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The pitch came from an old friend during a long bike ride. Every weekend, Ralph Ferrara says with a laugh, he “gets dressed up like a fishing lure” and “rides 50 miles a day on an Italian racing bike.” On this September day, Ferrara was riding with longtime friend Stephen Best, a partner at LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae. At one point during the ride, Best suggested to Ferrara — head of Debevoise & Plimpton’s D.C. office — that he consider coming to LeBoeuf. “I said, ‘You don’t have to tell me anything,’ ” Best says. ” ‘But next time you’re up in New York would you meet with our managing partner?’ “ Ferrara took the bait. One of the nation’s top securities lawyers, he jumped to LeBoeuf in early January. It was one of the biggest moves by a Washington rainmaker in recent memory, and it set the securities bar abuzz with speculation about what LeBoeuf did to land Ferrara. Interviews with key players in the deal reveal that the play for Ferrara involved big money, conflicting personal loyalties, and an offer to make his D.C. practice a strategic focus for the 600-attorney New York-based LeBoeuf. Ferrara’s move gives LeBoeuf one of the biggest names in a practice area that has been white-hot since the meltdown of Enron Corp. and the passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. It also dramatically elevates the Washington profile of LeBoeuf, a firm with little previous presence before the Securities and Exchange Commission. “People were after me for years,” Ferrara says. “People don’t leave firms like Debevoise. And people know people don’t leave firms like Debevoise.” For its part, Debevoise is putting the best face on the departure. Martin Frederic Evans, Debevoise’s presiding partner, says the D.C. office “will continue to be a strong and vital part” of the firm. But because of Ferrara’s stature in the securities bar and his book of business — estimated to be as much as $30 million — his move will certainly be a hit to Debevoise’s bottom line. “It’s a significant move because Ralph is a significant guy,” says David Becker, a securities attorney with Cleary, Gottlieb, Steen & Hamilton. “[He's] one of the best SEC lawyers in the country.” REELING HIM IN Like any divorce followed by hasty remarriage, it began with a quiet courtship. Best, who joined LeBoeuf in April 2003, was an almost perfect candidate to make the initial advance. He and Ferrara had worked together as co-counsel representing troubled companies such as Global Crossing and Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and had known each other for two decades. Best’s father, Judah Best, had worked with Ferrara for a decade and a half at Debevoise & Plimpton, and had lived across the street from him for years in a tony D.C. neighborhood near Embassy Row. Recruiting Ferrara put Stephen Best in a delicate position. That’s because at the same time he was wooing Ferrara, he was also in the final stages of recruiting his father to LeBoeuf. A Debevoise partner since 1987, Judah Best had recently been forced to of counsel status upon hitting Debevoise’s mandatory retirement age of 70, despite his desire to keep working. (Ferrara, 59, notes that Debevoise’s current mandatory retirement age is 67. He says age wasn’t a factor in his decision to leave.) But the older Best was and is drawing retirement benefits from Debevoise. Stephen Best was, in essence, helping to steal one of the biggest rainmakers from the firm that paid his father’s pension. Judah Best would join LeBoeuf Nov. 15, a month and a half before Ferrara. But Stephen Best says he didn’t inform his father that he had been recruiting his longtime Debevoise colleague until the Ferrara deal was set to be announced. Not long after riding bikes with Stephen Best, Ferrara would meet LeBoeuf chairman Steven Davis for dinner at Daniel, an upscale Manhattan restaurant. There, the two would begin the discussions that led to LeBoeuf making Ferrara an offer in mid-December. After consulting a financial adviser and discussing the proposal with his partners at Debevoise, Ferrara accepted LeBoeuf’s offer just before New Year’s. The entire agreement, Ferrara says, took the form of a two-page letter and an exchange of e-mails. So what was it that drove Ferrara to dump Debevoise and start anew at age 59? Foremost, Ferrara says, was a desire for a new adventure, his “indomitable spirit to do my victory lap in a grand and indomitable way.” Of course, an indomitable pile of money may have played a role as well. Several sources familiar with Debevoise’s lockstep compensation system estimate Ferrara likely grossed about $2 million annually with his old firm. One former LeBoeuf partner describes his old firm’s compensation system as “eat what you kill but eat very well.” Another source with inside knowledge of the firm’s compensation structure said that given Ferrara’s book of business, he could expect a salary in the neighborhood of $4 million annually. Additionally, Ferrara walked away from a fully vested pension at Debevoise, one he had previously told Legal Times was worth “millions and millions.” Ferrara says he was eligible to begin collecting his Debevoise pension Jan. 1. When asked in an interview whether he’d comment on word that he’d received a $14 million to $16 million upfront payment from LeBoeuf, Ferrara responds: “No, I wouldn’t want to comment on that.” But then with a laugh, and a twinkle in his eye, he says, “But I wouldn’t print 14.” Still, Ferrara insists that money wasn’t his primary reason for moving, though according to one knowledgeable source, Ferrara had been looking to leave Debevoise “for years and years.” Ferrara says that he’d turned away numerous opportunities to leave Debevoise, a firm he still speaks highly of. “I’d been recruited by many firms and they all said. ‘We’ll pay you one and a half to two times what you make at Debevoise,’ ” he says. “ But LeBoeuf had a different approach.” One of the most attractive features of LeBoeuf’s offer, he says, was their commitment to make his practice — which encompasses SEC work, white collar defense, and shareholder class actions — a core focus of the firm. Debevoise, Ferrara says, didn’t share that same focus. A HOT COMMODITY Ferrara built Debevoise’s D.C. office by servicing corporate giants like Waste Management Inc., New York Life Insurance Co., and US West. By one estimation, his clients alone accounted for more than 7 percent of 530-attorney Debevoise’s gross revenues in 2003. “Every client in that office was one I brought to the firm,” Ferrara contends. “It was the most profitable office of Debevoise.” How did Ferrara come to be a go-to guy for troubled multinationals? Law hadn’t been his first choice. As he neared graduation from Georgetown in 1967, Ferrara had his sights set on economics. But with the Vietnam War near its peak, Ferrara says he set aside an acceptance letter from the London School of Economics and opted instead for the University of Cincinnati’s law school and the draft deferment that came with studying for a professional degree. Upon graduation, Ferrara came to Washington for a stint at George Washington University’s law school before landing at the SEC. Ferrara rose quickly at the SEC, and by 1978 was named its general counsel. A friendship struck in the changing room of the Supreme Court with then-Solicitor General Wade McCree aided his rise. With McCree’s blessing, Ferrara argued before the high court five times during his tenure at the SEC, an unusually high number for an attorney at a federal agency. That blessing, Ferrara notes, was “to the chagrin of Deputy Solicitor General Frank Easterbrook,” who might have seen more time before the high court were it not for Ferrara. (Through a spokesman, Easterbrook, now a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, declined to accept a telephone call regarding this article.) By the early 1980s, Ferrara made the acquaintance of then-SEC Commissioner Stephen Friedman, a former Debevoise partner who was then preparing to return to the firm. “I was a hot commodity,” Ferrara says, noting that when he was ready to exit the SEC in 1981, he had interest from many firms in Washington. But after being approached by Friedman and other Debevoise partners, he agreed to open the firm’s D.C. office. (Among the lawyers who joined Debevoise’s growing office in the mid-1980s was Judah Best.) Debevoise retains 18 attorneys in its D.C. office, including five partners. However, counsel Anne Ashton of D.C. has joined LeBoeuf as a partner. Jonathan Richman, a counsel in the New York office, also followed Ferrara to LeBoeuf. Whether more Debevoise attorneys will join Ferrara remains to be seen. In the meantime, Ferrara says the two firms have struck an unusual agreement that allows the same team of lawyers at Debevoise and LeBoeuf to continue working on all existing business with clients like Global Crossing and Shell. For LeBoeuf, the move gives the firm instant credibility in an practice area that it had already been trying to build with the addition of the Best father-son duo and Mark Radke, a former chief of staff to then-SEC Chairman Harvey Pitt. Whether LeBoeuf’s big bet on Ferrara will pay off is uncertain. But one thing is clear: To hang on to Ferrara, the firm would do well to monitor his biking companions. Jason McLure can be reached at [email protected].

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