Coudert Brothers may be dead, but its problems only seem to be getting worse.
The firm, which closed up shop in August 2005, is awash in debt, has declared bankruptcy, and was recently hit by by a pair of judgments totaling $2.8 million. Though the firm has paid off $23 million it owed to bank creditors Citigroup Inc. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., it still lists $18 million in liabilities.
Former partners still owe the firm $8 million for loans, advances on tax payments, and overdistributions. Coudert faces malpractice claims in California and Connecticut. Five creditors-including the firm’s employee pension fund, tax authorities in Britain, and Coudert’s former landlord in Paris-are owed more than $1 million apiece.
And that’s just the beginning. Bankruptcy filings show that some partners continued to bill the firm for items like a foot massage, a golf caddy, and private school tuition. Meanwhile, contract partners overseas complain that they weren’t paid, and a partner has stashed about $800,000 in Singapore bank accounts to ensure that the firm doesn’t get it.
Not since the epic crash of Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison in 2002 has a law firm flamed out as spectacularly as Coudert. The firm once had 28 offices across the globe and employed 600 lawyers, and though its financial performance had been fading for years, it was recognized as a pioneer in international law. But its worldwide scope also helped to undermine the firm.
Coudert faced-and still faces-a jumble of lease obligations from Sydney to Singapore to San Francisco. It has had difficulties accessing money in Frankfurt, Tokyo, and Singapore. It was once common for Coudert partners to speak many languages. Now its creditors do.