but that much would turn on the specific contours of the proposal — especially the amounts that the partners would be asked to pay, and the methodology for determining those sums.

In the wake of a meeting held yesterday afternoon here in New York at a hotel in midtown Manhattan, we now have some additional information on that front….

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Clean-up efforts are underway at Dewey & LeBoeuf — and we’re not talking about the work of the janitors (at least not the ones who were allegedly stiffed on $300,000). Rather, we’re talking about the work being done by Dewey as debtor, aided by its high-priced advisory team, to put its affairs in order and to maximize the recovery for its creditors.

One of the biggest messes: how to deal with the firm’s hundreds of former partners. Dewey’s lead lawyer, Albert Togut of Togut Segal & Segal, has already made clear his plans to seek some funds from them.

In a conference call yesterday afternoon, Dewey’s bankruptcy advisers informed ex-partners about the contours of a possible global settlement….

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