Quitting Dechert Put Bill Lamb on Path to Fame and Fortune

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As a young associate at the law firm now known as Dechert, William Lamb soon found himself feeling restless. Only a year or so out of law school, he marched into the chairman’s office and said he was going to quit.

Little did he know then that the risky career move nearly 40 years ago would help him achieve fame and fortune—and create work for actor Sean Penn, who played Lamb in a 1986 movie based on one of his high-profile cases, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer in a lengthy article about Lamb and the law firm of which he is now chairman.

After Dechert, Lamb had two jobs: He spent his days as an assistant district attorney in Chester County, not far from Philadelphia, earning $4,500 annually. And at night he worked for a small firm that represented municipalities and other government entities.

Today, that firm is 29-lawyer Lamb McErlane, a litigation and appellate powerhouse in the state, and Lamb presumably works there because he wants to: “Over the years, Lamb, a Republican, built on his role as a popular local prosecutor and his network of political and business contacts to bolster both the firm and a lucrative private-banking business that netted him more than $12 million when it was sold in 1999,” the newspaper reports.

Along the way, Lamb served on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and, in 1986, saw a five-victim murder he had been brought in to try as a special prosecutor make it to the silver screen. Penn, and Christopher Walken co-starred. The soundtrack featured music by Madonna. The case, which had shocked Chester County, involved two men who allegedly ran a theft ring and are now convicted of murder and serving life terms. They reportedly lured five teenage victims, one by one, to a remote area and killed them, to keep the teens from talking about heists in which they’d helped out.

At Close Range created a lot of publicity for the law firm, but it stepped back from from a bigger role in the movie behind the scenes, the Inquirer writes. Lamb didn’t like the way a surviving victim—played by Sean Penn—who allegedly had been a member of the group of teens, was portrayed.

“It was one of those things, ‘Don’t let the facts get in the way,’ ” he tells the newspaper. “We respectfully refused to give them any help. We read the script, and it painted [the surviving victim] as some sort of folk hero, and he wasn’t. He was a bum.”

Updated at 5 p.m. to correct that Penn did not portray Lamb but rather a surviving victim of the killings.

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