What comes to mind at the mention of Boies, Schiller & Flexner? Perhaps the legendary named partners — David Boies, Jonathan Schiller, and Donald Flexner — or perhaps the legendary bonuses, which last year went as high as $300,000.
But there’s much more to the firm than that. Even though BSF is most famous for its litigation work, it has a sizable and well-regarded corporate practice, for example. And even though its biggest presence is in the state of New York, with offices in Albany, Armonk, and New York City, the firm has several other outposts — including a growing and high-powered presence in Washington, D.C.
Boies Schiller has been adding some impressive new talent to its D.C. outpost. Last week, the firm welcomed a leading litigatrix. Let’s learn more about her, shall we?
First, a bit of background. In October, we noted the arrival at BSF of Michael Gottlieb. Although he’s been out of law school for just over a decade — he graduated from Harvard Law School in 2003 — Gottlieb has already racked up extensive and diverse legal experience. He clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court, served as an assistant U.S. attorney, advised a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and did two stints in the White House Counsel’s office.
Prior to joining the firm, Ms. Dunn served in all three branches of government. She worked in the White House as Associate Counsel to President Barack Obama, in the Eastern District of Virginia as an Assistant United States Attorney, in the Senate as communications director and a senior advisor to Hillary Rodham Clinton, and as a law clerk first to Judge Merrick B. Garland of the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and then to Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States.
Late last week, I spoke with Karen Dunn about her decision to join Boies, Schiller & Flexner. I first asked her to walk me through some highlights of her career to date. We began by discussing her work as communications director for then-Senator Hillary Clinton, which Dunn did after graduating from Brown and before enrolling at Yale Law School. Dunn praised Clinton’s “authentic leadership” and said that she would make “an extraordinary president. (But Dunn carefully noted — as one would expect from a former communications professional — that Clinton has not yet declared herself a candidate, and “it’s a good idea for everyone not to get ahead of her decisionmaking process.”)
Working for Senator Clinton was a wonderful experience, but after working for Clinton for four years, Dunn decided to go to law school (at Yale, Clinton’s own alma mater). Dunn was interested in becoming a prosecutor, and she felt that the skills she had developed working in communications for someone as high-profile as Senator Clinton — skills such as sorting through facts, prioritizing them, and presenting them to others clearly — would be helpful in litigation.
After graduating from YLS, Dunn clerked for Judge Garland on the D.C. Circuit, whom she praised as “the best appellate judge in America,” and then clerked for Justice Breyer on the Supreme Court, “an amazing experience — with no offense to my law school, I learned more during my year at the Court than I did during law school.” She cited reviewing the flood of certiorari petitions, which some clerks regard as boring work, as “a tremendous legal education — you analyze so many different issues, and the incentive to do it perfectly is very high.”
Following her SCOTUS clerkship, Dunn joined Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. She worked closely with David Axelrod, a celebrity within political circles, who had recruited her to the campaign (having known her from working together on Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate race). After Senator Obama became President Obama, Dunn joined the White House Counsel’s office, where she worked on such major matters as the Supreme Court confirmation of then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor.
At some point during her White House tenure, Dunn learned of an opening in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Wanting to fulfill her longtime career goal of working as a prosecutor, Dunn applied for the opening and got the job. As an assistant U.S. attorney, Dunn handled a wide range of cases and got excellent experience, including jury trials and appellate arguments.
What could cause Karen Dunn to leave a job she loved? Another extraordinary opportunity: the chance to spearhead President Obama’s debate preparation during the 2012 election. As followers of that election may recall, the president’s debate performance started off rocky but got dramatically better over time — perhaps thanks to Dunn?
Working with President Obama on debate prep was “very fascinating” and an “extraordinary privilege,” according to Dunn. And she managed to do it while in the third trimester of her second pregnancy, no easy feat. (As longtime readers of Above the Law might remember, from Dunn’s 2009 triumph in Legal Eagle Wedding Watch, she is married to Brian Netter, a fellow Yale Law grad and former Breyer clerk who is now a partner at Mayer Brown.)
After the 2012 campaign ended in December, Dunn had her second child and took some well-deserved time off. After a period of consulting and other outside projects, including helping fellow YLS grad Cory Booker with debate prep for his U.S. Senate race, she started talking to firms in the summer of 2013.
With her impeccable credentials and experience, Dunn could have gone anywhere. Why did she select Boies Schiller & Flexner?