Dewey and LeBoeuf, a storied New York law firm, seems ready to enter bankruptcy and wind down operations. It has suffered from partner exists and a heavy debt load. We asked our Zintro experts to comment on this recent event and the effect on clients, lawyers, and the legal system.
Jerry Kowalski, a law firm management consultant, says that the demise of Dewey and LeBoeuf has shaken the profession to the core. “The implosion of this legal titan, the 13th largest law firm in the world, has disrupted hundreds of lives, destroyed thousands of pensions, and sidetracked, probably permanently, scores of professional careers,” he says. “In this tragic saga of alleged misfeasance and nonfeasance, another victim is the legal profession as the many stakeholders have had their confidence in the profession permanently displaced.’
Kowalski highlights the impact on workers. “Dozens of dedicated support workers who have given of themselves selflessly for decades find themselves on the streets. Young lawyers, just beginning their life’s journeys, are unemployable. Clients, long looking to their lawyers for guidance on critical business matters, now look quizzically at these long time counselors, questioning their business judgment and wondering how they can be trusted when they lacked the sense to manage their own affairs. Reputations, taking decades to build, take only nanoseconds to sully. Each player in the Dewey Debacle has suffered irreparable reputational damage and tremendous financial pain. There are no winners here, only victims,” he says.
Mark Larsn, a general counsel for a strategic advisory firm, says that when a law firm like Dewey and LeBoeuf implodes, it mainly affects the partners of the law firm who are typically personally liable for the debts of the law firm. ”The clients will typically move with the partner that works with the client, which further strains the old law firm’s revenues. Clients are reluctant or slow to pay the old firm. The client wants to make sure files are properly handled and the bill is valid. This can be difficult when the billing attorneys have all left the firm,” he says.
And even in the event of a large law firm meltdown, Larsn says the legal system will continue to survive. “The real issue is whether the legal industry will wake up and realize that the old business model is dead or dying, and it needs to operate differently in order to survive. Bigger is not always better. Companies are not willing to pay the kind of rates that big law firm’s demand without more value for those fees,” he says.
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