McGuireWoods partner John Fennebresque keeps photographs of friends and family on a credenza in his Charlotte, N.C., office. Among the snapshots of children and grandchildren sits a picture from a golf outing a few years ago, where Fennebresque stands next to former Bank of America Corporation CEO Kenneth Lewis and the bank's chief administrative officer, J. Steele Alphin.
Late last fall, when asked about his relationship with Lewis, Fennebresque paused briefly. After 35 years of living and working in Charlotte, the Long Island native has picked up the southern habit of thinking silently for a few seconds before replying to questions. "He's my friend, and I'm his lawyer," Fennebresque says.
For many Charlotte lawyers, friendship and business are intertwined. Attorneys live and work in close proximity to their clients. They belong to the same country clubs. Their kids go to the same schools. They've lived through the town's meteoric rise over the past 30 years, and now they're weathering the recession alongside one another. Fennebresque has known Lewis since the seventies, when they worked on basic lending deals together. And watching BofA's troubles -- litigation woes after the shotgun merger with Merrill Lynch & Co., Inc.; a congressional inquiry; difficulty in picking a successor to Lewis -- hasn't been easy. "Our relationship with the bank goes way beyond John Fennebresque and Ken Lewis," Fennebresque explains. "We have relationships that are both personal and institutional."
Before the market meltdown in the fall of 2008, Charlotte, the nation's second-largest financial services hub, was headquarters to the largest and third-largest banks in the United States measured by deposits -- Bank of America and Wachovia Corp. But in the last 18 months, the banks that used to be the biggest exclamation points in a booming regional economy became Charlotte's biggest question marks. Wachovia's purchase by San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. has moved the seat of power for the region's largest employer outside Charlotte, and Bank of America's problems are national news.
As the banks go, so go their law firms.
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