$6m man: can he rebuild it?

Dewey’s Bienenstock might yet warrant his profit share

Dewey & LeBoeuf legacy firm LeBoeuf Lamb Greene & MacRae should have known it was a curse when it allowed filmmakers to use its City base on Mincing Lane to shoot Cruella De Vil’s offices in the 1996 film 101 Dalmatians.

Things were not quite so sinister in later years. Dewey Ballantine, which merged with LeBoeuf five years ago, hired out its Manhattan offices for the making of Michael Clayton in 2007, meaning George Clooney was sauntering around the floors of the debt-laded New York firm. If only it could find a few money-spinners like that now to pay off its debts, the remaining Dewey partners must be thinking.

Instead all it has is a team of restructuring brainboxes intent on finding a solution to the crisis that has seen more than 90 partners quit the shaken US firm so far this year.

At the helm of this super squad is Martin Bienenstock, one of the most intriguing characters of the saga and almost as intriguing as former chair Steve Davis, the mastermind of the disastrous 2007 merger and now the subject of a criminal investigation; or DiCarmine _ the other Steve – a once-powerful executive director, who has all but lost his influence and is said to be on his way out of the firm.

Bienenstock’s hire from Weil Gotshal & Manges in late 2007 has come under fire as one of the more reckless attempts to buy business by bringing in a rainmaker on a huge guaranteed profit share, thought to be close to $6m (£3.71m) annually.

Indeed, critics agree that Dewey’s unfunded recruitment spree set the firm on its downward spiral.

If the firm were a Premier League football team, partners would have been singing “he pays what he wants” about Davis in no time.

Yet the irony is that Bienenstock, whose hire is the type of deal that has disgusted Dewey’s critics, might just save the firm from dissolving. The bankruptcy expert is working alongside the likes of Bruce Bennett to find a solution, such as a takeover, but the search for buyers appears to be running out of time, with talks with firms in the US including Greenberg Traurig and SNR Denton now history.

By the time you read this, any question of rebuilding might just be academic.