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    December 17, 2007  
 
 

What's Up at Dechert?
Quick Questions for Paul Friedman, D.C. Managing Partner


 

Dechert, a global firm of 1000 re-branded from its Philadelphia origins after a merger with a substantial London firm in 2000, has an illustrious history dating from 1875.  Among other distinctions, Robert Dechert's original law partner in the 1930's was Harvard president Derek Bok's father; and Scooter Libby was DC managing partner before becoming Vice President Cheney's chief-of-staff.  The firm has 100 lawyers in DC.

How fast are you growing here?
When I became managing partner three years ago, we had about 75 lawyers.  I'd call it steady growth.

 

Before he took on managing partner duties, Paul was co-head of Dechert's antitrust group.  He worked in Cleveland for a year fresh out of Boston University Law School.  Paul jumped to DC when his old firm, Arter Hadden, needed an antitrust associate here back in 1979, then to Dechert in 2000.

 

What are your strongest practices in DC?
One thing the firm has done very well is identifying our core practices.  Six years ago, we had a partner retreat with a law firm consultant [Mark Shapiro, now at Blaqwell], where we developed a strategic plan.  We decided to be the best at what we do, which means we can't be trying to do everything.  Our core areas are financial services, like investment management, mutual funds, and hedge funds; white collar litigation and SEC enforcement; antitrust; corporate M&A, particularly private equity; real estate finance; IP; and mass torts and products liability litigation.  DC is particularly strong in the first three areas.

What's the management structure at Dechert?
We have a Chairman [Barton Winokur, resident in the NY and Philadelphia offices]; four Deputy Chairmen, including Rob Helm, who's based here; a Policy Committee, including Jack Murphy, also based here; practice group leaders; and office managing partners.  Most of our management issues get handled through the practice groups.

 

Paul moved into a new office back in May, but still hasn't done anything with the framed art at his feet.  "I need to get my wife in here to tell me where to hang them," he confessed. 

 

What does the Policy Committee do?
It sets the overall strategic direction.  It make recommendations on opening new offices and making new partners.  And it functions as the firm's compensation committee.

How do you conceive your role as managing partner here?
The way I think of it, I'm responsible for creating an environment that makes it easy for lawyers to do their jobs, whether that means getting better library services, secretarial issues, or just creating a good atmosphere.  I really don't like stuffy places.

How much can you really affect the environment at a firm?
When I became managing partner, we thought the associate happiness level might have dipped a bit.  We got very nice silver lunchboxes from Dean & Deluca, and filled them with treats.  We had partners deliver them to associates they hadn't worked with before.  Just getting people talking to each other makes a difference.  We also have a wine committee that tries to find the best $15 wine they can for our happy hours.  Those are small things, but they help people feel engaged.

 

The Dechert team won the Whole Foods case at trial; they're currently awaiting an appeal.  For vacations, Paul and his wife Ann like to take their two teenage boys to national parks out west (Glacier and the Grand Canyon have been checked off the list).  They've hit a couple of dude ranches as well. 

 

What are some recent matters you've worked on?
For one, the Whole Foods case.  The FTC wanted a preliminary injunction to prevent Whole Foods' merger with Wild Oats Markets.  The government filed on June 6th and we got brought onto the case on the 14th.  The judge said there would be no live witnesses at trial except experts, so we had 40 days to build our entire case.

Where was it tried?
Federal court here in DC.  One amusing aspect of the case was that the judge was also named Paul Friedman, so we had some fun with the names.  There was a huge crowd for trial, and the courthouse staff had to set up an overflow courtroom with piped-in sound.

No video?
No, they just built a state-of-the-art courtroom , but they couldn't pipe in video from one courtroom to another.

Who worked on that case with you?
We had a very large team, including my partners Paul Denis, Jeff Brennan, Jim Fishkin and Mike Farber.  Paul was lead, and I had the cross-examination of the FTC's only live witness.  Trying the case with Paul and the rest of our team really was the culmination of a vision we share to build one of the best antitrust shops in the country.  I joined Dechert at about the same time Paul joined Swidler Berlin.  We spent the next few years recruiting each other.  We finally got Paul and his team to come over from Swidler Berlin a couple of years ago. 

 
 
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