“Society is very strong”: David Boies speaks of “transition” as partners flee and retirement looms
David Boies, now 79, speaks like someone who gets paid $ 2,000 an hour. He speaks slowly, deliberately and with authority. He has a good sense of humor and puts things in context. He speaks in whole paragraphs. On a recent Saturday morning, we were discussing the important topic of whether her company, Boies Schiller Flexner, now faces an existential threat, some 23 years after Boies co-founded it with Jonathan schiller in the wake of Boies Departure by Cravath, Swaine & Moore, one of Wall Street’s most vibrant law firms.
A few days before our conversation, Nick Gravante, one of Boies’ hand-picked successors and one of the company’s two managing partners, left after 20 years. He joined the old company Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, as well as three other partners of Boies Schiller. Although the most important departure, Gravante’s decision was just the latest example of Boies Schiller’s partners voting with their feet. In January, three partners of Boies Schiller in Florida left to start their own business. In April, a group of Californian partners left join King & Spalding. Then, in June, two members of the executive committee of Boies Schiller, Karen dunn and Bill Isaacson, left to join the powerful law firm Paul, Weiss. There have also been, apparently unfounded, rumors that Natasha Harrison, the other co-manager of the firm (with Gravante) was also considering leaving Boies Schiller. A “case of irresponsible reporting,” says Boies. She was in fact appointed vice-president of the cabinet. What was around 320 full-time lawyers at Boies Schiller has now fallen to around 200, a drop of 37.5%.
There was also to chatter on the company’s “cash flow” problems. As the pandemic spread, Boies Schiller received a $ 10 million potentially repayable paycheck protection program loan. “It’s a substantial amount of money,” concedes Boies. But he doesn’t apologize. He says the company got it because it didn’t want to fire people or reduce their pay. “The goal of PPP loans was to keep people employed and to keep them employed at their pre-pandemic salaries,” he says, “both because I think our company thought it was right to them, and because we thought that from an economic point of view, it was better than having these people unemployed or in a reduced economic situation.
There was also a Rabat to the firm this year on changes to how partners would be paid and when they would receive their bonuses. “It was just plain silly,” he says of the report that associates were not being paid. There were also concerns that the firm has too much real estate for the number of lawyers it employs. In February 2019, the company moved into its new offices in chic Hudson Yards on the West Side of Manhattan. Boies has an office at his home in Armonk, New York, and another at his home in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. There are offices in Washington, DC, San Francisco and Miami, and smaller offices in Los Angeles and Las Vegas. You can see why people wonder if Boies Schiller’s days are numbered.
Boies is one of those people that other people love to hate. An aura of schadenfreude seems to surround him. He loves to push the limits: a few years ago, Boies joined the board of directors of Theranos, the fraudulent blood testing company, at the same time as an attorney for the company, raising legitimate questions of a conflict of interest. When he represented Harvey Weinstein, disgraced Hollywood mogul Boies hiring Black Cube, a private Israeli spy company, which spied on and targeted Weinstein’s alleged victims as well as journalists from The New York Times, and other places, which investigated and reported on Weinstein’s behavior. At the same time, he hired Black Cube to investigate Times journalists, he had a letter of engagement with the newspaper to represent the company in litigation. Of course, Boies has had some significant litigation successes: among them, successfully representing the federal government in its landmark antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft and win the Supreme Court ruling which authorized same-sex marriage.
Then there are his expensive toys. His 17-acre home in Armonk is often described as “an estate”. He owns Hawk and Horse, a posh vineyard in California, and he owns a magnificent 184-foot sailboat that he and his third wife, Married, lived for approximately three months between March and June of this year, sailing from St. Thomas Island to Newport, Rhode Island. (He left the boat when the courts started to reopen again.) He had come down to St. Barts in mid-March for a sailing race, which was canceled due to COVID.
Boies says Boies Schiller’s high profile departures are just part of a “serious” five-year “transition”, a euphemism “for the fact that I’m getting older,” he joked. He says what was once intended to be a small business of 15 or 20 people has grown exponentially. “It had already gone beyond what we thought it was going to be,” he said, “and we wanted to make sure that the people who had joined us had a viable business, and a business like the one we had created, to keep going. after our retirement. He says that he and the founding partners had already started to transfer part of the capital to other partners, and then, five years ago, began to transfer the management of the firm to “lawyers of the next generations”.