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After Dewey Collapse, Former Partners Still Search for Homes

March 30, 2015, 5:30 PM

UPDATED: This story has been corrected to reflect that about 10 percent of former Dewey partners have switched law firms twice since departing.

Hogan Lovells is set to announce on Wednesday that it has hired Joseph Tato, the onetime chair of Dewey & LeBoeuf’s global project and infrastructure practice, Big Law Business has learned.

Tato joins from DLA Piper , a firm he joined in 2012 – just two weeks before Dewey’s bankruptcy. At that time, Dewey was teetering on the brink of collapse, and its lawyers were forced to call headhunters, who placed hundreds of lawyers at various firms, all in a matter of several frenzied months.

Now, lawyers such as Tato are showing that some of those placements, made hastily, aren’t working out: About 30 of Dewey’s 300 partners have switched firms twice – once when the firm collapsed around May 2012 – then a second time only months later, according to a Big Law Business analysis.

Tato—who is bringing his colleague, Andrianne Payson, also located in New York—is leaving because client conflicts arose at the 4,200-lawyer legal behemoth DLA Piper, according to a person who works with Tato. Other former Dewey partners have switched firms over strategic disputes, cultural conflicts and various other reasons. Taken together, the moves show how Dewey’s unexpected and sudden spiral into bankruptcy in the spring of 2012, which has been attributed to mismanagement of firm finances and led to criminal indictments , is still sending tremors through the lateral market.

“Like the divorce rate, after you make one, (you’re) more likely to make another,” said Michael Allen, managing principal of Lateral Link, of lateral mobility.

Tato and Payson both declined to provide statements for this article.

In a statement, DLA Piper said: “Joe and Andrianne have been great partners and members of the firm. This is a dynamic market with significant lateral opportunities at various stages of one’s career, a trend that is an important part of our own growth strategy and one on which we continue to capitalize. We wish them all the best.”

Tato advises power producers, investors, banks and governments in development and finance of power, oil and gas, LNG, telecommunications and other infrastructure projects in the U.S., Africa, Latin America and Europe, according to his website profile.

There have been other notable former Dewey partners who switched firms, too. Last spring, Paul Hastings hired John Cobb, who had chaired Dewey’s leveraged finance practice and served a short-lived stint at Weil Gotshal & Manges as a partner, advising banks, investors and mezzanine funds.

A year earlier, Eversheds hired Zhu Clark, the head of Dewey’s Beijing operations who had found a temporary home at Morgan Lewis & Bockius.

Of course, the turnover rate at law firms would be high even excluding all the Dewey partners that moved, said Robin Miller, a headhunter in Manhattan who estimated that three to five years has become a standard amount of time at the largest 100 U.S. firms.

Yet former Dewey lawyers who have changed jobs said that the rapid demise of Dewey led to poor decision-making in their search process. “Everyone had a gun to their head, and you had to do something,” said one former Dewey partner who commented on the condition of anonymity.

“You had to have the right firm lining up, with the right offer, at the right time,” the source said. “There were a lot of good lawyers, and people had good opportunities, but they were doing it very hastily.”

Click here to view a LinkedIn group of Dewey & LeBoeuf alumni that announces the shuffling of former Dewey members.