Byte of Prevention Blog

by Jay Reeves |

Five Ways Not To Run Your Law Firm

Just when you thought the demise of Dewey & LeBoeuf couldn’t get any dirtier, up pops a former top partner to blame a whole sinking shipcast of villains for bringing the mega-firm down – jealous junior associates, greedy legal recruiters, even bloggers.

Who knew?

In fact it seems the only people not responsible for D&B’s implosion – according to Stuart Saft - ex-chief of the firm’s international real estate practice – are the big bosses like himself who were supposed to be running things.

“The story started with blogs,” Saft said in a video interview posted on Bloomberg Law’s YouTube channel, and became a “bonanza” for legal recruiters who used confidential information to stir up instability and earn fat commissions by helping fleeing partners land new positions.

Well, now.

 So much for accepting responsibility and acting like an adult.

It might rightly be asked why a small firm in Fayetteville or a solo in Southport should give a rip about the collapse of a global law behemoth that raked in close to $1 billion in 2011.

The answer – beyond the undeniable attraction of watching a disaster unfold – is that it teaches valuable lessons on how not to run a law firm.

Lesson number one: get a clue.

The top brass at D&B say they had no idea things were such a mess.

“Most of the information that I learned, I learned from reading the newspapers,” Saft told Bloomberg Law.

Really? Then who was minding the store? Lady Gaga, apparently, because the captains on duty were oblivious to the fact that the ship was sinking.

Other cautionary lessons:

* Don’t get too big for your britches. Growth can be great or gross. Dewey and LeBoeuf was top-heavy with superstar lawyers whose only job was reeling in rich clients. Naturally they reeled in the highest salaries as well. This created a class divide that eventually split the firm into pieces.

* Keep family business in the family. “It does not take a great deal to destabilize a firm,” Saft told Bloomberg News. Hastening his firm’s breakdown was a flood of self-serving media leaks, malicious gossip, and disclosure of inside information.

* Don’t point fingers. It only makes you look petty and weak. When bad things happen, step up and take ownership. Apologize, make amends, and then get to work fixing the problem.

 * Blawggers rule! The blogosphere has become a global water cooler. Information resides here – some of it reliable, some not so much. Rumors are planted, secrets divulged. Massive law firms fall down and go boom.

 Ernest (Jay) Reeves Jr. is an attorney licensed in North Carolina and South Carolina. He has practiced in both states and was Legal Editor at Lawyers Weekly and Risk Manager at Lawyers Mutual. He writes the Risk Man column of practice pointers and risk management tips. Contact or phone 919-619-2441.

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