At Dewey & LeBoeuf, the only order seems to be in who’s next to head for the door. On Wednesday, two members of the struggling firm’s four-partner office of the chairman—Richard Shutran and Jeffrey Kessler—prepared to decamp elsewhere.
The looming losses of Kessler and Shutran leave L. Charles Landgraf and Martin Bienenstock as the only two remaining members of Dewey’s office of the chairman. Landgraf is managing partner of the firm’s office in Washington, D.C., and chair of its legislative and public policy practice; Bienenstock is chair of the firm’s business solutions and governance department.
O’Melveny & Myers announced that it was hiring Shutran, the cochair of Dewey’s corporate department and the chair of its global finance practice, along with tax chair Arthur Hazlitt, renewable and clean energy practice cochair Junaid Chida, and partners Dev Sen and Mark Caterini, all of whom are based in New York.
Shutran said in a statement, ”We saw a great opportunity at O’Melveny, not only to help deepen the firm’s transactions capabilities in New York and elsewhere, but also to join an excellent team of lawyers whose values are consistent with our own.” O’Melveny added in its statement that Shutran will join the firm on May 14.
Tax partners Hazlitt and Caterini and project development and real estate partners Chida and Sen will join O’Melveny on May 10. The moves follow O’Melveny’s hire last month of Stanton Lovenworth, the former chair of Dewey’s life sciences global industry practice, as of counsel in New York.
The Am Law Daily reported on Tuesday that Shutran and members of his finance team were in advanced talks with O’Melveny. Shutran, who was not immediately available for comment, was considered the primary liaison at Dewey with the firm’s banks. Shutran helped Dewey orchestrate a nearly $150 million bond offering in 2010 designed to refinance the firm’s existing bank debt. (Payments on that bond were due to begin next year.)
Also on Wednesday, a Kessler-led team of roughly 60 lawyers—23 of them partners—prepared to leave Dewey for Winston & Strawn. In addition to belonging to Dewey’s office of the chairman, Kessler was also global litigation chair and the cochair of the firm’s prominent sports litigation group. 
Winston chairman Dan Webb—one of the country’s leading litigators and a member of his firm’s executive committee—confirmed to The Am Law Daily that his firm had been in “intense negotiations” over the past week to bring a “significant number of litigators” from Dewey’s offices in Chicago, London, Los Angeles, New York, and Washington, D.C. Webb says that the bulk of the hires will be in New York, where Winston has wanted to bolster its presence in recent years.
“We’ve really wanted to build up our national litigation profile, and you can’t do that without expanding on the East Coast,” says Webb, who adds that the firm has enough space in its 180-lawyer New York office for the new Dewey hires. ( Winston signed a lease in December 2010 to renew and expand its Manhattan office in the MetLife Building at 200 Park Avenue.)
The Am Law Daily reported on Tuesday that Kessler’s group, in addition to negotiating with Winston, had also held talks with Greenberg Traurig, King & Spalding, and Morrison & Foerster. Above the Law first reported Wednesday morning that Kessler and his group were headed to Winston, which is also poised to pick up Dewey energy and project finance partner Elias Farrah in Washington, D.C., along with an associate and paralegal from the ailing firm.
Webb notes that Winston will take on dozens of other associates and an undetermined number of administrative staff from Dewey. He expects most of the new hires to join Winston as soon as Monday.
Other key partners joining Winston include sports litigation practice cochair David Feher and longtime Dewey litigators Harvey Kurzweil and Seth Farber, the latter two of which were conducting an internal inquiry into the business practices of former Dewey chairman Steven Davis, who is also under investigation by the district attorney’s office in Manhattan. (Neither Farber nor Kurzweil responded to requests for comment on the status of that probe.)
Farber, Feher, Kessler, and Kurzweil will join Winston in New York, along with fellow former Dewey partners A. Paul Victor, James Smith III, John Aerni, Aldo Badini, Suzanne Jaffe Bloom, Eva Wolaniuk Cole, David Greenspan, Adam Kaiser, Kelly Librera, George Mastoris, Jonathan Miller, Richard Reinthaler, and Kevin Wallace. Leaving Dewey in London for Winston is competition and disputes partner Peter Crowther. Energy litigation partners Timothy Carey and Elizabeth Bradshaw and two counsel are joining Winston in Chicago from Dewey, as well as litigation partners John Schreiber and Matthew Walsh in Los Angeles.
Last year, Chicago-based Winston considered a possible merger with Howrey prior to that firm’s eventual collapse. In the end, Winston picked up Howrey’s 40-lawyer Houston office, and in September added Robert Ruyak, Howrey’s former managing partner and CEO, to its growing bench of litigators. “We ended up taking 51 lawyers from Howrey and they’ve really integrated well into our litigation practice,” Webb adds.
Webb thinks that the Dewey hires will further expand Winston’s range. “While we’re usually in the room to get these ‘bet-the-company’-type cases, we don’t get all of them,” he says. “But there’s a lot of standouts [among the incoming Dewey attorneys] that will further enhance our team of first-tier trial lawyers.”
By adding Kessler and his group, many of whom specialize in bringing antitrust and IP cases, Winston gains one of the more profitable practice areas at Dewey in recent years. Several former Dewey partners say that Kessler, who joined predecessor firm Dewey Ballantine in 2003 from Weil, Gotshal & Manges, was paid more than $5 million a year by the firm.
Kessler, who did not respond to a request for comment, is best known for his top-notch sports practice, which includes long-standing client relationships with the players unions of the National Basketball Association and National Football League.
The Am Law Daily recently reported on Kessler’s retention by the NFL Players Association (NFLPA) for two grievances against the league over its suspension of several players for the New Orleans Saints. Kessler and Dewey have also been caught up in a leadership fight at the National Basketball Players Association (NBPA).
Both players unions are coming off collective bargaining battles with management that yielded millions in legal fees for Kessler and his team from Dewey, according to our previous reports. (Kessler’s son, Andrew, is a registered sports agent with Irvine, California–based Athletes First.)
Kessler has also handled high-profile pro bono representations for the likes of South African sprinter Oscar Pistorius, a double-amputee who won a court battle over his right to compete in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Besides his sports work, Kessler also boasts an impressive Japanese legal practice, having represented companies like Matsushita and Panasonic in various cases.
Landgraf and Bienenstock, the two remaining members of Dewey’s office of the chairman, did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday. Both lawyers also sit on Dewey’s executive committee. Stephen Horvath, the head of Dewey’s M&A practice who was named to the newly created position of executive partner in late March, also did not respond to a request for comment.
Other firms picking up Dewey lawyers on Wednesday were Baker & Hostetler, Foley Hoag, and Vinson & Elkins. V&E confirmed the hire, first reported last week, of Dewey’s project finance and infrastructure practice cochair Nabil Khodadad and partner Andrew Nealon in London. Khodadad will become the cohead of Vinson’s project finance practice.
Foley Hoag announced the hire of Dewey international litigation and arbitration partner Derek Smith and counsel Luis Parada in Washington, D.C., while two other IP litigation partners from that office, Melvin Schwechter and Lawrence Sung, have joined Baker & Hostetler.
Other top partners remaining at Dewey include vice-chair and regulatory and corporate governance partner Ralph Ferrara, global private equity chair Joseph Smith, corporate securities group and Latin American practice chair Michael Fitzgerald, and Bruce Bennett, a bankruptcy expert and managing partner of the firm’s Los Angeles office.
Both Fitzgerald and Bennett joined Dewey in high-profile lateral moves last year. As of midday Wednesday, the firm has seen roughly half of its 300 partners head for the exits this year alone, amid internal disputes over compensation, a mounting debt load, and an inability to find a merger partner.
Dewey’s remaining partners have yet to schedule a vote on a dissolution of the firm, although Dewey is expected to shut its doors by May 15, a date on which the firm’s California offices are scheduled to close, according to sibling publication The Recorder. The New York Law Journal, another sibling publication, reported Tuesday that some associates at the firm have been told layoffs could also begin sometime in the next few days.
Additional reporting by Sara Randazzo.