Boies Schiller Flexner managing partner Matthew Schwartz said Tuesday said he was “personally sad” about the exit of the firm’s white-collar practice leader—one of three recent partner departures—but contended that the firm is poised for success and lateral acquisitions going forward.
News of the three departures, all in New York, appeared in one day. The head of its global investigations and white-collar practice, Peter Skinner, left for Morrison & Foerster; long-time deputy general counsel Ilana Miller is stepping away to “take some time off from the practice of law”; and partner Bill Marsillo is leaving to go in-house at a “leading telecommunications and energy infrastructure company,” according to a firm memo sent Monday and obtained by Law.com.
In an interview, Schwartz downplayed the loss of Skinner and said the firm’s recent recruiting efforts have been in line with Boies Schiller’s overall goals.
“We’re not looking to expand dramatically, but we’re looking to make strategic acquisitions of partners in a few key areas,” he said, noting in particular white-collar, international arbitration, securities litigation and a rebuild of its London office after the departure of former co-managing partner Natasha Harrison.
“I worked with Pete for a long time. He’s a skilled lawyer and personally, I’m sad to see him go,” said Schwartz, of Skinner, whom, along with John Zach, arrived at the firm from the U.S. Attorney’s Office around the same time in 2015.
Schwartz pointed to what he sees as a strong bench of both seasoned partners and new talent in the white-collar department, including the addition of Kenya Davis, an assistant U.S. attorney who had been at the U.S. Attorney’s Office for 13 years, and former DOJ assistant deputy chief Alison Anderson in Los Angeles.
“Our white-collar practice remains incredibly busy and a strength of the firm,” said Schwartz. The managing partner himself has several large cases pending, including a case against the chairman of a foreign bank alleging fraud in the order of billions of dollars.
The latest departures continue the steady exits that Boies Schiller has seen in recent years. Last year, the firm’s head count declined 6% to 166 lawyers, after a fall of 41% in 2020.
In February, the former head of its sports and gaming practice, Helen Maher, left for rival Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.
Skinner, for his part, said his departure was more due to the “pull” of Morrison & Foerster and not a “push” to get away from Boies.
“MoFo is a great firm with broader and deeper capabilities than my previous firm,” he said in an interview. “It’s a better menu for my clients. I had a great experience at Boies, but this struck me as a great opportunity.”
It’s unclear how the latest partner exits will affect Boies Schiller. While Skinner led the white-collar practice, two sources said his contributions to the firm’s revenue were limited. And Marsillo was only just made an equity partner.
Still, some legal industry insiders say that Skinner’s departure is a symbol of the talent drain that has plagued Boies for the past several years.
“He [Skinner] represents a time when Boies Schiller Flexner attracted the top legal talent in the country,” said a law firm consultant, who declined to be named in order to speak candidly. But as the firm’s partnership has dwindled, “it lost that entire next generation to some of the top law firms in the world, like Jenner & Block, Paul Weiss, Cooley and now MoFo. That is strong recognition of the talent and promise of that generation,” the consultant added.
While Boies Schiller has stated previously that a drawdown on its head count is part of a strategic plan, not everyone is buying the story. “The latest departures underscore the impossibility of the notion that this was a purposeful restructuring,” the consultant said.
For the past few years, the firm has been going through a change in management, with the firm’s named partners—David Boies and Jonathan Schiller—continuing to offer guidance and advice but taking less of a role in day-to-day firm management and business development, according to Schwartz.
Sources say that the firm founders’ influence and leadership have led to some exits. In particular, one former partner decried what he saw as years of missed opportunities for making Boies Schiller’s “great” lawyers into effective business leaders.
“There was always more incentive to work on matters brought in by the named partners than to bring in your own business,” he said. “The Boises and the Schillers and the Flexner wanted you on their cases. They didn’t want you bringing in your own little cases and being unavailable for them. That makes it difficult for lawyers to build their own books of business.”
Schwartz, in an interview earlier this year, said the firm’s management transition wasn’t “without its challenges,” but said economic aspects of the transition are firmly “headed in the right direction.” Year by year, he said, the overall percentage of revenue contributed to by the named partners has been “comfortably” trending downward.
A firm spokesperson on Tuesday added: “We have an incredibly strong bench of young talent, many of whom are increasingly taking on leadership roles within the firm and on some of the most high-profile cases happening anywhere in the world. Any outside speculation to the contrary is not an accurate reflection of where the firm is today.”
Last year total revenue dropped by $20 million to $230 million, while average profits per equity partner dropped 3.1% to $2.22 million. Revenue per lawyer, however, ostensibly held steady, slipping just 1% to $1.39 million.
An influx of revenue for the firm, however, may be on the horizon. Court filings show the firm currently has large civil matters against Google, YouTube, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and other large defendants. These signal the potential for large contingency fees.
The firm also continues to add lawyers. In February, Boies Schiller added Davis, the former federal prosecutor, and in London last month, it brought in Timothy Foden, a litigation partner from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
Schwartz pointed to a number of firm developments that he sees as putting its future in good stead. The firm’s Monday memo highlighted that Eric Brenner, currently the New York City administrative partner, will now serve as the administrative partner for the greater New York metropolitan area, covering both New York City and its Armonk office. Armonk-based partner Marc Ayala will serve as deputy administrative partner.
“This change is a reflection of our increasing commitment to a ‘one firm’ culture,” the memo read, adding that in recent years, the firm has seen a “noticeable increase” in collaboration across the firm’s offices on “winning and staffing new matters.”