Dewey's top leaders to leave troubled law firm

Wed May 9, 2012 4:17pm EDT

A man talks on his phone as he walks past the building housing the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP in New York, May 8, 2012. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

A man talks on his phone as he walks past the building housing the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP in New York, May 8, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Lucas Jackson

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(Reuters) - Two of Dewey & LeBoeuf's four leaders are jumping ship, as the ailing U.S. law firm prepares for mass layoffs of employees and junior lawyers, the firms that are hiring them said on Wednesday.

Richard Shutran, the co-chair of Dewey's corporate department, will join O'Melveny & Myers and Jeffrey Kessler, the chair of Dewey's litigation department, is departing for Winston & Strawn.

Shutran and Kessler were members of Dewey's management team, which took control of the firm during a leadership shake-up in late March. Both will start at the new firms on Monday. They will be joined by more than two dozen Dewey attorneys, as well as associates and staff.

Neither Kessler nor Shutran responded to requests for comment.

The announcement of the departures is the latest sign that Dewey, one of Wall Street's oldest law firms, is on the verge of closure. More than half of the troubled firm's roughly 300 partners have left since the start of the year amid a debt crisis and concerns about partner compensation.

Dewey warned employees in a May 4 letter of mass layoffs and said that "adverse developments could ultimately result in the closure of the firm." Partners have since told some secretaries that their last day is Friday, a person familiar with the matter said Tuesday. Some associates have been informed that their jobs will end next week, the person said.

Dewey had been led by a single chairman, Steven Davis, until March when the firm created a five-person "office of the chairman." Davis, a member of that office and the firm's executive committee, was stripped of his management positions on April 29 after the firm disclosed to partners that the New York District Attorney was probing allegations of wrongdoing by Davis. He has denied any wrongdoing.

News of the imminent departure of Kessler and Shutran comes a day after Dewey lost key rainmakers to rival law firms. Those included Richard Climan, a prominent mergers and acquisitions partner in Silicon Valley who joined Weil, Gotshal & Manges, and Berge Setrakian, a New York dealmaker who joined DLA Piper.

More partners announced they were leaving Dewey on Wednesday, including litigator Melvin Schwechter and intellectual property lawyer Lawrence Sung. Both joined Baker & Hostetler's Washington office.

Spokesmen for Dewey did not respond to requests for comment.

(Editing by Noeleen Walder and Leslie Gevirtz)

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