When Dewey & LeBoeuf’s management sent out an internal memo on April 30 suggesting that partners should seek other job opportunities, it opened up a world of possibilities for partner James Bowe Jr.
Bowe, an energy specialist who served on the executive committee of the dying firm, said he didn’t start to explore other options until after the memo was released, out of a sense of loyalty.
But for Bowe, sadness at Dewey’s swift implosion was mitigated by excitement over scores of new job prospects. He said he was approached by more than 50 firms. At the suggestion of his wife, he kept track in a spreadsheet and quickly narrowed his choices down to about a dozen firms. He chose King & Spalding on May 11 and started the following Monday. A process that can normally take upwards of four months took about 11 days.
“I was fortunate,” Bowe said. “It’s nice to be wanted.”
According to headcount data from the 2011 Legal Times 150 survey, published last December, Dewey & LeBoeuf had 102 attorneys, including 33 partners, in Washington. During the past few months, partners have streamed out of Dewey’s D.C. office. From Feb. 1 through late last week, 32 Washington partners had left, according to data compiled by NLJ affiliate The American Lawyer.
The Washington offices of Bracewell & Giuliani, Sidley Austin, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan and Willkie Farr & Gallagher have been among many that have picked up partners from Dewey in recent weeks.
Edward Lee, founding principal at recruiting firm Whitehaven Strategies, said that the sudden flood of Dewey attorneys into Washington’s legal market led to a “piranha-like recruiting frenzy” from firms and legal recruiters looking to pick up talent. “The stress level for many of the…Dewey partners must be overwhelming during these times,” he said.
For some D.C.-based Dewey lawyers, this wasn’t the first time they went through the upheaval of a big-firm disintegration.
When Howrey collapsed, a group of five Washington antitrust partners landed at Dewey & LeBoeuf. Roxann Henry, Marc Schildkraut, Jacqueline Grise, M.J. Moltenbrey and Mark Clifford Schechter joined Dewey in March 2011. The group had survived the collapse of one firm intact, but the second crash finally broke up the team. Grise and Schildkraut moved to Cooley on May 21. Moltenbrey and Schechter have yet to announce where they’re going next. Henry moved to Morrison & Foerster on May 17.
“It was sad,” Henry said. “Our antitrust group that we brought over was growing. It had a great culture of collegiality. Our time at Dewey was, from a practice perspective, fantastic.”
Grise said she’s already helping out on three new matters at Cooley, in addition to the existing workload she brought with her. She and Schildkraut said that Cooley has a growing antitrust practice that fit with their own practices. Grise focuses on mergers and acquisitions, while Schildkraut has been working in the high-tech realm.
“Cooley is a strong, growing firm with a terrific client base and a growing antitrust presence,” Schildkraut said. “Our interests in this were completely aligned, so it seemed like a great place to go.”
Schildkraut and Grise said that when they left Howrey, they were given more time to plan for their departure. With Dewey, they were working under a condensed time line.
“Having had that experience made it easier the second time,” Grise said.
Schildkraut attributed the collapse, in part, to poor revenue performance and unequal compensation among partners. “From what we know, among other things, the level of compensation the year before was not up to expectations,” Schildkraut said. “At a certain point, partners start thinking they need to leave. There are not federal government guarantees to back up a law firm like there is to back up a bank.”
For partners Mark Walsh and Jocelyn Bramble, who last week announced they had moved to Duane Morris, the experience of leaving Dewey and moving to a new firm was particularly harrowing.
Walsh, who joined LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae in 1998, described the evening the internal memo was released as “a watershed moment.” He said that for the previous six weeks, he observed a range of emotions among those still left at the firm, including uncertainty, anger and sadness. Once it was announced that Dewey would not survive, he said, the outpouring of support from not only his colleagues at the firm, but outside vendors as well, was overwhelming.
“It was a relief in the sense that it was an end to the uncertainty, but at the same time, an acknowledgement of the end,” Bramble said.
Walsh was among several Dewey attorneys who expressed concern about the firm’s nonlawyer professionals, some of whom haven’t had as easy a time finding new work. “That is a huge piece of the success of Dewey & LeBoeuf and the kind of service the firm was able to deliver,” Walsh said.
Several other prominent lawyers left Dewey in recent weeks. One was lobbyist L. Charles Landgraf, who was part of Dewey’s four-person office of the chairman and head of Dewey’s D.C. outpost. Landgraf, who decamped for Arnold & Porter on May 16, said his new firm was a “terrific” fit. “I think it will be the ideal platform for me,” he said.
Securities litigation partners Ralph Ferrara and Ann Ashton left for Proskauer Rose on May 21. Ferrara’s departure marked one of the last senior holdouts among partners in the Washington office. He declined to comment through a spokesman.
Those Dewey lawyers in Washington lucky enough to land at new firms quickly say they are grateful — and trying, despite the tumult of the last several weeks — to take a big-picture view.
“It doesn’t do me much good to look back,” Bowe said. “It’s a lot more encouraging to think about the opportunities that lie ahead.”
Staff reporter Andrew Ramonas contributed to this report. Matthew Huisman can be reached at email@example.com.