Boies Schiller & Flexner LLP
Published April 2011, last updated August 2011
2011 Vault Ranking: 23
One of the youngest of the major firms in the United States, Boies Schiller & Flexner has already cemented its reputation as an elite firm. It has an established reputation for a stellar litigation practice that regularly tries complex, high profile, and high stakes cases. It is also developing a fast growing corporate practice to expand the firm’s capabilities.
The firm was founded in 1997 by then Cravath partner David Boies. He left Cravath because a major client, Time Warner, the owner of the Atlanta Braves, had objected to his representation of the New York Yankees in a case against Major League Baseball. He was joined by Jonathan Schiller of Kaye Scholer, and Don Flexner, the head of Crowell & Moring’s antitrust practice group. The reputations of the founding attorneys assured that high profile clients would immediately seek them out.
In its very short history, the firm has had a number of major clients, and tried numerous cases that are familiar to law students and even the public at large. For example, after only a few short years, David Boies and his firm were facing off with veteran litigator Ted Olson in the Supreme Court, in Bush v. Gore.
What started as one man unwilling to accept an ultimatum from a client has grown over the past decade into a firm of nearly three hundred attorneys. The firm has been rocketing up the charts in every conceivable measurement. In 2009 the firm broke into the Am Law 100 list of highest revenue firms. That year profits per partner were the third highest of any Am Law 100 firm. Though the revenue will fluctuate greatly due to the use of contingency and alternate fee arrangements on many matters, the firm is clearly still on the rise. The firm is focused on maintaining slow, steady growth, preferring to stick to clients of a national stature.
The firm was founded by three very well regarded litigators to first and foremost handle high-end, complex litigation. They were smashingly successful in that regard, in short order assembling one of the elite litigation teams in the country. There is no distinct separation of practice groups within the firm’s litigation group, though individual partners tend to have their specialties. However the largest and most well recognized area for the firm is their antitrust work. From one of their very first cases representing Microsoft, up through more recent representations of American Express and Wachovia, the firm has constantly proven itself in high stakes antitrust cases.
The firm also has a strong class action practice, on both the plaintiff and defense side. It has sued on behalf of consumers alleging a price fixing cartel in both the vitamin market as well as against Chinese exporters of products to the United States. It is currently defending a class action suit in Florida against Philip Morris.
Otherwise the firm has a strong general litigation practice in all areas. Though it has a number of attorneys who are specialists, first and foremost every attorney is an excellent litigator, and the firm is willing to take on a variety of prominent cases, including most notably working alongside previous opponent Ted Olson in challenging California’s Proposition 8 in Perry v. Schwartzeneger.
The firm has a very limited corporate practice, but it is growing. It began by leveraging years of litigation experience in areas of antitrust, securities, and government investigations. The firm took this knowledge and used it to advise corporate clients and financial institutions who were engaged in significant securities, M&A, or other investment activities. This department is steadily growing, though the firm insists it is still a litigation boutique.
In the Vault practice area rankings, Boies Schiller dominates the litigation practice area rankings. It is listed number two for class actions, and holds top ten rankings in Antitrust Litigation, Appellate Litigation, Products Liability, and General Commercial Litigation. It also has top twenty rankings in White Collar Defense, Securities Litigation, and Labor & Employment.
Boies Schiller’s rankings by Chambers and Partners probably underrate the firm, giving it only a national ranking of Band 3 for Antitrust, and New York rankings of Band 3 for Antitrust and Band 2 for General Commercial Litigation. This is likely the result of such a limited sample. Expect these to rise over time.
Getting hired at Boies Schiller, especially as a first year associate, is a monumental task. The firm’s high profile work has meant that they are flooded with applicants. Further, the firm has no interest in taking more than fifteen or twenty entry level associates at a time at most. These two facts combined have allowed the firm to maintain the fourth highest selectivity rating as ranked by Vault. When recruiting, the firm is only looking for the top ten percent students at the top ten schools. Even then, the firm wants to see confidence, energy, and enthusiasm. Boies is not a firm where an introvert will succeed.
The summer program at Boies focuses more on real work and training than it does on social events. The expectation is that you are at the firm because you want to work at an elite litigation boutique, and the firm will treat you as such. The plus side is that summer associates do much more substantive work on much more high profile cases than they would at any other firm.
Compensation and Benefits
As a newcomer to the New York legal market, Boies was in a position where it was not beholden to follow the exact same system that everyone else does. As such, there is no lock step system and the firm does not follow the standard market rates. First year associates are paid $174,000. Bonuses exist, but similarly do not follow any lockstep arrangement. Bonuses are tied almost directly to the number of hours billed. An associate who bills 3,000 hours will be compensated much more than one who bills 2,000. This system has improved morale compared to many firms where there is no obvious bonus to billing obscene hours other than “you are less likely to be fired.”
The system is not perfect. In 2006 and 2007, when the market was booming and big firms were paying excessive bonuses, Boies associates were just barely matching the market. However as firms have dropped the bonus amounts in leaner years, Boies associates have continued to be well compensated, thanks in part to the firm’s unique pay system and the firm’s successes on contingency cases and cases with alternate fee arrangements.
There is no official billable hour requirement, but the unofficial expectation seems to be 2,400 hours a year. Associates who bill significantly less may not face any official consequences, but the opinion of others may be affected, when it is seen that their peers are working much longer hours. However the direct correlation between hours billed and pay means that working excessive hours is a marginally less soul-numbing experience than at peer firms.
Given the short lifespan of the firm, it is hard to make any conclusions about long-term partnership prospects. Nearly all of the current partners came on as laterals, or became partner in another smaller firm that merged with Boies.
Attorneys at the firm take their work very seriously, and everything is driven by that work ethic. The overall culture appears informal to outsiders. There is no official dress code, no organized social events, no formal vacation or sickness policies, or even formal hierarchies. This is not because everyone is a group of laid back slackers, but because everyone is working far too hard to care about any of those things. Energy spent on these secondary issues is just energy not being spent on work.
There is no real social life to speak of, which isn’t a surprise at a place where people regularly bill north of 2,500 hours. Though most consider their fellow attorneys to be amiable people, the reality is that when an associate finally gets out of the office, most want to just go home and see their families for the few short hours that they can.
Though some of this sounds draconian, on the whole most Boies associates are satisfied with the firm. Most of them knew what they were getting into when they started there, and those that didn’t fit didn’t stick around. The attorneys who remained get paid very well to work on high profile cases that regularly make national press. This is a very self-selected group, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.
The Boies mantra is simple: “Do you want to win, or sleep?”
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