It’s time for a brief postscript on one of this month’s juicier (and well-trafficked) stories: the dismissal of three women associates from litigation powerhouse Boies Schiller. We have a few additional tidbits that we can share with you.
But this is probably the last story we’ll be doing on this drama, since we don’t expect anything else to emerge. One piece of information we’ve received is that the associates were offered severance pay — “very generous” severance, in the words of one source — but had to release any claims against the firm in exchange. All three took the deal, including the expectant mother. So don’t expect any “Aaron Charney for pregnant women”-type lawsuits.
What other details can we reveal about the situation?
As hinted at in our original post, it should be clear by now that this was not a normal wave of “layoffs.” There are two main theories that seem to be making the rounds about what went down.
The first, which appeared prominently in the comments to our post, is that these associates were terminated because they all worked on the Terra Firma trial, Boies Schiller’s ill-fated representation of British private equity firm Terra Firma against Citigroup. After Terra Firma lost the case — in a big way, with Judge Jed Rakoff benchslapping Boies lawyers Christopher Duffy and Jonathan Sherman, reportedly “scream[ing]” at the two partners in open court — someone had to pay the price. And it certainly wasn’t going to be the partners.
The second theory is more interesting, and perhaps more sinister. We’ll call it the Island of Misfit Toys thesis. Under this view, the powers-that-be at Boies were already thinking of axing these three associates. (These associates were under scrutiny for various reasons. We hear that one of the three, for example, was targeted for possible termination as far back as 2009, for performance reasons. Office politics — including the previously discussed controversy over a document management system, and the lack of powerful mentors / protectors, for the two associates who came to New York from BSF’s former Short Hills office — may also have played a role.)
Management wasn’t sure about the best way to remove these associates. Then along came the perfect vehicle: the Terra Firma case. Based on the facts and the law, the folks at Boies — who are pretty smart cookies — knew that it was going to be an uphill battle for their client. So, in a stroke of evil genius, they staffed the case with three associates they were already thinking about icing — the aforementioned “misfit toys.”
If Boies pulled off an upset victory, then great; perhaps the trio, or some subset thereof, would be allowed to remain at the firm. But if Boies and Terra Firma lost at trial, as many expected, then the firm could throw the associates under the proverbial bus, firing them at the conclusion of the matter. No muss, no fuss — and a demonstration to the client of how upset the firm was over the defeat.
There were additional advantages to the “Island of Misfit Toys” plan. It saved the firm from having to staff Terra Firma, widely seen as a dog of a case, with more valuable (or more favored) associates, allowing the firm to better utilize its attorney talent. And it isolated the three associates by submerging them into a demanding trial, thereby making their ultimate departure from the firm less disruptive — by taking them off all other matters, and by separating them from their associate peers, so that their leaving would attract less notice.
(“Whatever happened to [associate X]?” “Oh, I haven’t seen her in weeks — ever since she got sucked into the Terra Firma trial….”)
These are the two big theories making the rounds; if you know of others, we’d love to hear them. On a smaller scale, here are two additions to our prior coverage:
- In our earlier post, we alluded to a BSF partner being very defensive of the firm’s allegedly cumbersome document management system, based on possible ties to the provider of said DMS. For the record, the partner in question is not David Boies (although he has faced allegations of self-dealing in the past — a controversy that Professor Larry Ribstein dubbed “Boies-gate”).
- In the comments, a few of you alluded to significant stealth layoffs at BSF in 2009. These reductions supposedly included associates, counsel, and even partners, and may have involved as much as 15 to 20 percent of Boies attorneys. Some of you wondered why these more extensive terminations were not covered on Above the Law, while the dismissal of just three lawyers was.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: you need to let us know about these things. We can’t cover what we don’t know about.
That said, we do have certain standards in our reporting. An isolated anonymous tip, claiming “layoffs at firm X,” without more detail, will not automatically trigger coverage. It might trigger some investigation and follow-up on our part, but if we can’t nail a story down, we won’t run it. We need multiple, credible sources on a story — which is why you shouldn’t assume that you can rely upon someone else at the firm to tip us off to newsworthy developments.
So, if you have something you’d like to share with us, about Boies Schiller or any other prominent law firm, please email us, text us, or even send us snail mail (Above the Law / Breaking Media, 611 Broadway, Suite 907D, New York, NY 10012). Thanks.