The Aftermath of Dewey’s Collapse: The New Face of the Attorney Job Market

by Mike Mintz on May 31, 2012 · 0 comments

in Large law firm issues,Law Firms,Legal News and Trends,

The recent collapse of the now-infamous New York City firm Dewey & LeBoeuf, which at the height of its popularity had over 1,000 lawyers, has had many consequences. One of the more notable ones is the disruption caused to the job market for attorneys as a result of the laying off of all Dewey attorneys.

In fact, recruiters were fielding queries from both partners and associates at Dewey for months before the firm’s recent collapse.  Things were so bad at Dewey that some partners were getting paid as little as associates.  Calls to recruiters from Dewey staff only intensified over the past few months, with attorneys getting increasingly frantic over the prospect over being out of work.

Other firms are now in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing which of Dewey’s partners and associates they would take on-with the picky firms only choosing the most valuable legal staff.  Some firms are limiting their search to specific practice areas within Dewey.  The thinking is that the clients will be more likely to follow a group of lawyers rather than a single or a few attorneys.  Specifically, Paul Hastings hired the co-chairman of Dewey’s corporate finance group along with another three Dewey partners.  Hogan Lovells also hired two valuable Dewey partners.  Some firms are simply going after the former heads of Dewey departments, including Sutherland Asbill & Brennan which recently took on the former co-head of Dewey’s U.S. litigation practice.

Apparently, Dewey associates were starting to look for alternative positions in 2011 and about half-a-year ago, partners started fielding calls from headhunters as well.  According to one former Dewey partner, recruiters hastened Dewey’s collapse.  The recruiters picked up the story of Dewey’s troubles from blogs, and they then broadcast it to the press.  Even before the first stories of Dewey’s problems came out, recruiters were flooding partners and associates with calls, urging them to find positions elsewhere.  Recruiters of course stood to gain quite a bit if they could get partners and their associates to jump ship and move to another firm.

Some firms saw Dewey’s collapse as a means of improving their staff of associates.  If not for the firm’s collapse, the other firms would not have been able to hire these associates.  Another side effect of the collapse is that other firms have temporarily frozen their hiring practices because they want to see whether they can hire Dewey attorneys instead.

Not all attorneys seeking new work have found it.  All too often, associates were left out in the cold after their partners moved to another firm and did not take the associates with them.  Partners were better positioned to find other work because they have more extensive contacts than associates.  The ones who will suffer the most are senior associates and service partners, i.e., those who do the work brought in by rainmaking partners.  Senior associates will suffer because other firms will prefer junior associates, who are much cheaper, to do the day-to-day legal work.  Service partners will suffer because they do not have their own clients to bring to a new firm.

As for the summer associates to whom Dewey extended offers, many are now suffering because they have not been picked up by other firms.  These students are missing out on valuable internships which will help shape their future careers.

Only time will tell if the former Dewey partners and associates land on their feet and find other work.  As for the aftermath of Dewey’s collapse, that chapter is still being written.  It will take months if not years for that mess to finally be resolved.

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