Coudert Brothers

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Coudert Brothers LLP
Coudert Brothers
HeadquartersNew York City
No. of offices28
No. of attorneys650
Major practice areasGeneral practice
Date founded1853 (New York City)
FounderFrederic René Coudert Sr.
Charles Coudert Jr.
Louis Leonce Coudert
Company typeDefunct

Coudert Brothers LLP was a New York-based law firm with a strong international outlook that practiced from 1853 until its dissolution in 2006.


The firm was established in 1853 in New York by three sons of Charles Coudert Sr.: Frederic René Coudert Sr., Charles Coudert Jr., and Louis Leonce Coudert, which specialized in international law.[1]

The firm represented private investors seeking to acquire rights to build the Panama Canal; French automotive and tire manufacturers opening plants in the U.S.; the governments of Russia, France, and Great Britain in the buildup to World War I; and Ford Motor Company and a group of foreign car manufacturers in the successful appeal of the Selden Patent Case, ending the attempted monopolization of the automotive industry. The firm prospered under three generations of family control, expanding from its start in New York City to 28 offices worldwide, including Paris, London, Moscow, Sydney, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Shanghai. Coudert partners dealt with financiers, presidents, and ambassadors in settling cases of corporate ownership worldwide, acting as confidential facilitators of Allied arms buying in World War I, and as interventionist supporters in World War II.

In 1986, Coudert Brothers hired Gordon Spivack, a former Yale Law School professor who oversaw the multimillion-dollar antitrust practice at the law firm of Lord Day & Lord. Spivack took 17 lawyers to Coudert Brothers, plus clients like the Coca-Cola Company.[2]


Though American Lawyer magazine ranked it "among the 100 highest-grossing firms in the United States" in 2004, it was dissolved in 2005 after failing to reach a merger agreement with another firm, Baker & McKenzie.

The breakup of Coudert Brothers was long in coming. In 2004, the firm had profits of only $410,000 per partner—among the lowest in big law firms. Coudert Brothers took a significant hit when Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe recruited 11 partners from its London and Moscow offices, effectively ending its presence there.[3] Orrick also acquired Coudert's valuable offices in China.[4] Most of the New York office joined Baker & McKenzie, greatly expanding its New York operations. In Paris, the office split to both Orrick and the Philadelphia-based firm Dechert. In Brussels, Antwerp, Singapore, and Tokyo, DLA Piper and Mayer Brown welcomed new attorneys from Coudert. Additionally, some of the lawyers in Almaty and St. Petersburg begame the foundation for new offices for Chadbourne & Parke in those areas. The Bangkok office switched to Hunton & Williams. Specialized departments started their own law firms, such as the Middle East Practice Group based in Frankfurt which set up MIDEAST LAW | Lawyers | Avocats | Rechtsanwälte.

One reason for the decline of Coudert Brothers was the rise of other competitive multinational law firms in the 1990s and 2000s, such as Clifford Chance, White & Case, and Baker & McKenzie. Many of Coudert's offices were relatively costly, unproductive, and conservative in billing, which made their profits (and therefore the income of their partner attorneys) weaker than other firms. The firm also had redundant offices, such as three offices in the San Francisco Bay Area and a generalist approach that competed poorly with more specialized practices of other firms.[5]

On September 22, 2006, Coudert Brothers filed for bankruptcy. This led to a flurry of litigation, including allegations of malpractice and that overseas lawyers sequestered firm money from creditors. There was also debate over payments made to partners during the final months of the firm's operations possibly constituting fraudulent transfers.[6] As of 2016, litigation concerning the acquisition by Orrick of Coudert's Chinese offices was still ongoing, leading one judge to dub Coudert "the longest-lived dead law firm in the Western World."[4]

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  1. ^ "The modern firm of Coudert Brothers has a choice of starting dates: its origins clearly go back to 1853, when Frederic René hung out his shingle, but purists, if they wish, may hold by either 1855, when two Coudert brothers first practiced law together, or 1857, when the brothers seemed to have turned their fledgling enterprise into a legal partnership." "It is the 1857 city directory...that for the first time lists ...the name they chose for their partnership: Coudert Brothers". Virginia Kays Veenswijk, Coudert Brothers: The History of America's First International Law Firm 1853-1993, Truman Talley Books, New York, 1994, ISBN 0-525-93585-1, p. 26.
  2. ^ "Oldest Law Firm Is Courtly, Loyal and Defunct" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2008-10-07. Retrieved 2008-05-02.
  3. ^ - Coudert Breakup Voted After Merger Talks Fail
  4. ^ a b Brush, Pete (February 17, 2016). "Orrick Cuts Deal In Spat With 'Longest-Lived Dead Law Firm'". Law360. Retrieved February 23, 2016.
  5. ^ Glater, Jonathan D. (30 August 2005). "Law Firm That Opened Borders Is Closing Up Shop". New York Times. Retrieved 23 July 2013.
  6. ^ Rosen, Ellen (2007-02-09). "The Complicated End of an Ex-law Firm". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-04-05.

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