Bloomberg Law has posted a short but fascinating documentary Steven Davis and Rise and Fall of Dewey LeBoeuf. Ten years after the spectacular collapse of the ALM 100 law firm, former Chairman Steve Davis  broke his silence. No other former partners agreed to be interviewed for the documentary. Commentary by David Lat, Founder of Above the Law; Vivien Chen, legal analyst at Bloomberg Law and   Prof. David Wilkens, Director of the Center for the Legal Profession at Harvard Law School is woven into the Davis narrative.

Dewey LeBoeuf was not the first ALM 100 firm to collapse.  Heller, Brobeck, Howrey,  Coudert Brothers all succumbed to the mysterious alchemy of missteps, hubris and  changed law firm economics. Dewey LeBoeuf has the distinction of being the first truly “white shoe” law firm to join this solemn procession. They were also the first collapse to result in the indictment of law firm leaders. Lat refers to  Dewey LeBoeuf as “The Lehman collapse of the legal world.”

According to Davis market forces as well as  prestigious consultants suggested in 2005  that LeBoeuf  either needed to shrink into a boutique or find a merger partner  and transform itself into a  “super firm.” The firm opted to grow and began a spectacularly aggressive recruiting spree which included enticing Ralph Ferrara  to leave Debevoise  with a $16 million sign on bonus. For the first time law firm partners were being recruited and paid like athletes. The high risk strategy worked … until it didn’t.  The American Lawyer  described LeBoeuf as a “rainmaker magnet.” But a revolving door spins partners  “in” as well as “out”. And when a group of  rainmakers threatened to leave, Davis  found a merger partner in Dewey Ballantine one of the whitest of white shoe firms where profits per partner had been in decline. The merger took place on October 1, 2007.

Continue Reading Ten Years On – Bloomberg Law Releases Documentary on the Collapse of Dewey LeBoeuf