Boies

David Bernick

As we mentioned earlier, prominent litigator David Bernick is leaving Boies Schiller for Dechert. Bernick joined Boies Schiller just a year ago, to much fanfare, so some were surprised to see him go so quickly.

But others were not shocked. As the always insightful Alison Frankel observed on Twitter, “Is anyone who knows David Bernick surprised he was mismatch at firm dominated by David Boies?”

Perhaps not. Some of our readers predicted this union wouldn’t last long….

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David Bernick

As we just noted in Non-Sequiturs, the litigation powerhouse of Boies Schiller & Flexner has managed to fill the — possibly peep toe? — shoes that were recently vacated by Elizabeth Wurtzel. Trading one famous name for another, the firm just hired celebrated litigator David Bernick (as reported earlier today by Thomson Reuters).

So it seems that there will be two David B’s in the building. Boies Schiller was founded, of course, by the legendary David Boies, one of the greatest litigators of our time — known for his work on such marquee cases as Microsoft, Bush v. Gore, the Perry / Prop 8 case (which could end up in the Supreme Court), and too many others to mention.

Let’s take a closer look at David Bernick’s résumé, and analyze what his arrival means for BSF….

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Elizabeth Wurtzel

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.)

The notion of Wurtzel getting fired over a dispute about office space struck me as a little… well, like Office Space. Did she demand a red Swingline stapler too?

I reached out to Liz Wurtzel and Boies Schiller to find out what actually went down. Here’s what I learned….

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Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard some surprising rumblings of discontent from Boies Schiller. Why do we say “surprising”? Because the complaints have been about compensation, which is typically something that BSF lawyers never complain about.

Boies Schiller, the litigation powerhouse founded by the legendary David Boies, is an amazing firm. Its lawyers work on some of the biggest and most important cases of our time, and their compensation reflects that. In addition to paying above-market base salaries — the BSF scale starts at $174,000 — the firm pays bonuses that blow the NYC market out of the water.

In recent years, Boies has made two bonus payments to associates, one in December and one in April. But this year, April came and went, and many lawyers did not receive any payout. Of those who did receive payments, many were surprised at the small size.

So what happened? Did the relative cheapness of the disappointing spring bonuses at Sullivan & Cromwell trickle down (or up) to Boies Schiller? Let’s discuss….

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Just to be clear, the people who think that Cravath is the “compensation leader” in terms of Biglaw firms are incorrect. Wachtell Lipton, for example, regularly pays more than the people at Worldwide Plaza. Cravath does not set the top of the market in terms of associate bonuses.

The first firm to make Cravath associates feel impoverished this season appears to be Boies Schiller. Yep, the house that David Boies built is once again paying money to its people like bonuses are a reward for hard work.

But some say the payouts don’t appear to be quite as generous as last year. Others disagree. But you really don’t have to try that hard to beat Cravath anymore…

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The Boies bonuses make our use of this photo appropriate.

Earlier this month, we heard that Boies, Schiller & Flexner, the legendary litigation firm founded by the celebrated David Boies, wasn’t holding its lavish annual firm retreat in Jamaica (to which spouses and families have been invited in the past, all on the firm’s dime). This made us wonder: Despite its extensive involvement in headline-making cases throughout 2010, did BSF somehow not have a good year? [FN1]

Umm, no — at least not based on the Boies bonuses. Boies Schiller announced its associate bonuses on Tuesday, and they were “generous as usual,” according to one source.

Actually, that’s an understatement — a huge one. Almost as huge as the Boies Schiller bonuses. We believe them to be the biggest and best of the bonus season so far.

We reached out to the firm, which provided us with some hard numbers about its eye-popping bonuses….

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People are talking about an interesting Slate article entitled “Leaving Big Law Behind: The many frustrations that cause well-paid lawyers to hang out their own shingles.” It’s currently the most-read piece on the site. But it’s actually quite similar, even down to some of the sources, to an article that appeared a few days earlier in Crain’s New York Business:

A lawyer’s hourly billing rate used to be a badge of pride — the higher the number, the more valuable (and supposedly brilliant) the lawyer. But over the past 18 months, a strange phenomenon has been sweeping the legal arena: Partners at major law firms are quitting because they want to be able to charge less for their services.

This is, of course, not a new development. Kash and I wrote about it in a December 2009 cover story for Washingtonian magazine, in which we interviewed a former member of the $1,000-an-hour club who left a large law firm and started his own shop so he could offer clients better value. But all the recent coverage — in Crain’s, Slate, and elsewhere — suggests that the trend is picking up steam.

Which kinds of lawyers are leaving Biglaw to hang up their own shingles? Why are they doing it? And how’s it going for them?

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We’re rolling through the Vault 2011 list of the “prestigiest” firms in the land, so that you can comment on what it’s like to actually live, work, and breathe those firms (when you’re not choking on all the prestige in the air).

We’ve covered #1-10 and #11-20. Here’s the next round-up. Now it’s time for the London-based Magic Circle firms to join in the elite fun:

21. Arnold & Porter
22. Shearman & Sterling
23. Boies, Schiller & Flexner
24. O’Melveny & Myers
25. Ropes & Gray
26. Morrison & Foerster
27. Munger, Tolles & Olson
28. Hogan Lovells
29. Clifford Chance
30. Linklaters

What do associates have to say about the ups and downs of life at these firms? Here are some excerpts from their Vault listings…

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Today is an exciting day. As we noted earlier, the Am Law 100 rankings for 2010 have been announced. This is a big deal — the Biglaw version of the U.S. News law school rankings.

You can access the various charts via this portal page. Aric Press and Greg Mulligan summarize the results:

It could have been worse. That’s the best that can be said for the performance last year of The Am Law 100, the top-grossing law firms in the nation. Three of the four key categories we’ve measured for 25 years — gross revenue, head count, and revenue per lawyer — fell, while profits per equity partner (PPP) barely increased by 0.3 percent, or $3,463, to $1.26 million.

So PPP was basically stable in 2009 — not a bad result given the continuing economic weakness last year. Perhaps law firm partners are better business managers than they get credit for?

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2009 Associate bonus watch above the law.JPGYear-end associate bonuses were recently announced by Boies, Schiller & Flexner, the litigation powerhouse founded by the renowned David Boies. And the Boies bonuses were good — very good.

For starters, unlike other top firms, Boies is paying bonuses to first-year associates from the class of 2009. According to Phil Korologos, a partner in the firm’s New York office:

First-year associates who started after September 1, 2009 will receive a $5,000 year-end bonus. First-year associates who started prior to September 1, 2009, will receive the greater of $5,000 or their performance-based bonus.

Performance-based bonuses at the firm can be quite high, depending on how hard you work and the types of cases you work on (contingency or non-contingency). As a result, bonuses at Boies are individualized, not lockstep; there’s no magic number for each class year. The firm provided Above the Law with the high end of its bonus ranges:

For associates after their first year, the amount of their bonus is based on performance. The performance based bonuses for rising second-year associates range as high as $70,000.

The performance based bonuses for associates beyond their second year range as high as $150,000.

Six-figure bonuses? Now we’re getting into Wachtell territory — or beyond (since we suspect Wachtell bonuses will be down quite a bit this year).

In addition, Boies Schiller pays above-market base salaries — just like Wachtell ($165,000) and Williams & Connolly ($180,000). First-year associates at BSF now start at $174,000.

Check out the complete Boies salary scale, plus learn more about how their bonuses are calculated, after the jump.

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Generous bonuses, above-market base salaries.

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