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Boies Heir Apparent Harrison Steps Down from Leadership Post

Sept. 1, 2021, 7:32 PM

Natasha Harrison, the London attorney who was widely seen as next in line to run David Boies’ namesake firm, is stepping down from her role as its deputy chair.

Harrison told Bloomberg Law she will stay on as one of Boies Schiller Flexner’s four managing partners through at least the rest of the year, “subject to continued evaluation of the circumstances” surrounding the pandemic and international travel. She declined to say whether she’ll remain in the role or at the firm beyond that time frame.

“Covid has increased in scope and duration in a way that I did not anticipate, and I don’t think many people anticipated,” Harrison said. “I’m sitting in London running a U.S. firm with managing partners who are there, but I can’t be there. You need to be present.”

The move marks another leadership shakeup as the firm looks to transition away from founders Boies and Jonathan Schiller. It follows a difficult 18-month stretch that saw several rainmakers head for the exit amid plummeting revenue and profits.

Founded by Boies, the 80-year-old courtroom titan known for eviscerating Microsoft Corp.’s Bill Gates in a sworn deposition and challenging California’s same-sex marriage ban, the firm grew rapidly after its founding in 1997 to house more than 300 lawyers.

The firm reported a 38% decline in gross revenue last year, trimming profits per partner by nearly a third, according to The American Lawyer. Its attorney headcount has fallen by more than 40% over the last two years to 177 at the end of last year.

Boies Schiller has also been swept up in controversy stemming from David Boies’ work for a pair of disgraced public figures: Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein and Theranos founder Elizabeth Holmes.

No Replacement

The firm announced the move internally in an email to lawyers and staff Wednesday.

“Natasha’s decision, which we all support, exemplifies the kind of leadership we’ve come to expect from her,” the firm’s leaders said in the joint email. “Her commitment to candor, inclusivity and collaboration have benefited the firm immeasurably.”

Harrison’s uncertain future means there’s no clear successor to Boies as the face of the firm.

“Two years ago, if someone had asked, I don’t think Natasha would have been the person that everyone would have identified” as the heir apparent, Boies said in an interview. “The fact that there’s not someone who is obvious doesn’t mean that there are not good alternatives.”

The firm is not immediately replacing Harrison in the deputy chair role. The remaining managing partners—Sigrid McCawley, Matthew Schwartz, and Alan Vickery—are all expected to stay on in their roles beyond the end of the year.

Boies, McCawley, and Schwartz told Bloomberg Law that the change with Harrison will have little short-term impact on day-to-day operations.

“I don’t see any immediate changes in terms of what we were doing,” McCawley said.

Boies is likely to again be named the firm’s chairman when partners convene for an annual meeting in December. He declined to specify how much longer he envisions remaining in that role, other than to say he doesn’t expect to be chairman when he turns 86 in a little over five years.

‘Uncertainties’

The ongoing pandemic, and tightening travel restrictions, made it impossible for Harrison to effectively do the deputy chair job, she said. The Biden administration has limited travel to the U.S. from the U.K., while rising infections have other countries considering similar limits on departing travelers.

“The uncertainties and challenges of international travel in this ever-changing and ongoing pandemic are nearly impossible to navigate,” Harrison said via email. “Those same uncertainties and challenges also impact my family and in particular my two children. My kids are like all kids: they need certainty.”

Harrison and New York litigator Nicholas Gravante were named the firm’s co-managing partners in December 2019. The firm said at the time that the move was a significant step toward developing a new model of leadership.

Less than a year later, Gravante left abruptly to join Cadwalader Wickersham & Taft. Boies Schiller pivoted to then make Harrison one of four managing partners and gave her the deputy chair position.

Gravante bolted after butting heads with firm leaders over his push to close offices and reduce headcount, as well as a pitch to merge Boies Schiller with Cadwalader, according to sources familiar with the situation.

Several of the firm’s top rainmakers—including D.C. lawyers Karen Dunn and William Isaacson, New York attorneys Lee Wolosky and Damien Marshall, and members of Boies Schiller’s executive committee—have also left, bringing colleagues and clients to competitors.

Some of the high-profile lawyers who exited the firm were lured away by more money, according to former partners, while others also cited trouble courting tech and other clients because of backlash over the Weinstein and Theranos sagas.

Firm Culture

The firm’s managing partners have taken steps to try to strengthen the culture and stem the tide of departures, Boies, Harrison, McCawley, and Schwartz said.

Those include changing partner compensation to place more emphasis on business development, trimming the payroll of certain underperformers, and implementing a “one firm” strategy to improve collaboration across Boies Schiller. The firm is also set to launch BSF Academy, an associate training program led by partner and former Altria Group lawyer William Ohlemeyer.

“They have brought the firm together and focused people much more on the firm as a single organization as opposed to a collection of offices,” Boies said.

The firm’s managing partners and a wider executive committee are renegotiating the founders’ compensation structure. At issue is a “royalty” payment that some former partners have described as a “tax” because it trims the profits pool.

Boies Schiller is banking on big-ticket litigation to right the ship financially, including a long-running antitrust class action against Blue Cross Blue Shield in which attorneys are seeking to collect nearly $630 million in fees.

Boies Schiller is leading a California antitrust suit against Google, with a team that includes Boies and partners Phil Korologos and Mark Mao, among others. It is also fighting court battles involving Carnival Cruise Lines and NextEra Energy, as well as U.K. litigation against Credit Suisse over its role in Mozambique’s $2 billion “tuna bonds” scandal.

McCawley, a South Florida lawyer, has gained attention for her work representing Virginia Giuffre, one of several women who accused hedge fund manager Jeffrey Epstein of running a teen sex ring out of his Palm Beach home.

“Like Mark Twain, our demise has been preannounced a number of times,” Boies said. “I don’t think that people in the firm lack confidence in the firm and I don’t think our clients lack confidence in the firm.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Chris Opfer in New York at copfer@bloomberglaw.com
To contact the editor on this story: John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com

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