Stuart Saft, at the time partner at Dewey & LeBoeuf and chair of the firm’s global real estate practice, learned that it was maybe time to seriously weigh his options from the escalating nature of media reports about the firm. The last straw was when talk of bankruptcy entered the mix in a late April news item in The New York Times.
Now, as Mr. Saft and the other real estate attorneys from Dewey land elsewhere, another group of attorneys from Dewey with real estate experience on the private equity side have moved to Schulte Roth & Zabel. They include Joseph Smith and Marshall Brozost, who are joining the investment management and real estate groups, respectively, as partners.
“Because the stories continued repeatedly and groups of partners were leaving, I came to the realization that I better at least have a plan in case the firm couldn’t right itself,” Mr. Saft, who joined Holland & Knight May 1 as partner and co-chair of the firm’s New York Real Estate Practice, told The Commercial Observer. “At the end what happened was when they came out with a story about a possible bankruptcy filing, my clients became very concerned about what effect that would have, particularly because of all of the escrow money we were holding.”
As the firm crumbled around him and partner defections increased, Mr. Saft said that he moved quickly to ensure that the client money wasn’t potentially tied up in any bankruptcy filing. “It evolved fairly quickly,” he said. “From beginning to end we may have been looking at a one month period of time from the time the stories got very aggressive to the time that I had to physically leave.”
Mr. Saft took with him seven associates, three paralegals and two secretaries to continue a practice that includes deal structuring, acquisitions, financing and condo development and conversion.
Another group from Dewey’s real estate group went to the New York office of Venable. Peter Britell, Gordon Davis and Suzanne St. Pierre joined the firm’s real estate practice earlier this month as partners. Meanwhile, Susan Golden joined as counsel and Michael Phillipou and Ashley Dunn joined as associates.
While Mr. Saft facilitated his exit pretty quickly, others may have been looking longer as the firm crumbled. According to a source, Messrs. Smith and Brozost, from Dewey’s private equity group, had their resumes circulating the real estate departments of New York’s top firms for some time.