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April 20, 2012 6:44 PM

Incoming Dewey Associates in Limbo As Firm Weighs Restructuring Options

Posted by Sara Randazzo

As Dewey & LeBoeuf's leadership team grapples with its options for steering the embattled firm through its current woes, the professional fate of dozens of law school students scheduled to climb aboard the listing ship in the coming months hangs in the balance.

In recent weeks, with partners around the world continuing to leave the firm at a steady clip, Dewey leaders have pushed back the start date of the incoming fall associate class while expressing skepticism about the prospects for the summer class due to start within the next couple of months.

As of Friday, Dewey had not yet canceled its summer 2012 program. But the head of one law school career office, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Dewey representatives have been candid with him and with his students about the firm's uncertain future.

"They haven't said you should be looking for a job, but they haven't said you have a job either," says this career counselor, adding that he has been impressed with how well Dewey has handled what he describes as a difficult situation.

Dewey leaders have, however, decided that they won't need new first-year associates come fall. The firm told members of the incoming associate class in an April 3 e-mail that their start dates are being deferred until January 2013, according to a recipient of the e-mail who spoke to The Am Law Daily on the condition of anonymity. (Above the Law first reported on the deferrals earlier this week.)

The e-mail, according to the former summer associate who received it, did not offer an explanation for the deferral, and no one from Dewey has been in touch with this associate to elaborate. "I haven't had any contact [with the firm] in the last few weeks," this individual said. "I don't feel like I should burden them, they have enough on their plate."

Dewey had 29 summer associates last year, according to The American Lawyer's Summer Hiring Survey, down from 51 in 2010. The firm did not employ summer associates in its Los Angeles, Houston, and Chicago offices last year, according to a June 2010 post on Above the Law.

A Dewey spokesman said late Friday that he was unable to answer any questions about the firm's incoming associates.

Two 2011 summer associates, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity, say they had no inkling of Dewey's looming problems while working at the firm. Indeed, they say, last year's summer class received a presentation during orientation that trumpeted how well the firm was doing financially. Among the highlights: Dewey attorneys were billing more in 2011 than they had in 2010.

"The numbers were looking good for that year," one of the former summer associates says. "It all seemed to be going pretty well."

Staff reporter Claire Zillman contributed reporting.

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