Dentons, one of the world’s biggest law firms, is using private-equity money to create a new consulting firm, starting with the acquisition of an advisory firm founded by former US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
The consulting company, called Dentons Global Advisors, or DGA, will be led by Ed Reilly, the strategic-communications executive whom Dentons hired from FTI Consulting in 2019. The law firm will have a minority stake in DGA, which has financial backing from an unnamed private-equity firm, Reilly said in an interview.
The cornerstone of the new venture is the Albright Stonebridge Group, a Washington, DC-based consulting firm led by the US’s former top diplomat. That firm, to be rebranded Dentons Global Advisors ASG, has advised corporate titans like Pfizer, Amazon, Microsoft, Lyft, and Discovery Communications and has at least a half-dozen alumni serving in the Biden administration.
ASG describes its services as “commercial diplomacy.” Its staff includes policy experts, former corporate executives and lawyers who advise on strategy, regulatory matters, and public affairs. Albright, who led the State Department from 1997 through 2001, is “committed to staying with us,” Reilly said.
Joe Andrew, the chair of Dentons, said the new venture has plans to build one of “the most sophisticated consulting firms in the world” that can compete with the likes of McKinsey, the Boston Consulting Group, and advisory units of the Big Four accounting firms.
“What we’re attempting to do here is build an enduring institution that will stand beside Dentons,” Reilly said. “A strong partnership and relationship, yet independent.”
Dentons’ minority ownership in Dentons Global Advisors is unusual
Some law firms have consulting units that dispense nonprivileged business advice. Many others also offer crisis-communications advice to clients who want to be sure they don’t slip up in their communications with policymakers, courts, regulators, and the public.
But law firms typically employ those consultants outright, fully own a subsidiary, or hire outside crisis-communications pros. It’s unusual, if not unprecedented, for a law firm to take a minority stake in a consulting shop using outside money.
Michael Warren, ASG’s managing director, said moving under the Dentons umbrella would give clients of the law firm and DGA the benefit of having lawyers and business-strategy specialists in the room with corporate leaders at the same time. Executives face “complex issues that are very, very difficult to pull apart,” he said.
ASG has more than 100 people on staff in the US, China, and other countries and dozens of other experts who assist from time to time, according to Dan Rosenthal, its managing principal. He said the consulting firm’s revenue was higher in 2020 than it was in 2019 and that it was careful and deliberate in its months of talks with Dentons.
“Our reputation is our most important and valued asset, and we didn’t go into this thing lightly at all,” he said. He said ASG’s executives would be “substantial owners” of DGA.
This is not Dentons’ first venture into communications and consulting
Dentons has gotten into comms and consulting before. In 2013, it created a crisis-management consultancy known as Wirthlin-Dentons. In 2015, it founded Nextlaw Labs, a legal-technology accelerator, and expanded the Nextlaw brand to encompass a venture-capital entity and legal and public-affairs referral networks. And in 2019, it created Dentons Risk Consulting, though a legal-news website reported in March that the project was no more.
On Thursday, Dentons said it was restructuring its Nextlaw offering. A spokesperson said parts of the Nextlaw Public Affairs Network could affiliate with DGA. Andrew said in an interview that a final decision hadn’t been made on which Dentons assets would move to DGA.
“There’s a certainty that some of them will,” Andrew said.
Dentons, which was formed in 2013 by a law-firm merger, is structured as a web of partnerships that employ 20,000 people, according to the firm. It has recently engaged in “combinations” with other midsize US law firms that serve cities like Louisville, Kentucky, and Des Moines, Iowa, where few global law firms have offices, in an effort to extend its reach.
It has also grown internationally in the past year, adding law firms in Ecuador, Tanzania, and several other countries. Andrew said the law firm’s stake in DGA will be held by a Dutch entity that manages Dentons’ inter-entity payments.
Law.com put Dentons’ 2019 revenue at $2.9 billion; the firm said the number wasn’t accurate and said it doesn’t release its revenues. Two units whose finances are public, Dentons UK and Middle East LLP and Dentons Europe LLP, respectively reported $328 million and $561 million in revenue in their most recent fiscal years at current exchange rates.
Amy Chua answered the door of her New Haven home wearing yoga pants and a Myrtle Beach T-shirt that had a curlicue bachelorette-party font now considered cheugy. It’s not exactly the look one might expect from a tenured professor at Yale Law, but Chua is all about playing against type.
Chua, who is 58, is best known for 2011’s “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” a memoir about her childhood as the daughter of Chinese immigrants and raising her own daughters. Details of her draconian parenting — like threatening to donate her younger daughter Lulu’s dollhouse to the Salvation Army if the 6-year-old didn’t master “The Little White Donkey” on the piano by day’s end — went viral. She was also named one of Time’s most influential people of the year. She got death threats, too.
This April, the Yale Daily News reported that Chua would be stripped of teaching a small class to first years after students came forward to the administration alleging that Chua was hosting dinner parties with alcohol for law students and “prominent members of the legal community” at her home.
Professors having students over for dinner is typically not discouraged — it’s even encouraged — by the school, students said. And having alcohol served at law-school functions is commonplace. But this was not a typical situation.
The gatherings took place during the pandemic, and Yale had rules about social events because of COVID-19. In addition, Chua’s husband, fellow Yale Law professor Jed Rubenfeld, was in the midst of a two-year suspension after female law students had accused him of sexually harassing them.
Finally — something that hadn’t been public knowledge until the Yale Daily News article — Chua had apparently reached an agreement with the university in 2019 that she stop drinking with students and stop hosting students at her house. She also paid a “substantial financial penalty” in 2019, according to an internal letter from Yale Law Dean Heather Gerken. Chua won’t discuss the details of the agreement, but the claims against her involved excessive drinking with students and insensitive remarks.
At first, Chua — who said she only learned she’d be losing her section when a Yale Daily News reporter called her for comment in March — planned to say nothing. After she published “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother,” crisis managers with whom Chua consulted advised her to keep quiet in the face of bad press.
“Any time there’s something that’s bigger than you, like a scandal or something, they always advise you, ‘Don’t say anything if you’re only going to feed the news cycle,'” Chua said in one of two recent interviews with Insider.
But then her daughter Lulu persuaded her otherwise. “She said, ‘You’re so old fashioned. That’s not the way it is now. Everything is fought now out on social media,'” Chua recalled.
Chua posted 67 letters of support from students on her personal website and fired off a barn burner of a letter to members of the faculty, alleging, among other things, that she had been deprived of due process. If the university hadn’t wanted her to socialize with students, why did they assign her to a small class in the first place? she asked. She said Dean Gerken treated her like “a criminal.” As if that weren’t enough of a splash, Chua then tweeted the letter out, with the message that the university “assumes an Asian American woman would never fight back. THINK AGAIN.”
Some students considered the debacle to be a result of a professor who had pushed the limits at Yale for years. Others saw it as an attempt to cancel a popular teacher because she supported Rubenfeld and Brett Kavanaugh amid allegations of the men’s sexual misconduct. Almost all sides saw it as the inevitable eruption of a long-simmering tension between the most elite law school in America and its most famous professor.
Chua first arrived on campus 20 years ago to join her husband, Jed Rubenfeld. He was already a giant in the world of constitutional law, whereas Chua specialized in the comparatively less sexy area of law and development.
“When I first started here, I tried to sound like other professors, and it was a disaster,” she said. “I tried to teach like other people, I tried to dress like other people. But I’ve been very happy just kind of settling into my own personality.”
The two made a name for themselves by mentoring students who had come from unorthodox backgrounds — first-generation college students, minorities, even graduates of state schools — in the often cloaked process of obtaining a coveted clerkship, in which recent legal grads work with judges to help research and write decisions.
With Rubenfeld, she was half of a power couple. While colleagues appeared on PBS with Christiane Amanpour, Chua, a household name known as “Tiger Mom,” was on “The View.”
“They were among the most beloved professors at the school,” a 2008 Yale Law graduate said. “They would join up with any student group for any reason … they were the kind of professors that Yale was otherwise missing.”
Their parties were well known on campus, particularly their annual Harvard-Yale football game tailgating.
“These weren’t Arizona State University frat parties where there’s, like, 40 kegs everywhere and there’s just, like, drunken naked bodies, and there’s just debauchery orgy. We’re all still a bunch of Ivy League nerds, and many people have been prepping for their Senate confirmation hearings since they were, like, 12 years old,” a recent graduate said. “But put in that context, yes, professor Chua did host parties with a lot of alcohol” where “people got pretty drunk.”
Chua said her parties were notable, but not wild. She said she’d have 40 students over for Chinese takeout, for example.
“I think, just to be honest, I think compared to the average, maybe they were livelier,” she added.
In 2018 these gatherings became a cause for concern for Yale when Rubenfeld was investigated over sexual-harassment accusations. The allegations, which Rubenfeld has denied, spanned decades and included unwanted touching and attempted kissing of female students, at both his home and on campus. Yale suspended Rubenfeld for two years.
The same year Rubenfeld’s investigation commenced, the Supreme Court confirmation proceedings of Brett Kavanaugh, a Yale Law alum, divided the school. Chua announced her support of Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination in a Wall Street Journal op-ed titled “Kavanaugh Is a Mentor to Women.” When allegations from Christine Blasey Ford surfaced two months later, Chua was one of the few faculty members to continue to support Kavanaugh publicly while the Yale community staged a sit-in that made national news and disrupted classes for a week.
Days before Blasey’s testimony, the Huffington Post reported that Chua told a group of students that it was “not an accident” that Kavanaugh’s female law clerks all “looked like models.” One student told the Post that Chua told her to dress “outgoing” and “strongly urged me to send her pictures of what I was thinking of wearing so she could evaluate.” Protest signs reading “YLS is a ‘MODEL’ of complicity!” were plastered on campus.
(Chua denied making these comments at the time, but she recently told Slate, “I did stupidly comment that then-Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s clerks one year were nice looking — a comment I regret and would never say today.”)
While Chua’s classes consistently have waitlists, her position on Kavanaugh has turned her into her a pariah for a faction of the student body.
“Kavanaugh is still a kind of a live event, particularly for people in my class who arrived just as he was getting nominated,” a current student said. “I’m very aware of classmates who are hostile to professor Chua for Brett Kavanaugh.”
Chua, for one, thought the administration backed her. After being contacted by the Yale Daily News, she immediately reached out to Dean Gerken to set up a Zoom meeting, expecting support from someone she considered a friend.
“I thought she was going to say ‘I’m so sorry about this, the school will stand by you.’ But instead I was under an interrogation. She’s, like, ‘It’s time to come clean.’ And I was, like, ‘What are you talking about?'” Chua said, adding that Gerken grilled her about the rumored presence of federal judges at her gatherings.
“It’s such an Ivy League hubris to think that federal judges would fly across the country to socialize with 22-year-olds,” Chua said.
Chua said she had a “handful” of people over to her home a few times over the winter — “absolutely not a party.” According to Chua, her husband was not present, all guests were tested for COVID-19 beforehand and sat 10 feet away from one another, no one stayed past 7 o’clock, and “food was, like, individually packaged cheese.” The students who visited her were “in crisis,” she said. One had been outed as gay in a conservative journal and “was actually very, very upset. He brought over a bottle of wine.” Other students were seeking solace after a wave of violence against Asian Americans, Chua said.
When reached for comment, Yale Law said it doesn’t comment on personnel matters, but it did say, “At Yale Law School, no disciplinary decision is made or communicated unless the faculty member accused of misconduct has received notice of the allegations and has an opportunity to respond.”
A Yale Law School spokesperson added: “If during a discussion about curricular planning with a member of our faculty, the faculty member offers to withdraw from a course and the dean accepts that offer, the matter is closed.”
More than a month later, Chua said she still finds the situation “surreal.”
“I can’t imagine anyone else being treated this way,” she said. “I don’t understand. I’m a tenured professor. And to be publicly stripped of a small group in such a humiliating way without being told what I was accused of — and having to learn about it in the student newspaper?”
To understand Chua, it’s helpful to understand Yale Law School, which is, to borrow legal parlance, sui generis. Yale Law is the most prestigious law school in America. Some of its cachet is maintained by shrewd marketing: Each Yale Law class has a precious 200 slots, compared to Harvard’s bloated 560. Especially given its size, its sheer number of powerful alumni is stunning: Four of the current Supreme Court justices went to Yale — ditto Stacey Abrams, Bill and Hillary Clinton, Gerald Ford, and a good number of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
When you talk to a student at Yale Law, you get the impression that they, too, are destined for big things. While scoring a job in Big Law after graduation is considered the brass ring at virtually every other law school, it’s looked down on by some at Yale.
There’s this mindset, one recent alum said, of “you could’ve gone to Columbia” to work at a white-shoe firm, “so why the hell did you come to Yale Law School and take a spot from somebody who actually wanted to do something with their lives?”
While it might be cutthroat to get in, and cutthroat once you leave, the administration likes to tout the idea that your three years at Yale Law are a respite from all that. “Off the treadmill” is a term faculty use to refer to policies like a grading system that has only two options: pass or high pass.
But when you get a group of type-A people together, they’ll find a way to compete. And that’s what’s happened at Yale with clerkships. Half of Yale Law graduates clerk at some point — even some of those who go into Big Law — with 40% leaving for a clerkship immediately after graduation. A handful in each class clerk for a Supreme Court judge. The proximity to power is stunning: A 25-year-old who’s never practiced law might well be ghostwriting the dissenting opinion for the decision that overturns Roe v. Wade.
According to students, the clerkship process can be frustratingly opaque. The school doesn’t centralize information about which classes one should take to maximize one’s chances, and students aggressively court faculty members to be their recommenders. There are professors “who think you don’t exist unless you are a Rhodes scholar,” one alum said. “I’ve literally seen professors run out of class to avoid talking to students.”
For many, Chua was their only available advocate. “If you went to Choate Rosemary Hall and your daddy’s a senator, you don’t need Amy Chua. You’ve already got it made in life, right?” a former student said.
“But for other students who maybe don’t come from that kind of family pedigree, who don’t come from that kind of money or connections, professor Chua … was an equalizer in that sense.”
One graduate thought that some students’ dependency on professors such as Chua set up a precarious dynamic. “They have to keep someone like Chua pleased with them in order to get the help they deserve,” the graduate said.
Chua insists that the image of her as a “power-wielding clerkship strategist” is overstated. “I wonder if some students almost felt like, ‘If I’m not one of professor Chua’s minority students, I’m not going to get a clerkship,'” Chua said.
In 2019, Yale Law investigated Chua after some alumni complained to the administration, saying that Chua threatened students who signed a letter in the Huffington Post denouncing her husband after Rubenfeld published a controversial 2014 op-ed in the New York Times. In the article, he warned that affirmative consent policies risk defining all drunken sexual encounters as rape. The Yale Law investigation found that Chua “did not retaliate against students,” according to a December 2019 letter from Gerken seen by Insider.
Still, going forward, Chua said she wants “to be much more sensitive to students who might not want to come to a professor’s house, who might feel pressured to socialize. And so those are the kinds of things that I regret not sort of noticing earlier.”
One recent Yale Law alum said that problem is bigger than Amy Chua. “The larger structure is really the issue,” she said. Until Yale Law makes the clerkship process more accessible, there will still be potential for professors to abuse their power.
Soon after the Yale Daily News article ran, a 17-page dossier began to circulate throughout the school community by email, eventually running in a redacted version on the gossipy legal blog Above the Law. Compiled by an anonymous Yale Law student, the “Gossip Girl”-esque document painted a picture of Chua’s house being a revolving door for federal judges and clerkship-hungry students, replete with appendixes of screenshots of text messages and audio that were, the document represented, between the author and his two unsuspecting Yale Law friends, John and Jane Doe.
Sample entry, February 19: “At 9:15, John Doe texts me that he’s drunk. I ask him if he’s at Chua’s and he coyly denies it by joking that he is standing outside in the snow, indicating that he is not literally at Chua’s. When he gets back to his apartment, he calls me and sounds extremely intoxicated. I ask him if he got drunk at Chua’s and he says, “Yes but I don’t know what you’re talking about.'”
In another part in the dossier, the writer recounts an in-person conversation he says he had with John Doe. He said John Doe told him that Chua just had a call with Justice Sonia Sotomayor about another student and said that Chua would push for him to clerk with “Sonia” next.
During a recent Law School faculty meeting, some attendees pushed for an independent committee to investigate Yale Law’s decision to strip Chua of her small class, according to professor Bruce Ackerman.
Ackerman said the committee would attempt to answer questions including whether it should be the university, rather than the Law School, investigating these types of accusations, as well as “precisely what are the accusations being made regarding this incident? Were there any violations of the rules or not? What are the facts?” he said.
“The mere fact that allegations are made doesn’t mean they’re true,” Ackerman told Insider. “That’s precisely what the Yale Law School is all about. Due process of law.”
A Yale Law spokesperson denied that such a committee was being formed and disputed Ackerman’s recollection of the faculty meeting. “The dean plans to form a committee to consider whether the Law School ought to make more transparent the findings of faculty misconduct,” the spokesperson said.
Chua said she’d never heard a single complaint about her “of any kind” until after the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings and her husband’s sexual-harassment investigation.
She said she believes there’s a misconception about her at Yale Law that’s the result of her support of Kavanaugh and “‘Tiger Mom’ stuff” — “probably bound up with all the stuff about my husband, even though I’ve tried so hard to be a completely separate person.”
Less than a year after she wrote the op-ed in support of Kavanaugh, her older daughter, Sophia, a graduate of Yale Law, would go on to clerk for Kavanaugh, prompting many to suspect her vociferous support of the justice was not without an agenda.
Chua denied any ulterior motives. Still, it’s hard to shake the feeling that with Chua there’s a certain amount of recklessness that she engages in. Why, for example, would she risk the mentorship she holds so dearly by having any students, even ones in crisis, at her house?
She allows that in other areas in the past, she has had blind spots. Chua said she planned to stay at Yale despite it being “crystal clear” that the administration is “very upset” with her. She said she hasn’t attended a faculty meeting in a while.
“I’m a strange figure, you know? I mean, depending on whom you talk to at the law school, it’s like you get two totally different pictures,” Chua said.
One recent alum expressed regret about the consequences of this scandal. “Professor Chua is no longer going to be as open to students, and the other YLS professors who see how professor Chua was treated will retreat further back into their offices.”
Chua admits she’s “gun-shy” about ever having a party again. “I’m going to work towards restraining more now. Just to kind of say, ‘OK, it’s a new generation. I just have to be a lot more careful.’ And I take responsibility for that.”
Then, as if by reflex, Chua added, “I will say that, you know, my parties were incredibly fun.”