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Criminal Charges Against Law Firm Bosses Follow Dewey & LeBoeuf’s Downfall

The Dewey & LeBoeuf offices in New York
The Dewey & LeBoeuf offices in New YorkPhotograph by Scott Eells/Bloomberg

If there were any doubt remaining that the business of Big Law has changed dramatically over the last 15 years, those shreds should have been wiped away with the criminal charges filed against three former leaders of the law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The criminal case filed on Thursday by prosecutors accuses the former chairman, executive director, and chief financial officer of the now-defunct law firm of “overseeing a massive effort to cook the books,” an alleged fraud that ultimately led to Dewey’s 2012 collapse and the largest law firm bankruptcy ever filed. Dewey & LeBoeuf—which resulted from a merger in 2007 of two old-line New York law firms, Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae—once had more than 1,100 lawyers spread across 25 offices. At one point it ranked as the No. 3 legal adviser to the big banks that serve as financial advisers on mergers. By the time of its failure, the firm’s bankruptcy petition listed assets of $193 million and liabilities of $245.4 million.