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Nearly two years after Howrey went under, the trustee overseeing the defunct firm’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy is ramping up his efforts to recover tens of millions of dollars from former partners and the firms they moved to. A total of 71 firms hired the 302 partners streaming out of Howrey in the months leading up to its March 2011 dissolution. Trustee Allan Diamond says he is seeking about $100 million in clawback claims for money paid to former partners when the firm was likely insolvent, as well as an estimated up to $100 million more for so-called unfinished business claims stemming from work those partners took with them to their new firms. Both types of claims are a common source of recovery in law firm bankruptcies. In the Chapter 11 case of Dewey & LeBoeuf, for instance, the estate’s advisers hope to collect some $70 million from former partners as part of a “rough justice” settlement currently awaiting final approval in federal bankruptcy court in New York. Unfinished business settlements with firms that Dewey partners landed at are in the works as well. Thelen, which dissolved in 2008 and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in 2009, continues to reach settlements with former partners years later. Most recently, eight former partners agreed to pay back a collective $475,000, according to Law360. On the unfinished business front, Thelen has collected at least $1.9 million from successor firms, court filings show. Diamond says he plans to take a new approach to reach settlements in the Howrey case by presenting law firms with a bundled settlement plan that includes both the claims against individual partners and the unfinished business claims against the firm. How the firm and its partners decide to divvy up the responsibility and pay the estate is up to them, he says. Also, unlike in the Dewey case, where the estate chose to recover money paid to partners only after January 2011, Diamond says he doesn’t plan to have a hard-and-fast date. Instead, he’ll approach each settlement “with a rational model based upon the strength of my claim at various points in time.” Based on his discussions so far, Diamond groups the 71 firms into a few categories: About 20 to 25 firms that he’s been talking to for months and hopes to settle by using an all-in-one proposal; others who want him to speak directly with partners rather than presenting the claims together; and less than 10 firms in what he calls a “go stick it in your ear” camp that refuse to cooperate. A handful of others have complicating factors, including potential claims Diamond hopes to bring against them related to contingency fee cases or partners’ one-time roles on Howrey’s dissolution committee.

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