Could Dewey & LeBoeuf Have Been Saved From Crashing and Burning? Yes and Here's How:

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Gosh, I could have had a V – 8.

Trial lawyers often say that when they try a case, they always wind up trying three cases: The case they plan on trying, the case they actually try and the case they should have tried.

The same could be said of the quick rise and ignominious fall of Dewey & LeBoeuf. The Champaign toasts of 2007, when the 300 or so partners of Dewey, Ballantine, Busshby Palmer & Wood and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Leiby, Greene and MacRae as they basked in their nuptials were surely replete with aspirations of certain combined success. Giddy with presumed joy as the combined firm would shortly be one of the twenty largest law firms on the planet, we can safely assume that the leadership of this soon to be global giant had given much thought to how the new leadership would lead. But, like the capable trial lawyer, there is the management style, plan and strategy a law firm leader expects to implement, the one he or she winds up putting into effect because of real world exigencies and then, at the end of the day, sitting on his or her back porch sipping a beer, after the movers have come and the lights turned off, there is the management style and strategy the leader of a failed firm realizes should have been the order of the day.

Yes, hindsight is always perfect. But hindsight is essential for others walking in the shoes of a leader. When the trial lawyer looks back and ponders the trial he should have tried, he becomes a better trial lawyer. It’s always easier to look back at the trial you won than the trial you lost. But, you learn much more form the trial you lost. Self reflection on the heels of defeat are much more instructive. The pain of loss is ameliorated when you recognize your mistakes and mis-steps and know you will never do those again. The wounded barrister takes counsel in talking to his or her jurors, the trial judge and other experienced trial lawyers and conducting a careful and thoughtful analysis of where he or she went wrong.

Capable law firm leaders lean from their mistakes. Truly gifted law firm leaders learn from the mistakes of others as well.

Therefore, we present this tale of “would have, could have and should have.” Leaders of failed law firms do not rise, Phoenix-like, and get a second chance. But those who do occupy those important roles at thriving law firms can only enhance their own stewardships ny learning form the mistakes of others, not simply their successes.

Could Dewey & LeBoeuf been led to success once the depths of its problems were all well known? This trial lawyer thinks so.

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Jerome Kowalski
Kowalski & Associates

Jerry Kowalski is the founder of Kowalski & Associates, which provides law firm management... View Profile »


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