Outside Dewey law firm, employees mull future

NEW YORK Mon May 7, 2012 8:42pm EDT

People walk past a sign outside the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf in New York City May 1, 2012. REUTERS/Lee Celano

People walk past a sign outside the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf in New York City May 1, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Lee Celano

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NEW YORK (Reuters) - Standing outside a midtown Manhattan office building on Monday, two employees posed for a photograph and pointed to the words on the sign above their heads: Dewey & LeBoeuf.

The information technology workers wanted to make sure they took the picture, they said, before they -- or the sign -- are gone forever.

The U.S. law firm on Friday warned employees of possible mass layoffs and that it could shut its doors.

Seven Dewey employees interviewed on Monday outside the firm's New York office -- all of whom requested anonymity to preserve their jobs and job prospects -- said their initial anger and shock has given way to a sense of resignation.

Though the firm's leadership said in an internal memo on Friday that it would "continue to pursue various avenues," employees seemed certain that the writing is on the wall.

"The grim part is over," one of the IT workers said, as a light rain began falling. "The most frustrating part is the uncertainty."

Dewey, once one of the largest law firms in the United States, has staggered in recent months under the weight of massive debt, a criminal probe of its former chairman, and a wave of partner defections that shows no sign of ebbing.

On Monday, two more partners announced they were departing: Paul Chen, a onetime managing partner of Dewey's Hong Kong office, joined DLA Piper, and Gregory Coll, a white-collar attorney in Washington, moved to Schiff Hardin. More than 120 of Dewey's 300 partners have jumped ship since the beginning of the year.

Geoffrey Raymond, an artist who specializes in portraits of controversial executives, stood outside with a painting of Steven Davis, Dewey's former chairman. The firm said last month that Davis had been stripped of his leadership positions, days after it disclosed that he was the subject of a criminal probe by the New York District Attorney's office.

As with his other works -- former Lehman Brothers Chairman Richard Fuld among them -- Raymond invited Dewey employees to write on his canvas with a magic marker.

The messages ranged from livid to lamenting: "Legal Enron!" "Great firm, bad mgmt." "Steve, was all this worth it?"

One employee, who works in litigation support, wrote, "Life goes on -- how will you live yours!!"

Davis has denied all wrongdoing; his lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Monday.

Two workers carried boxes of belongings labeled "Property of Dewey & LeBoeuf" as they walked out of the front door. Employees said recruiters had been brought into the office to help them find new jobs, even as others packed their things.

Services that had been outsourced -- the mail room, the copy center -- were essentially shut down last week, one employee said.

"You walk through the halls, and all you see is boxes," he said.

Several staffers said they were simply hoping to receive one more check on the next payday, May 15.

"I just want to get paid and get out," said one secretary, a nine-year-veteran of the firm. "I don't think I want to work for a law firm anymore."

(Reporting by Joseph Ax; additional reporting by Nate Raymond; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Phil Berlowitz)

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