Analysis: New Boies in town

After years of resisting a London base, Boies Schiller & Flexner is taking the leap. What changed?

If you’d have asked a City corporate lawyer if they’d heard about Boies, Schiller & Flexner opening in London just a month ago, the likelihood is you’d have been met with a puzzled look. Like rival firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan when it first stormed the London market in 2008, the elite US litigation powerhouse – arguably the highest-profile plaintiff firm in the US – is known only in certain circles this side of the pond.

Barclays

But this week Boies announced it is hiring Bingham McCutchen star partner Natasha Harrison to lead its first non-US office, and with that news came a hike in interest from those previously unaware of or disinterested in the Boies Schiller sell. 

American boutiques in London

Having spearheaded Bingham’s litigation capability (see box below), Harrison’s exit means the firm has now lost two of its highest-profile female litigation partners to US boutiques in London – Sue Prevezer QC joined Quinn Emanuel in 2008 and has since driven its UK growth. So why has Harrison decided to jump ship now?

“My decision to join was heavily based on the fact that Boies Schiller’s commitment to set up in London was entirely client-led,” she responds. 

Ah, that phrase ‘client-led’, usually associated with PR spiel. But for Boies it actually rings true. The trigger in this case was Barclays Bank, which the firm has been advising since 2008 when it successfully defended the bank against a $11bn windfall brought by Lehman Brothers.

Canary Wharf
Canary Wharf

As one of the firms advising Barclays over allegations that it manipulated the London interbank offered rate (Libor), the bank’s in-house counsel in Europe – a team that includes managing director for investment banking litigation Stephanie Pagni – asked for some of Boies’ lawyers to work from Barclays’ London office. As a result, last summer six lawyers packed up and headed off to the bank’s Canary Wharf base. The team included then-associate Duane Loft who is now responsible for gluing the firm’s UK base together.

“I don’t want to present this as a one-client story,” insists Loft, now a partner who splits his time between New York and London. “We were already doing international arbitration in the region and had long been considering a London move, so Barclays was just the push. Clients have always asked that we establish a presence here.”

But an actual demand has only materialised in recent years. When The Lawyer interviewed Washington DC partner Mike Brille about a potential City opening in 2008 he said the firm was already well positioned in the international market, thanks to co-founding partner Jonathan Schiller’s international arbitration team. As well as the Barclays push, sources suggest the firm had a wake-up call last summer when they missed out on a major piece of international arbitration work because they didn’t have an office on the ground in
the UK.

London fielded

So finally the firm is taking a leap across the pond, but when is the office opening and where? From now until the office’s expected launch in January 2014, it’s Loft’s job to piece the parts together. 

“We are continuing the recruiting push and Natasha coming on board will really help that effort,” he explains, adding that the firm is still on the hunt for office space. “It’s not a numbers game, we’re looking for the highest quality candidates to round out our capacity in key practice areas – finance litigation, arbitration and contentious regulatory.”

“There’s been an increase in investigations and regulatory budgets,” adds Harrison. “Companies are feeling the pressure of regulatory scrutiny and a lot of litigation boutiques don’t act for the banks [like Boies Schiller does]. The firm also leads in terms of alternative fee-arrangements.”

And with that, the pair set off for a busy few months ahead. “The phone hasn’t stopped ringing,” laughed Loft. No doubt the UK market will know exactly who Boies Schiller is very soon.

Who, what, when, why?

Who? Natasha Harrison, who originally trained at the bar and worked at Denton Wilde Sapte, before building a formidable reputation as a litigator at Bingham. She has been a 

partner at the firm since 2004
and appeared in The Lawyer’s
Hot 100 2011 for her work
advising bondholders on the restructuring of Polish
conglomerate Elektrim. She spearheaded Bingham’s litigation capability during her time at the firm, most notably on the fallout over the collapse of the Icelandic banks.

What? US litigation powerhouse Boies Schiller was opened in 1997 by Cravath Swaine & Moore partner David Boies, one of the world’s best-known litigators famous for representing Al Gore at the Supreme Court over the disputed 2000 presidential election, and international arbitration specialist Jonathan Schiller.

When? The launch is expected to happen in January 2014. It will be the firm’s first non-US office.

Why? Longstanding client Barclays Bank was a trigger to the opening, as the bank asked some of the firm’s lawyers to work from its London office last summer.