At 71, Winokur, …
still evinces the striving mind-set that has become the firm's brand. As
chairman, he was deeply involved in running Dechert, yet he kept a full
roster of client matters and billed clients for up to 900 hours of legal
representation some years.
Winokur says he has
been able to build a culture of high performance and self-betterment
without the toxic downsides. But it is hard to last at Dechert without
delivering top performance.
"The weak will
not survive here," said one person familiar with Dechert's
culture. "You can't walk through the door here without a $5 million
book of business."
Whatever the firm's
internal dynamics, there is a consensus in Philadelphia's legal world and
beyond that Dechert's culture is reflective of Winokur.
He decided to
focus on New York, after seeing lawyers from Manhattan swoop into
Philadelphia and make off with the most interesting and lucrative legal
"You would see
the guys from New York coming to Philadelphia and skimming the cream
right off the top," he said, almost indignantly. "So you had a
choice: You could pull up the drawbridge and build walls higher and set
your guns and keep the outsiders out, or you could get on your horse and
get some other guys with their white horses, drop the drawbridge, and
meet the enemy where they are. Because that is a far better way to do
Winokur had modest
beginnings. He grew up in West Oak Lane, the son of a Center City lawyer
with a relatively small practice focusing first on personal-injury cases
and then on corporate and transportation law.
He went to Central
High School, and from there to Cornell and Harvard Law School. He joined
Dechert in 1964, after being advised he really should have applied
to a high-end Jewish law firm, because the firm where Winokur was
interviewing would not hire Jews.
But Winokur, who
lives on Philly's old Main Line, bridled at the idea of practicing law
under any ethnic marquee, so common in Philadelphia at the time. He
ultimately chose Dechert, he says, because it was ethnically diverse.
"I didn't want to be
at a firm that necessarily had only Irish clientele or Jewish clientele,"
Winokur said. "Wolf Block, which was a great law firm, was primarily
focused on the most elegant levels of the Jewish population, nothing wrong
with that. [But] I knew that was not where I wanted to go."
With its Wall Street
focus, Dechert prospered at an accelerated pace, but when the
financial-services sector collapsed, the firm took a hit.
Profitability is up
again. Undiminished is its seeming faith in capital markets, that,
in the minds of some at least, came close to driving the nation's economy
into a ditch.
"If the banks
collapse, you are back to that movie,
Wonderful Life," What you saw in that movie was that when
the bank failed, it wasn't just the bank, it was the entire town that
suffered. People try to separate the bank from the town, but you
can't do that. It's nice to blame someone else for your problems, but
you can't do that. The truth is, we are all tied into this together."