Dewey & LeBoeuf: The Rise And Fall Of A ‘White-Shoe’ Law Firm

By | January 30, 2015

Dewey & LeBoeuf, a New York-based law giant, made the wrong kind of history in 2012 when it became the largest law firm in US history to fail!

White-Shoe Firm Defined – ‘The most prestigious firms in professions such as law, investment banking and management consulting. White-shoe firms typically have a blue-chip clientele, acquired over the several decades that they have been in existence. The term is believed to have been derived from the “white buck” suede oxford shoes that were popular among certain sections of the student population at Yale and other Ivy League colleges during the 1950s.’ (Source)

To many of those watching from the outside, and even many living it on the inside, Dewey & LeBoeuf appeared the picture of financial health and an example of a merger of two firms (Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & McRae) that had gone exceedingly well.

The reality, however, was in fact far from that perception as the 2012 failure of the firm, along with criminal indictments against some members of its leadership team, clearly shows.

It’s an interesting story of a businesses rise and fall but, more than that it, the demise of Dewey & LeBoeuf serves as a reminder to corporate leaders in every industry that it’s imperative to manage by way of a solid strategic plan and to try and keep ego out of the decision-making mix!

From the ABAJournal, ‘How Dewey management’s rosy picture masked an ugly truth‘!

In December 2011, Dewey & LeBoeuf chair Steven Davis used a calm, matter-of-fact tone in a phone interview about his firm’s uncharacteristically aggressive streak of lateral partner hiring during the previous year. It was all part of the plan, Davis said.

“When we created the firm, we said that our fundamental strategy was to be in the category of elite global law firms,” Davis told this reporter during an interview for a story that appeared in The American Lawyer magazine. “We wanted to be the firm that targeted complicated and challenging work from great clients and was capable of working throughout the globe.”

After the 2007 merger of the highly regarded New York City-based firms Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & McRae, Davis’ primary focus for several years was integration. That changed when 2011 hit, as Davis said he felt it was time to execute part two of his plan to make Dewey into a global law firm behemoth.

During its last year and change of existence, Dewey & LeBoeuf was clearly in expansion mode, having welcomed nearly 40 lateral partners, including well-respected lawyers and BigLaw veterans such as Latin America corporate specialist Michael Fitzgerald of Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy; mergers and acquisitions partner Ilan Nissan of O’Melveny & Myers; and intellectual property litigator Henry Bunsow and antitrust litigator Roxann Henry, both of whom came from Howrey.

But just one month after the interview, Davis was singing a different tune. During a global partners’ meeting, Davis was widely reported to have revealed that the firm was on the verge of collapse. Those newly acquired lawyers were now back on the market—only this time they were joined by every single one of their partners, counsel, associates, secretaries and other Dewey & LeBoeuf employees. Within six months, references to the firm were in past tense.

Dewey & LeBoeuf wasn’t just history; it had made it, too. When it shuttered its doors in May 2012, it was the largest law firm failure in U.S. history.

Read the rest of the article here.


Michael Haltman, President of Hallmark Abstract Service, New York.

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