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The Cautionary Tale Of Dewey & LeBoeuf

Publication Date: 
May 06, 2012
The New York Times

Professor Robert Gordon was mentioned in the following New York editorial for his comments on the increasing trend among lawyers to follow their own self-interest.

The law firm of Dewey & LeBoeuf was created in 2007 in the largest merger of law firms in history. Last week it encouraged all of its partners “to seek out alternative opportunities.” The firm is falling apart because of financial problems after overpaying star partners, gross mismanagement and other factors. But its troubles are only an extreme version of those facing many other firms.

The economic downturn and collapse of financial markets took a huge toll on the earnings of corporate firms. That happened while they faced more competition from firms abroad and newcomers to legal work. Even before the downturn, a growing number of companies chose to rely on their own lawyers.


With rising financial pressures, far too many firms feel compelled to give clients the advice they want to hear, unless that is illegal or clearly wrong. For the sake of holding on to clients, too many lawyers have put aside their independence of judgment. The legal historian Robert Gordon explained that “professionalism and the professional ideals” that lawyers follow are increasingly “camouflage for narrow economic self-interest.” Now it looks as if that dilution of ideals was done in vain, as many lawyers and many law school graduates cannot find legal jobs. Last week Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco announced a 20 percent cut in its enrollment.