Last week, Elizabeth Wurtzel left Boies Schiller & Flexner. The bestselling and critically acclaimed author of Prozac Nation and other books, and a contributor to such publications as the New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal, Wurtzel started working at the formidable firm in 2008. She was personally hired by legendary litigator David Boies, after she graduated from Yale Law School.
We heard some interesting rumors about what led to La Wurtzel’s departure from BSF. On Friday afternoon, one tipster breathlessly told us the following: “Wurtzel was fired from Boies Schiller after she demanded a window office (she had been working in an internal office similar to what staff use). The partners looked at her hours — which are so minimal that it’s amazing she is still employed at all — and gave her the boot. She is also still not licensed. She passed the bar — but what about character and fitness?”
(The potential character and fitness issues arise out of Wurtzel’s wild pre-law life. As the New York Times put it, Wurtzel is someone “whose attempted suicide, drug use, self-mutilation and indiscriminate sex have made her famous” — thanks to her turning these experiences into the books Prozac Nation and More, Now, Again. To learn more, read her nomination blurb in our contest for Yale Law’s most disgraceful graduate.)
I reached out to Liz Wurtzel and Boies Schiller to find out what actually went down. Here’s what I learned….
I spoke by phone with Wurtzel on Friday evening. Here’s a condensed version of our conversation:
I’ve resigned full time from Boies Schiller to have more time to write. There are so many interesting people in this situation that I am sure there are many rumors, but there is no good story here. This was eventually inevitable. I am still working on my cases, and today was not different from yesterday; we’re still finalizing the details.
I’m currently completing my application for New York bar membership. It has taken me a while to do this, I guess: I hear membership has, well, some privileges. I’m taking the MPRE this coming Friday. I had this monstrous illness for a year after I passed the Bar exam that held things up — apparently understanding malpractice made me so sick nine antibiotics couldn’t cure me.
I have enjoyed working at Boies Schiller and with David Boies, who is not just an incredible lawyer but the most amazing person ever. I have thought over and over that I ought to be writing more, but it is such a privilege to work with David — I have learned so much about not just law but life. I look forward to my continued work with him, and with the other great lawyers at BSF. It says something about the place that we were able to make this work: I don’t see that I would have had such a good run at a less incredible firm.
This makes sense. Balancing practicing law and punditry isn’t easy. Despite working at Boies Schiller, known as a fairly demanding workplace, Wurtzel somehow found time to write for The Atlantic, give interviews to the Wall Street Journal, and maintain an active presence on Twitter. But perhaps it couldn’t go on forever.
I also reached out to the firm for comment. Dawn Schneider, spokesperson for Boies Schiller, issued this statement on behalf of BSF:
Elizabeth Wurtzel is very talented. The Firm wishes her every success in her future endeavors both as a lawyer and a writer. We also wish Elizabeth good health and happiness.
It certainly sounds like an amicable parting. While it’s quite possible that issues over hours or office space might have contributed to Wurtzel’s choosing to leave her full-time position at Boies, it appears that ultimately the decision to depart was her own.
Here’s a broader question that Liz Wurtzel’s leaving Boies Schiller made me think of: Is the position of “writer in residence” no longer a viable one at today’s Biglaw firms?
In the past, numerous prolific writers found hospitable homes at major law firms. Just off the top of my head, I can think of Scott Turow at SNR Denton, Louis Begley at Debevoise & Plimpton, and Philip K. Howard at Covington & Burling. (Feel free to mention other examples in the comments.)
Having a prominent writer on the roster generated many benefits for a firm, even if the writer didn’t bill 2500 hours a year or even if the writer worked a part-time schedule. Celebrity authors at firms produced positive press, helping the firm in terms of public relations — and perhaps ultimately in terms of business development. They also helped immensely in terms of recruiting. Think, for example, about how many litigators might have been drawn to SNR Denton (formerly Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal) by the chance to work with Scott Turow.
But nowadays firms may have less tolerance for having lawyers on the payroll whose value can’t be quickly reduced to billable hours and big bucks. The intangible benefits of a lawyer-author’s reflected glamour may be less valuable to a law firm today — or at least less valuable than the revenue per lawyer that a given associate or partner should generate. As for recruiting, in a day and age in which so many young lawyers are unemployed, law firms have the luxury of picking and choosing among hundreds of qualified applicants. They don’t need to fight over scarce talent in the same way that they did back in, say, 2006 — and don’t need famous writers to lure in summer associates.
Okay, enough of these rambling ruminations (which, it should be noted, are not specific to Wurtzel or to Boies Schiller). Back to the matter at hand.
Congratulations to Elizabeth Wurtzel on her latest move, and best of luck to her in all of her endeavors. Even if she’s no longer a full-time denizen of Biglaw, I’m confident that she’ll continue to do big things.
P.S. And a belated happy birthday to Wurtzel as well!
A Conversation with Elizabeth Wurtzel, Author and First-Year Lawyer [WSJ Law Blog]
Prozac Nation [Amazon (affiliate link)]
More, Now, Again [Amazon (affiliate link)]