Natasha Harrison—for many years the British rising star at U.S.-based Boies Schiller Flexner—is now bringing her new litigation boutique stateside.
Pallas Partners—the London-based firm she founded earlier this year—is opening an office in New York, bringing talent from Big Law to a personalized, small firm format, Harrison said in an interview. The first three Pallas lawyers in New York are joining by September, she said, declining to immediately name the laterals but noting they are all litigators with impressive win records at Am Law 200 firms.
“The team I’m launching in New York is a heavyweight in the litigation space, especially distressed debt, hedge fund work, and Chapter 11s,” said Harrison, adding that her vision for New York is not as a satellite office of London. “We will have a strong bench in both jurisdictions, equally weighted in skills and competencies.”
Over the summer, Harrison has overseen a full gut renovation of half a floor at 75 Rockefeller Plaza, in Midtown, and is anticipating a September move. Designed for expansion, the roomy 7,510 sq. ft. offices overlooking Saint Patrick’s Cathedral will eventually house around 30 or so partners and associates, Harrison said.
The New York office is also looking for business professionals to join her, she said, but she is “not in a rush” to grow in number of attorneys. “It’s really about getting the quality, and then growing through a combination of organic growth with some strategic lateral hires as well.”
Harrison said she has a vision for the overall size of Pallas—one that corresponds with her intention to build a comprehensive litigation team that works for the client, rather than growing for growth’s sake: “I’ve never imagined us being more than 60 lawyers across both jurisdictions—30 in each city. The moment you get over that bench size, the firm becomes a very different proposition, which is not one I’m particularly interested in.”
In launching in New York, Harrison sees her new boutique taking a defining step forward. “There are very few firms that truly have bench depth in litigation in both New York and London. Quinn Emanuel has it, but I can’t really say anyone else does for sure,” said Harrison.
She characterizes Pallas’ legal services under three pillars: litigation, arbitration and investigations, and the London and New York office will complement each other, she said: “We’re not putting random practices in New York, just for the sake of it.”
A New Model
Harrison created headlines when she left Boies Schiller in November. Widely known as the heir apparent to chairman David Boies, she stepped down from the deputy chair position in September. While the move caught the market by surprise, firm leaders at Boies Schiller said they weren’t too shocked, given “frustrations with trying to lead a predominantly U.S.-based firm [from London] during COVID and knowing her ambitions to run her own firm.”
Harrison said she thrived in Boies Schiller’s entrepreneurial environment, where the best litigators were taking on the most important matters in the country.
“I worked with extremely talented lawyers and bright, committed staff. I was given the incredible opportunity to build something from scratch for an elite litigation firm. It was an outstanding experience,” she said.
Leaving was purely about her desire to create something new—a challenging prospect at a big, established firm, she said. She rejects what she sees as sensationalistic reporting over the past eight months.
“I spent eight good years there. The decision to leave was a very difficult one; but it was less about Boies Schiller—it is an outstanding firm—and more about being the architect of my own firm, and the realization that I wanted to create and build a firm from scratch,” Harrison said.
The blueprint for the firm, said Harrison, is to keep conflicts to an absolute minimum, put the client’s interests at the front of the firm strategy, and be extremely selective in the matters Pallas takes on: only representing “top-tier” clients in their “most important matters.”
Her intention with Pallas has always been to throw out the rule book.
“I literally sat down with a blank piece of paper and started writing one night: Hypothetically, what does a modern law firm look like? How we litigate? How do we serve clients? How do we grow associates? How can you create a unique culture? Looking at it with a fresh pair of eyes, and not just doing everything the way it’s been done for dozens— even hundreds—of years.”
Her choice of firm name is a case in point. Rather than simply call the firm Harrison & Partners, following traditional law firm naming conventions, Harrison chose to name it after the Greek goddess of wisdom, war and handicraft—Pallas Athena.
“Pallas was always the front runner in my mind. Given my Greek heritage, I have always been fascinated by Greek mythology,” said Harrison, whose maiden name is Demetriou. “The Goddess Pallas Athena not only represents wisdom but also that we are prepared to go into battle on behalf of our clients.”
Seeking Scale and Stature
The firm currently has around 32 business professionals and attorneys—seven partners and 12 associates—and by September, will add another three more.
Its most recent London recruit was Nelson Goh in May. By joining Pallas as a partner, Goh—a senior associate at Debevoise & Plimpton since October 2018—reunited with his old Boies Schiller London colleagues, where he practiced from 2016.
When asked about her firm’s expansion plans, and the challenge of taking on Big Law on its home turf, Harrison said she’s not particularly interested in what other law firms doing in terms of size and structure.
“I’m doing what’s right for the business and right for the clients,” she said. “What I do know is I didn’t want to have thousands of associates sitting there waiting for me to throw big cases at them to drive up profit and keep them busy. We want lean lead teams—which clients love.”
Harrison said she has a “top class” of associates who are “working above their level.”
“It’s a different business model. Every time I go to court, it’s me and three other people—max. The other side will have a team of ten or twenty. And we still win. It speaks for itself, really. It’s the quality of the lawyering and the soundness of the strategies behind it.”
She said one of her goals was to build a firm responsible and reactive to the plight of the planet and its people. Embedded into the firm’s raison d’être and business strategy are environmental, social and governance (ESG) precepts, she said.
“We are a diverse firm, we are environmentally responsible, and we are impactful,” she said.
By impactful, Harrison said Pallas means to tackle, on a pro bono basis, “the important issues of our day” and she said the firm is already taking on important cases.
For legal environmental charity ClientEarth, Pallas is seeking to hold gas giant Shell and its directors accountable for its mismanagement of climate risk. The firm has also just taken on the case of an impoverished African government to help it recover funds misappropriated by corrupt government officials and mining companies.
Overall, ESG litigation will also be a prime source of matters for Pallas, for both billable and pro bono work.
“ESG litigation is here to stay and will take very many forms. It may be in response to financial regulation, but it may also be brought in relation to false promises or representations made by companies or individuals,” said Harrison, adding that clients are also looking at the partners they work with—including law firms—to make sure their service providers are like-minded and compliant when it comes to ESG.
Much of Harrison’s litigation is on behalf of US and UK institutional investors and hedge funds. Increasingly, activist investors are using ESG to target corporations.
“These clients want to drive change in corporate governance in companies which have been practicing very bad behaviors,” said Harrison, adding that securities litigation increasingly straddles the Atlantic—another reason to have offices in New York and London. “Ever since I launched Pallas, they have been asking me when I was going to come to New York.”
Seth Cohen, a client of Harrison’s, is a principal at AllianceBerstein’s CarVal—an alternative investment firm with $14 billion under management. Based in New York, Cohen said he was pleased Harrison is opening an office in the U.S.
“We all want our lawyers to be incredibly smart—and she clearly checks that box. But the difference maker is she’s pragmatic, commercially-minded and understands how to think about work as part of broader commercial decision-making,” said Cohen, adding plenty of smart lawyers often get bogged down in proving their point, rather than winning the war. “She’s very thoughtful about assessing outcomes in the context of the overall business opportunity or issue you’re trying to litigate.”
Plotting A Path
Harrison has always plotted her own path through the legal profession. In a jurisdiction that makes the distinction between court advocates—barristers—and lawyers who dispense legal advice—solicitors—she began her career in England in 1996 as a barrister at 4 Pump Court—a well-known commercial set in the storied Middle Temple district of London. Yet wishing to work more closely with her clients, rather than act on briefs from a solicitor, Harrison soon took the unusual step of doubling qualifying as both barrister and solicitor.
She left her chambers in 1998 to become an associate at Wilde Sapte—a centuries-old London firm that went on to become one of the foundation firms of global powerhouse Dentons. At Wilde, she worked for the firm’s—at the time groundbreaking—advocacy unit, undertaking high-value banking litigation and insolvency litigation work.
Her next move, two years later, was also—at the time—rather unusual for a British barrister. Harrison joined New York-based Weil Gotshal & Manges. There she took on broad commercial litigation matters, including acting for the UK trading arm of Enron after it filed for Chapter 11 and conducting all of its recovery litigation, the famous WorldCom accounting fraud scandal, and a major piece of re-insurance litigation for tire company Pirelli. Often these matters brought her to the U.S., where she saw a different type of lawyering.
“The U.S. litigation style is far more proactive and creative than the traditional English approach,” said Harrison. “Working at Weil and with a heavy U.S. client base, I was able to gain extensive exposure to the U.S. litigation model and evolve my litigation style accordingly.”
She spent almost four years at Weil, on a path that eventually led her to the very top of one of the Am Law 200’s most recognized litigation shops.
In 2003, she was offered a spot at Bingham McCutchen as the firm’s first litigator in London. Just fifteen months later she made partner.
Her move to Boies Schiller in 2013 came when the American litigation powerhouse offered her the chance to be managing partner of their new office. “[It] represented a unique opportunity to build out from scratch, the London office of an elite litigation firm,” she said.
Sue Prevezer, a barrister at Brick Court in London, has known and worked with Natasha for over 20 years, as counsel and as a sort of mentor to her. She characterizes Harrison as an “extremely smart” commercial lawyer and a great team player.
Prevezer and Harrison seem to be almost cast from the same mold. After making Queens Counsel at Essex Court Chambers, Prevezer became co-managing partner at Quinn Emanuel from the U.S. firm’s inception in London in 2008, to 2020, when she left to return to the Bar.
“It is inspiring that Natasha has taken this leap to launch Pallas in London—and now in New York—and I am certain that she will work as hard as she has done in her career to date to make the firm a great success.”