Saturday, May 19, 2012

New York Law Firm Likely to File Bankruptcy

       New York law Firm Dewey & LeBoeuf seems it is on the track to filing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.  My first thought when seeing this headline was, "Why does a law firm have any debt at all in the first place?"  Answer #1: Many times as a firm grows, the next step to becoming a "big firm" is to purchase real estate and own its office rather than being a "mere tenant." The problem with this line of traditional thought is once the firm purchases real estate, it is no longer a law firm.  It is now a landlord, developer, and investor.  I understand the benefits of a firm purchasing real estate, and in many cases it is a good choice. Earn equity instead of paying rent.  The problem comes when the business uses debt to purchase the real estate.  I like to follow Dave Ramsey's advice of paying cash for everything, especially in business. 

       Answer #2: Another reason a law firm takes on debt is to fund a large case.  Many clients have great winnable lucrative cases but not the cash to fund one.  Therefore, it becomes the lawyer to fund the case and then take his fee through the winnings.  The problem here is (1) if you lose, you get lots of debt and no money to pay for it; (2) the winnings do not turn out to be that big; or (3) you win but the defendant has no assets for you to take.  If that were the case with Dewey & LeBoeuf, again what I cannot wrap my head around is why get debt? Dewey & LeBoeuf had over 300 partners and 500 employees. A firm that large should be able to handle litigation costs on a contingent fee case.  According to the following attached article, the firm had bondholders, which means the debt is more likely tied to litigation than real estate (my best guest). 

       More Dave Ramsey advice for businesses in general: if you are taking on a project, joint venture, expansion, etc., think about the risks and ask yourself, "If everything in this project were to fail would that bankrupt the business?"  If the answer is "yes", then do not take on such a project. 

For more on this likely Bankruptcy:

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