Lawyers’ fiduciary responsibility to partners
Yesterday, I watched the Richard Gere film, Aribtrage. The film portrays a successful billionaire’s moral decline as he attempts to save his failing company from his poor decisions. He "cooks" the company books by borrowing money that is not shown on the books as such in order to keep up appearances in order to complete a sale of the company, falsifies investors reports and otherwise plays "loose" with the truth. This is a man in trouble, but Gere continues to exude confidence in order to reach his goal.
Coincidentally, in today’s Wall Street Journal, reporters once again discuss the Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP demise. Prosecutors are still questioning whether there was deception about the financial condition of the firm in the last few months. Were partners told the truth, were they given accurate financial reports, and were the firm obligations to pay down outstanding debt on behalf of terminated partners honored? And, were the transgressions that did occur a matter of a struggling business doing what it could to survive or a matter of criminal and/or civil fraud?
As a matter of "black letter law," it’s clear that management (managing partner and management committee members) owe a fiduciary duty to others — investors, lenders and partners. Did they breach this duty? How close to Arbitrage did the leaders of Dewey come?