The gradual demise of Dewey & LeBoeuf continued on Thursday as more partners defected for Am Law 200 shops and a spin-off boutique. Plus, the struggling firm found itself hit with its first suit under the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Act (WARN), and federal regulators moved to take over its underfunded pension plans.
 

Vittoria Conn, whose LinkedIn page identifies her as a document specialist who has worked at Dewey since 1999, filed an 11-page complaint against the firm in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. She accuses Dewey of failing to abide by state and federal laws requiring employers to provide between 60 and 90 days’ notice of a mass layoff of more than 100 employees.

 
Jack Raisner and Rene Roupinian, cochairs of the WARN practice at New York–based labor and employment firm Outten & Golden, are representing Conn in the action. The suit seeks class certification status on behalf of 450 employees that have been terminated at Dewey between May 7 and May 11, according to the complaint. Conn is seeking 60 days’ pay and benefits for herself and all other similarly situated Dewey workers. ( Bloomberg first reported the news of Conn’s suit on Thursday.)
 
Raisner told The Am Law Daily last week that his firm had been contacted by Dewey employees, noting that WARN notices sent to some of those employees last Friday might not be sufficient to protect the firm from liability if it terminated workers before the 60- to 90-day window closed.
 
That notion was seconded by Charles Ercole, a WARN Act litigation veteran and partner with Philadelphia’s Klehr Harrison Harvey Branzburg, who said in a statement Thursday that employers like Dewey often fail to comply with their WARN obligations because they’re “focused solely on saving or selling the business.”
 
Secretaries at Dewey are set to have their last day at the firm Friday, while some associates have been told that they’ll be let go next Tuesday, according to sibling publication the New York Law Journal. A spokesman for Dewey did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the firm’s fate and the WARN litigation it now faces from its own employees.
 
Meanwhile, federal regulators are taking steps to seize pension plans at Dewey that face a shortfall of more than $80 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. Dewey reportedly has only $127 million in assets to offset $214 million in pension obligations as it faces a May 15 deadline with its lender banks JPMorgan Chase, Citi Private Bank, Bank of America, and HSBC.
 
The Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation, an independent U.S. government agency that protects pensions by charging insurance premiums on employers, said in a statement late Thursday that it will take responsibility for three pension plans covering nearly 1,800 Dewey employees. 
 
As of Thursday, almost 180 of Dewey’s 300 partners had left the firm since the beginning of the year. The New York–based firm was created out of a September 2007 merger between Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae.
 
One former Dewey partner, who spoke with The Am Law Daily on Thursday, couldn’t help but reminisce about the ramifications of that ill-fated union. The partner says the cultures of the two firms never quite meshed—Dewey’s attorneys had the refined air of a traditional white-shoe New York firm, with LeBoeuf Lamb’s lawyers were more blue-collar, working-class types. The difference continues–the legions of laterals now emanating from the firm tend to fall into either the Dewey camp or the LeBoeuf camp.
 
Indeed, the 23-partner group led by global litigation chair Jeffrey Kessler that defected on Wednesday to Winston & Strawn was composed mostly of former Dewey Ballantine partners, save for litigator John Aerni. Berge Setrakian’s project finance and corporate litigation team that headed to DLA Piper earlier this week consisted of almost 10 partners who all initially hailed from LeBoeuf Lamb. Only the group that former Dewey corporate department cochair Richard Shutran led to O’Melveny & Myers consisted of a blend of lawyers from both legacy firms.
 
On Thursday, several Am Law 200 and international firms announced new Dewey hires.
 
Clifford Chance confirmed the hire of former Dewey securities litigation partner Robert Myers as senior counsel in New York. The Magic Circle firm got the Dewey departure wave started in January when it poached M&A partners Joseph Cosentino and Ivan Presant from Dewey in New York.
 
Also leaving in New York was financial services litigation partner Henry Ricardo, who joined Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler on Thursday. Mayer Brown continued its string of hires from Dewey by bringing on New York–based banking and finance partner Barbara Goodstein. The firm also brought on Dewey insurance industry partners Richard Spitzer, Stephen Rooney, and James Woods earlier this year.
 
Baker Botts announced the hire of energy transactions partners Michael Didriksen and William Lamb in New York, along with Thomas Moore in Houston. Lamb was the cochair of Dewey’s utilities, power, and pipelines group, while Moore served as cochair of the firm’s energy M&A practice.
 
In San Francisco, IP litigation partners Henry Bunsow and Denise DeMory are splitting off to form an 11-attorney boutique, according to sibling publication The Recorder. Bunsow, who joined Dewey in a high-profile move from the faltering Howrey last year, told The Recorder that he did not want to make another hasty decision. As a result his new firm, Bunsow & DeMory, will be up and running by next week.
 
And in Moscow, another hotspot for recent Dewey hires, Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe has announced the hire of corporate partners Leo Batalov and Dmitry Gubarev. Orrick will also take on a team of Dewey corporate finance and M&A associates in London, according to U.K. publication Legal Week.
 
While the losses pile up, several key partners still remain at the firm, including Martin Bienenstock and L. Charles Landgraf, the last two remaining members of Dewey’s office of the chairman. Bienenstock is the founder and chair of the business solutions and governance department; Landgraf is the chair of the firm’s legislative and public policy practice and managing partner of Dewey’s office in Washington, D.C.
 
Also still at Dewey, for the time being, are M&A practice head and newly appointed executive partner Stephen Horvath; vice-chair and regulatory and corporate governance partner Ralph Ferrara; global private equity chair Joseph Smith; corporate securities group and Latin America practice chair Michael Fitzgerald; and bankruptcy expert and Los Angeles office managing partner Bruce Bennett.
 
Sources say that Bennett, who joined Dewey in a high-profile lateral move last year, is in advanced talks about joining Irell & Manella. Bienenstock, who joined Dewey in the fall of 2007, has been in discussions with Greenberg Traurig. Fitzgerald, who came aboard last summer, has also spoken with Greenberg, Latham & Watkins, and White & Case. And Smith has held talks with Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, Mayer Brown, and Schulte Roth & Zabel.
 
Dewey is expected to close its doors for good next week.
 
Additional reporting by Julie Triedman and Ross Todd.