By James B. Stewart
Anyone who wonders why law school applications are plunging and there’s
widespread malaise in many big law firms might consider the case of Gregory M.
The silver-haired, distinguished-looking Mr. Owens would seem the
embodiment of a successful Wall Street lawyer. A graduate of Denison University
and Vanderbilt Law School, Mr. Owens moved to New York City and was named a
partner at the then old-line law firm of Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer &
Wood, and after a merger, at Dewey & LeBoeuf.
Today, Mr. Owens, 55, is a partner at an even more eminent global law firm,
White & Case. A partnership there or any of the major firms collectively known as
“Big Law” was long regarded as the brass ring of the profession, a virtual
guarantee of lifelong prosperity and job security.
But on New Year’s Eve, Mr. Owens filed for personal bankruptcy.
According to his petition, he had $400 in his checking account and $400 in
savings. He lives in a rental apartment at 151st Street and Broadway. He owns
clothing he estimated was worth $900 and his only jewelry is a Concord watch,
which he described as “broken.”
Mr. Owens is an extreme but vivid illustration of the economic factors roiling
the legal profession, although his straits are in some ways unique to his personal
The bulk of his potential liabilities stem from claims related to the collapse of