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    February 11, 2008  

Ralph Ferrara Builds Dewey's
Field of Dreams

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Dewey & LeBoeuf may be D.C.'s first see-through law firm.  Its space at 1101 New York Ave. has floor-to-ceiling glass and no pillars, which ushers the outside world right into the office.  (Walking around the top floors, we felt like we were floating over the city—but then we're prone to imagining our own superpowers.)  Former SEC general counsel Ralph Ferrara chairs the DC office of the newly combined Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf Lamb; the latter moved from its Connecticut Avenue address in July, before the October merger, while Dewey is still bringing attorneys over from 975 F St. Together they boast 1300 attorneys worldwide and 160 in DC.


Ralph said that no picture of him would be complete without his "star associate" Jocelyn Bramble.  Behind them is one of the French opera posters that adorn Ralph's walls.  He's actually a bigger fan of Italian works, but explains:  "Italians make great operas, but lousy posters."


Did you build any special features into your offices?
Yes, a 150-seat theater on the first floor.

When you walked into a major law firm, you used to see its library.  Now, everyone has a conference center, but I wanted the conference rooms to be spread around the office, where people actually work. So we had a question of what do with space on our reception floor.  I said, "Let's put in a theater."

Is it a hit?
Some people asked what we'd use it for, but I thought of it like Field of Dreams—if you build it, they will come.  We just did a two-day program in there for 15 countries involved in boundary disputes.  The theater can receive translation feeds in four different languages.  I'm told it's the only non-government facility in the city with that capability, besides one owned by the Motion Picture Association.


There's just one downside to Dewey & LeBoeuf's ultra-clear vistas:  your cameraman may accidentally focus on the view instead of his subjects. Ralph is leaning on a Renaissance-era sculpture of either Alexander the Great or a young Heracles that he found in a little town outside Rome. If you want to see it yourself, look up from the sidewalk on New York Ave. and you'll get an eye-full of his backside.


What's been the biggest challenge in integrating the two firms?
It's a very rare thing, a merger between two large New York legacy firms. But every metric was a perfect marriage.  Now, it's just a matter of falling in love with each other. We've had a number of social events for the partners in DC, and in a few minutes I'm going to talk to a group of mid-level associates from both firms.

What are your practice area strengths?
We have a whole floor devoted to international work, both finance and arbitration. Alan Wolff has a great international trade practice. Securities litigation and counseling is a sweet spot for the office.  Our tax practice is unique—over 40 percent of our tax work is independently generated, as opposed to feeding off existing corporate clients.  IP, energy, and insurance/reinsurance are also strengths.  We're still finishing up some World Trade Center and Katrina work.

What kind of securities and corporate governance cases?
We're usually at the center of matters with multiple components:  class actions, SEC enforcement, D&O litigation, or Congressional investigations. We represented Zurich Financial Services when they were facing civil and criminal charges by three separate groups of state AGs, investigations by 15 state insurance regulators, and 20 class actions that got consolidated in New Jersey.

Any time left for management?
I used to chair some practice groups, but I think it's better to have younger partners take those opportunities. They love it, and more established partners don't necessarily need another title by their name. Steve Best and Tim Coleman have been doing a great job with our white collar group, for instance.

But you're going to remain Chairman of the office?
Yes. Which reminds me, I've got a meeting right now with the associates. 

The Sports Club/LA
Andrews Kurth
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