Originally founded in 1909, Dewey Ballantine took
its name when Thomas Dewey, the former New
York governor who lost to Harry Truman in the 1948
presidential race, became a partner in the mid-
’50s. LeBoeuf Lamb opened in 1929, thriving even
after the Great Depression with huge corporate
clients and becoming one of the country’s leading
insurance practices, eventually taking on the name
LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae. By the time of
the merger, some attorneys at Dewey & LeBoeuf
had been at their firms for decades; others arrived
more recently, often having joined one of the two
firms through a previous merger.
A. PAUL VICTOR, partner in the antitrust
practice group of the litigation department, now
with Winston & Strawn: It was called Dewey
Ballantine [in 2006], quite a famous firm, very
solid reputation, very well-regarded and quality
lawyers. The lawyers there were every bit as good
as the lawyers I was used to working with for most
of my career.
STEVE LEVITSKY, of counsel, now with Duane
Morris: I was at Shea & Gould, a fantastic and
incredibly powerful law firm that unfortunately
went out of business in 1994. The firm
disbanded and I went with Mr. Gould to
LeBoeuf Lamb in ‘ 94.
JOHN DRAGHI, senior counsel, now in private
practice: I was with a 35-lawyer firm, Huber
Lawrence & Abell. Our practice principally
represented electric, gas and water companies.
The trend was to larger firms. We were heavily
dependent on a larger client, and clients at that
time were interested in us being with a larger
firm. When Huber Lawrence & Abell dissolved,
more than half of us went to LeBoeuf.
BILL PRIMPS, antitrust litigator, now with Dorsey
& Whitney: I was hired in October of 1974 out of
law school to the old LeBoeuf Lamb firm, working
in downtown New York, directly across the
street from Dewey Ballantine. It had enormous
strengths, many of them concentrated in the
energy and insurance fields. A number of our
lawyers went on to become federal judges.
LARRY P. SCHIFFER, partner in the insurance
practice group, now with Patton Boggs: We
were at a firm called Werner & Kennedy, a well-known boutique, a litigation firm concentrating
on the insurance industry. The year 2000 was
approaching and we had to change our computer
system. We were a small firm, between 15 and
20 lawyers, looking at between $500,000 and
$750,000 to take out the system and put in a new
one so it wouldn’t blow up. Associates’ salaries
were going through the roof. Rent was going
through the roof. It just seemed like a good time.
We were told by a number of clients, “We’d give
you more cases if you had a bigger platform.”
We decided we’d listen to a few people who were
calling. We liked what LeBoeuf had to say. We
closed our firm and moved our practice to LeBoeuf
on July 1, 1999. We hit the ground running. It was
seamless. They knew us, we knew them.
PRIMPS: [LeBoeuf Lamb] continued to expand
and we eventually moved to 125 W. 55th St. In
the late 1990s, Steve Davis became co-chairman,
and in the early 2000s, his co-chair, a partner by
the name of Peter O’Flinn, stepped down, and
Steve became sole chairman of the firm. Steve
very, very strongly resisted any limitation on his
term. Through what you might say were a lot of
arm-twisting and heavy-handed tactics, he held
onto his position.
LeBoeuf's management, with Davis as a drivng force,
pushed for the 2007 merger with Dewey, believing the
new firm would join Greenberg Traurig and DLA Piper
as one of the worldwide super-firms.
VICTOR: It appeared to have gone quite smoothly.
There didn’t seem to be a lot of backbiting or
rancor. The firm seemed to be integrating pretty
DONALD B. HENDERSON JR., partner, now with
Willkie Farr & Gallagher: It did give us a much
larger footprint around the world.
LEVITSKY: With very, very few exceptions, LeBoeuf
Lamb functioned on different floors and Dewey
Ballantine functioned on different floors.
JOHN M. NONNA, insurance dispute and
general commercial litigator, now with Patton
Boggs: It became a more impersonal and less
transparent atmosphere. On the other hand it
was a good practice. The firm did a lot of good
things—very strong commitment to diversity
and pro bono work.
DRAGHI: Frankly, I found the practice a little more
pleasant before the merger. LeBoeuf Lamb was a
great firm—strong practice, good lawyers. When
the merger came, it was clear to me the focus
became doing what every firm wants to do—get
big cases to justify big fees, get even more global
than Dewey or LeBoeuf had been. After the
merger, most of LeBoeuf moved into the Dewey
offices, or into the building that Dewey was in. A
number of us stayed in the old LeBoeuf offices. I
had a very nice office. I still had a good secretary
and that was OK.
SCHIFFER: It was a very rosy picture painted to
us. Everything was great and going full blaze.
Everything was going higher and attracting what
those in the firm wanted to attract—larger and
more sophisticated deals and clients.
LEVITSKY: [LeBoeuf Lamb] wasn’t big enough.
It was number one in insurance and energy, but
it wasn’t well-known on the Street. Steven Davis
wanted to be a big corporation on Avenue of the
Americas. He was drooling to get Dewey Ballantine.
They had offices on Avenue of the Americas.
PRIMPS: There was a report that was produced by
McKinsey that pointed to the advantages of the
NONNA: Eventually the entire LeBoeuf firm, over
a period of time, moved from the offices that
LeBoeuf had on 55th Street to 1301 6th Ave. It put
me a little closer to Grand Central Station. It was
easier to get to the train.
Around the time of the 2008 economic crash,
Dewey & LeBoeuf began to fall short of its predicted
revenues, creating tension within the firm. Yet Davis
continued to aggressively expand.
HENDERSON: We kept adding new partners and
opening new offices.
PRIMPS: This whole phenomenon of offering
guarantees to alleged superstars began to
happen. They were hired on the basis of top
production and given very, very healthy bonuses.
And when they came, their numbers were far from
their peak years, because we were going through
the worst downturn people had seen since the
Great Depression. So it was a recipe for disaster.
HENDERSON: It was not a good time to be going
off in a new venture. The merger was expensive.
The revenues of the firm were not as anticipated.
That was a disappointment, but there wasn’t a lot
VICTOR: The law business was doing some
general restructuring. Law firms were adjusting
economically and cutting people, partners as well
DRAGHI: Perhaps as senior counsel, I was less
impacted, since I was on W- 2 instead of getting
a percent of the profits. I would hear rumblings
of partners not getting their monthly draw. I
had been hearing that for a while. I couldn’t
substantiate it. Then you started to see more bad
press. I didn’t know whether this was a little cash-flow problem or something deeper.