The downfall of storied New York law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, which filed for bankruptcy on Sunday after financial problems and an exodus of partners, isn’t likely to lead to New Jersey’s firms hiring en masse talented attorneys crossing the Hudson for new homes, according to the head of one of the state’s top firms.
“Regrettably, the non-partners who are entering the marketplace right now are entering the most challenging legal employment market in several generations,” said Stephen M. Vajtay Jr., managing partner of Newark law firm McCarter & English LLP. “It’s not going to be easy for some of those people to find new jobs.
Despite Dewey’s reputation as a well-respected firm with highly skilled lawyers, there likely won’t be much demand for new hires at New Jersey firms right now. Law firms have been reducing or holding head counts steady over the past several years, and many lawyers laid off in 2007 and 2008 — along with graduates of law schools over the past five years — are still looking for work, Vajtay said.
Many attorneys — both partners and associates — have already left Dewey for new firms, Vajtay added.
Dewey, formed in a 2007 merger of Dewey Ballantine LLP and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae LLP, has been known for having a wealth of tremendously skilled lawyers in a lot of different practice areas, and that new blood in the job market might be advantageous to firms who are looking to add talent, Vajtay said
“I would imagine that firms needing expertise in those areas would be anxious to snap up those lawyers,” Vajtay said.
Vajtay said his firm has been among those that have been right-sizing: “If all somebody presents is a skilled pair of hands, we have lots of skilled hands here already.”
Vajtay said his firm has been contacted by individual attorneys and by headhunters representing groups of attorneys, but that Dewey partners with portable business — clients they would bring to a new firm — might face litigation or bankruptcy claims under New York’s unfinished business doctrine, which could leave firms that hire them at risk, Vajtay said.