February 11, 2009
The Death of the Deal Toy?
Posted by Christine Hurt

Earlier this week my colleagues on the dean search committee were joking that we should have a "deal toy" created to commemorate the "closing" of our successful dean search.  Little did we know that deal toys may have gone the way of the bank account toaster or retirement gold watch.

TDealtoy he WSJ today has the story of Cynthia Swabson, the former mastermind of Lehman Brothers deal toys for the last 20-plus years.  For those of you not fortunate enough to have toiled in the transactional mines with any of the various parties to a deal, a deal toy is usually some sort of Lucite knick-knack that serves as memorabilia of a deal that closed successfully.  This picture is a deal toy from a deal that I worked on back in the day.  I notice that it did come from Lehman Brothers, so it may be a "Cynthia Swabson"  If you can see on the right, there is a slender cavity (like on an old-style thermostat) with fluid in it -- that's oil from the refinery that was financed.

Obviously, Lehman has no deals these days or needs for deal toys, and few other firms do, either.  In these tough economic times, deal toys are an unnecessary extravagance, even with so few deals taking place.  Deal toys don't come cheap, and in boom times were given to many people that worked on the deal as the issuer, the investment bank, the law firm, and maybe others.  The article mentions that deal toys were a $100k or so line item in Bear Stearns' budget. 

Deal toys may not be gone forever.  I remember when I began practicing in (gulp) 1993, junior associates often bemoaned the fact that the deal toys didn't trickle down as far in the ranks as they had in the go-go 1980s when even paralegals may have gotten deal toys.  In leaner times, only partners received them.  As the 1990s transitioned into its own deal-crazy era, the closing dinners got bigger again and the deal toy craze bounced back.  So, I'm going to predict that Lucite may not be gone forever

By the way, once I went to Skadden and worked on deals that lasted years, not decades, my closings (and deal toys) were fewer and farther between.  But the best deal toy I ever saw was at Baker Botts.  It was the Texas Commerce Bank deposit slip for $3,000,000,000.00 from the Pennzoil/Texaco case, encased in Lucite.

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