Dewey defends leadership void

DEWEY & LEBOEUF

Market shocked by lack of London and NY heads

On 1 April it will be six months since Dewey Ballantine bowed to the inevitable and called time on its days as an independent firm, accepting the merger offer from an expansionist LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae.

After the horrors of the firm’s previous merger talks with Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe, it was no doubt a relief for Dewey to be allowed to disappear into the depths of the world’s latest global firm.

But, as www.thelawyer.com reported soon after the deal was signed (17 October 2007), the post-merger honeymoon period lasted only until word reached the market of the newly merged Dewey & LeBoeuf’s unusual management structure.

Neither London nor New York – Dewey & LeBoeuf’s largest offices – have a managing partner. Instead, the management has been devolved to practice group heads.

As one New York recruitment consultant puts it, the strategy is risky. “Lawyers in each office might feel they need somebody on the ground at a senior level, but that’s especially true of London,” says the recruiter. “Whatever happens, Dewey & LeBoeuf is seen as a New York-headquartered firm and no one in New York is going to say, ‘they’re not committed to us’. London might be a different story.”

On paper, there are echoes of the current management headaches over at White & Case. As The Lawyer exclusively reported (11 March), White & Case co-head of global banking Maurice Allen and London banking and capital markets co-head Mike Goetz had resigned over concerns about the firm’s management structure.

Dewey & LeBoeuf chairman Steve Davis maintains that there are no parallels to be drawn with White & Case. “We have three London partners on our executive committee,” says Davis. “We couldn’t be more different.”

Davis has taken the opportunity of the looming six-month post-merger milestone to lay out his thinking on his own firm’s management structure, which he devised with consultancy McKinsey & Company.

“The approach we’ve adopted for London and New York is to have the offices managed by practice group leaders, which cuts across the geographical lines,” says Davis. “We don’t have a managing partner in either office. We think it’s sensible for a firm of this size to be managed at a practice group level.”

Davis asserts that the transactional axis between New York and London is at the heart of the management structure and the firm’s future.

“Ten years ago when non-US companies were doing a deal, the lawyers might begin by arguing over whether the governing law would be English or US,” says Davis. “Now they don’t even have that conversation. English law has become the prevailing law governing global transactions and if you want to be a participant in those deals you have to have a very large and impressive London office.”

The fact that neither office has a managing partner speaks far more of administrative sensibilities than strategic woes, argues Dewey & LeBoeuf partner Joe Ferraro, who, with Richard Shutran, doubles as global co-chair of the firm’s corporate group.

“The basic idea is to have as few equity partners as possible in full-time management roles,” explains Ferraro. “We have one such partner – Steve Davis. We spent a lot of time discussing this issue and Steve stepped into the breach.”

But this begs the question, why have a breach in the first place? As Nick Holt of Global Legal Search puts it: “If you look at most of the other London offices of US firms, say Weil Gotshal [& Manges], Shearman & Sterling or even Sullivan & Cromwell now that Vanessa Blackmore has taken over, they have UK lawyers as managing partners. It shows that New York has faith and trust in the local lawyers to get on with it.”

A firm as international as Dewey & LeBoeuf clearly has faith in its local lawyers. It just does not want any of them messing around being managing partners. It it a very US way of running a law firm, but as Ferraro says: “We’ll see what works. If internally there’s a need that can’t be fulfilled by the current structure, we’ll reconsider.”

Call it a work in progress.

THE BLOG

Houston, we have a…

Yes, it’s DLA Piper again, but when a firm is on a roll, it’s on a roll.

This time it’s Houston. For a certain kind of firm, particularly one as opportunistic as DLA Piper, an office in one of the world’s energy capitals clearly makes a lot of sense.

As one local recruiter puts it: “For years, Houston was the preserve of the regional firms, but now you’re seeing the big money firms with their connections to finance and the M&A markets coming in.”

Well, DLA Piper has never been accused of lacking energy, so it’s probably appropriate for it to join the likes of Shell, Chevron and BP down in Houston.

Would it be overstating matters to say DLA Piper pops up everywhere? Probably not.

• Posted: 11 March 2008

Waiting for Dubya

While President Bush prepares to give a talk at the New York Economic Club this afternoon (Friday 14 March), I’m running across town to see a team of European Clifford Chance partners give a briefing on the cross-border regulatory environment.

I caught up with Clifford Chance partner Carlos Conceicao before he headed out the door to hear Bush speak. Thanks to Carlos, I learnt that Bush will be tackling hard issues relating to the US economy. No doubt the phrases ‘sub-prime’ and ‘credit crunch’ will come up.

I also learnt just what it involves if you want to get an audience with the Pres. Number one on the list is a lot of time. Dubya’s talk started at 1pm. Carlos, and everybody else, had to be in the venue and through security by 10.30am.

So what does a Clifford Chance partner do for two and a half hours while he waits for the President to show up? Well, not only does Carlos get the chance to see Bush, he also gets an extra two and a half hours with his clients. Bonus.

• Posted: 14 March 2008

To view other blogs click here