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NEW YORK — As Dewey Ballantine proceeds with plans to close its Hong Kong office by the end of the month, bitter feelings have surfaced over how the firm reached its decision to shutter the seven-lawyer office and the racially insensitive way the firm parodied that decision at a firmwide annual dinner. By long-standing tradition, Dewey’s annual dinner offers associates an opportunity to poke fun at the firm’s partners and policy, usually in the form of song. At this year’s dinner, held Jan. 31 at the Plaza Hotel, the closing of the Hong Kong office was lampooned to the tune of “Hello Dolly.” Retitled “The Dirge of Long Duck Dong” in apparent reference to the stereotypical Chinese exchange student in the movie “Sixteen Candles,” Dewey’s parody accused the Hong Kong office of having a weak client base and said the office was now “chow mein” and was getting “the gong.” “You were the firm’s folly,” the song continued, “and now we so solly to be cutting off your source of livelihood.” An associate in the firm’s Hong Kong office, who was not at the dinner, said Hong Kong Managing Partner John Otoshi returned to Hong Kong livid about the parody. He told lawyers there he walked out during its singing. Otoshi, who has the option of returning to New York as a partner, did not return a call seeking comment. A Dewey associate who attended the dinner said the parody was ” very distasteful and very crude,” and derogatory to the firm’s Asian lawyers. “I’m terribly offended,” she said. Dewey Chairman Everett Jassy agreed that the song parody may have been in bad taste, particularly its mocking of Asian accents. “I don’t like that ‘solly,’” he said. “That shouldn’t have been there.” However, Jassy said no one had expressed any offense to him at the time. He said he did not recall Otoshi leaving, but added the two had spoken since the dinner and the song had not come up. Jassy said the song had to be understood in the context of the sophomoric humor typical of the firm’s annual dinner. The associates who write the songs, he said, are permitted to remain anonymous, and partners generally do not see the lyrics until the dinner, where they are presented in the dinner program. Another dinner attendee also said the song seemed to raise no fuss at the time. “We’d probably all had four or five drinks by then,” he said. The associate who said she was offended said many associates were afraid to raise the issue, given the current economic environment. The firm had large-scale associate layoffs in 2001, she noted, and other associates had been asked to leave since then. For the Hong Kong associates, that fear has already come to pass though, and the parody just seemed like salt rubbed in their wounds. Closure Announcement The announced closure came as a shock to lawyers there, the Hong Kong associate said. Associates were informed Jan. 17 after what seemed to be less than a week of discussion. The associate said the decision appeared to be related to the expiration of the office’s current lease at the end of March. It was convenient timing, the associate said, for New York partners who have been less than enthusiastic about financing overseas expansion that can cut into their profits. The Hong Kong office was on the brink, the associate said, even though it had made the preferred provider lists there for several large investment banks and was pursuing a major transaction in China at the time the firm decided to shut it down. “All indications were good that we were going to get in on some of the largest transactions going,” the associate said. Anthony Lin is a reporter for The New York Law Journal, an American Lawyer Media affiliate.

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