An article posted yesterday on www.nytimes.com and available here describes indictments issued on March 6, 2014 against members of Dewey & LeBoeuf leadership in the aftermath of its historic downfall. Prosecutors disclosed detailed e-mails between Dewey employees that seem to track an orchestrated plan to “cook the books” and this proves that (alleged) fraud is a plan best served cold and probably not memorialized in recoverable data.
The recent developments in the Dewey story are important and elucidating for a number of reasons. From an eDiscovery/Information Governance perspective, the actions of the indicted former Dewey employees prove a powerful lesson in the technology age. Data is valuable and often determinative and emerging, dynamic technology has the ability to isolate “smoking gun” information as part of a strategic discovery process. The Dewey e-mails also show the importance of institutional education that stresses the risks of data in the modern workplace. While this is especially important in a law firm environment (and ironic in this instance), it should be an essential component of an Information Governance plan in any organization.
Although the Dewey story may be punctuated by alleged illegal actions on behalf of its employees, it reflects an ongoing struggle amongst large, international law firms who seek to maintain market share, partner profits, revenue goals and marquee practice groups. Dewey proved to be a dramatic exclamation point on large firm failures after Heller Erhman and Howrey. While we are now focused on the indictments, they only reflect underlying issues that challenge the business of law in an era when a broader legal services market is expanding and clients’ concept of value is evolving. Although there are complex macroeconomic variables forcing change in the legal market, considerable experience as an eDiscovery attorney (outside traditional tracks) gives one some perspective on the interplay of the substantive and administrative sides of large law firms. I continue to believe that the “business” of eDiscovery may provide a rich model for structural change within law firms as the industry transitions to a services-oriented approach with an updated perspective on billing, value, brand, customer service, resources, relationships and “partnerships.”