May 29, 2012
More Complex Than Greed
That is the title of an essay I just published at The Am Law Daily. It is on the demise of Dewey & LeBoeuf, which officially filed for bankruptcy yesterday. I wrote the essay because I think the lessons drawn from the Dewey collapse are all-too-likely to follow the "lawyers are greedy" storyline. This problem is bigger than our collective flaws as lawyers and as people. Below are the first two graphs:
Dewey & LeBoeuf, an amalgam of two storied New York City law firms that merged in 2007, has died. Understandably, this has prompted a lot of soul-searching among lawyers. One storyline that will attract many followers is that large law firm lawyers, long viewed as the profession's elite class, have lost their way, betraying their professional ideals in the pursuit of money and glory. This narrative reinforces that lawyer-joke mentality that lawyers just need to be become better people.
And that narrative is wrong. Yes, we all need to become better people, but that still won't begin to cure the larger structural problem affecting large U.S. law firms. At its core, Dewey's collapse has less to do with individual moral failings than with aging organizational structures that worked remarkably well for over a century yet, but for a variety of reasons, now inhibit law firms' ability to adapt to a changing legal marketplace.
[Posted by Bill Henderson]