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Bienenstock leaves Dewey & LeBoeuf for Proskauer, taking partners

Martin Bienenstock, Dewey & LeBoeuf’s top bankruptcy partner and a primary player in the management team overseeing the firm’s restructuring, is leaving for Proskauer Rose, and he’s taking his group with him.

Dewey’s bankruptcy practice – which the firm referred to as its “Business Solutions & Governance” group – was among the most profitable at the troubled firm, and until this week, it appeared less prone to partner defections. (See, “As Dewey & LeBoeuf mulls options, bankruptcy practice still intact,” LCD News, May 1, 2012 $$).

That’s no longer the case. Proskauer said today that Bienenstock will bring five other partners from his department: Philip Abelson, Irena Goldstein, Tim Karcher, Michael Kessler and Judy Liu. The partners will also bring with them an unspecified number of associates, according to source familiar with the situation.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles-based Dewey bankruptcy partner Bruce Bennett, who oversaw the firm’s work on the Chapter 11 and $2.15 billion sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers, is said to be in talks with Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher about a move, the source said. And Mayer Brown today announced that it hired structured finance partner Barbara Goodstein in New York, another member of Dewey’s business solutions & governance practice. Goodstein’s work includes structure financings like CDOs, but she also has extensive debt workout and restructuring experience.

The acquisition of Bienenstock and his group in New York is a coup for Proskauer, whose own top bankruptcy partners – Mark Thomas and Jeff Marwil – are based in the firm’s Chicago office. Proskauer is a solid firm but it is no powerhouse in M&A or high-end finance, the source says. Nor does it have a strong presence in the largest Chapter 11 proceedings. With today’s announcement, the firm is taking on a top-level bankruptcy group in toto, and presumably, their book of business at a time when restructuring work in general has thinned out.

Dewey lawyers have had a hand in several large restructurings over the past year, including advising the creditors’ committee in MF Global, representing bondholders in Travelport’s debt restructuring, and advising NewPage in its Chapter 11 proceedings.

Bienenstock was chair of the practice at Dewey. He joined the firm in 2007 – shortly after the merger between Dewey Ballantine and LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & McCrae that created the global firm – after 30 years at Weil, Gotshal & Manges, with a guaranteed salary of $5.5 million for four years, according to a source familiar with the deal. Indeed, it was just that kind of large rainmaker salary offer that helped push Dewey to the brink. – John Bringardner