Dewey & LeBoeuf Readies Bankruptcy Filing

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Written By admin at Saturday, May 19th, 2012

Ramin Talaie for The Wall Street Journal

By Mike Spector and Jennifer Smith

New York law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP is readying a possible bankruptcy-protection filing for sometime in the next several weeks, said people familiar with the matter, a move that would initiate official liquidation of the beleaguered institution.

Dewey within the last week brought aboard an operational turnaround and restructuring firm to help the law firm collect receivables and attempt to return money to lenders and other creditors, according to the people familiar with the matter. Dewey’s remaining lawyers and outside advisers are working to be ready to file for bankruptcy protection by the end of next week, though the actual filing could come well after, these people said.

Interactive Graphic: See who else has left Dewey and where they have gone.

Most of Dewey’s partners, including its crisis leadership team, have left the firm over the past five months, as disputes over compensation and towering debts brought the 1,000-lawyer law firm to its knees. Many of Dewey’s U.S. offices were closed or nearly empty in the past week, with 433 people laid off in New York alone, according to a notice filed with the state Labor Department.

Exactly how Dewey officially ceases operations remains under discussion and no final decisions have been made, the people said. Dewey lawyers have said recently that they planned to wind down without going through a bankruptcy court.

But a bankruptcy filing has become an increasingly likely option as Dewey’s remaining employees and advisers huddle to chart Dewey’s end game, one of the people said. Dewey will have to negotiate with landlords who could at some point move to seize office equipment in lieu of rent payments unless the law firm seeks bankruptcy protection, this person said. Dewey needs computers and access to offices to wind down, the person said.

A Dewey spokesman had no immediate comment.

Dewey tapped restructuring firm Zolfo Cooper in the past week for additional help winding down the law firm’s operations. Joff Mitchell, a senior managing director at Zolfo, is now serving as Dewey’s chief restructuring officer, said people familiar with the matter. Albert Togut, a bankruptcy lawyer at Togut, Segal & Segal LLP, would handle the bankruptcy filing, one of the people said.

Zolfo Cooper, meanwhile, usually helps companies restructure their operations, sometimes offering advisers to take interim management roles. The firm also enlists advisers to oversee defunct operations and develop plans for returning money to creditors. Stephen Cooper, one of the firm’s namesakes, has alongside teams at the firm overseen Enron Corp. as it liquidated and film studio Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc. before and during “prepackaged” bankruptcy proceedings. Mr. Cooper is no longer with the firm and isn’t working on the Dewey situation.

Dewey owes $ 75 million on a $ 100 million credit line from banks led by J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. Distressed-debt investors have been circling around Dewey creditors in recent days to buy up potential claims—betting that they can nab them at discounts and get a better recovery when the law firm ultimately winds down.

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