There were two stories yesterday about Boies Schiller Flexner, one of which got a lot more media coverage than the other. The Wall Street Journal reported that Nick Gravante Jr., one of BSF's two co-managing partners as part of the company's recent reorganization, would join Cadwalader and add his name to the ranks of BSF assembly partner departures. And while this is understandably news, it pushed BSF's announcement that Natasha Harrison, Gravantes co-managing partner, would become vice chairman and heir to the company, with David Boies as chairman.
Unfortunately, Gravante's departure had to attract more attention as a partner who publicly posted a Keep Calm and Carry On message as the media feared that BSF's partner defects were a sign of impending doom. If someone in charge of the company's restructuring strategy leaves, isn't that further evidence that the strategy is in trouble?
A convenient and certainly easy to tell narrative, but perhaps not the most accurate one.
When I got the opportunity to ask Gravante directly about the move, he quickly pointed out that his decision to move had nothing to do with a lack of trust in BSF or his future, but rather with the realization that his ledger it was better to work for a full-service firm as opposed to a litigation-oriented company. “David [Boies] and I discussed the best platform for my company for a while…. In fact, David was the one who suggested Cadwalader to me. "
This answer actually follows my general sense of the BSF changes. While a lot of people see problems at the exits – and it's never great to lose significant business books – I wrote in April that my feel for the massive movement was that the firm had signaled internally that it would be on a path on which attorneys do business litigation portfolios that fit within the confines of traditional biglaw firms would take the opportunity to opt for these platforms while those with lines of business that benefit from a laser-focused litigation business remain.
Would BSF be better off if it had opted for a full-service model? Perhaps? Maybe not. These are questions about my salary grade. Boies acknowledges that arguments must be made in both cases. “There is no doubt that this model has advantages. We believe that our process model also has advantages. A wide range of practices offer benefits that, hopefully, can be synergistic. A process-only model has advantages when there is no conflict and possibly more collegiality. It's a choice. They are different types of companies. "
Natasha Harrison, who spent her 2020 pandemic increasing her stakes and moving from London to the US to manage the BSF retrofit, embodies the philosophy the company pursues. “What attracted me was not being an accessory for a transactions department. That was incredibly attractive to me and other employees. “She also noted that clients who are increasingly unpacking their legal expenses and choosing different firms on different issues see a strategic advantage for their litigation-focused approach.
It is unfortunate that the elevation of a woman to the functional front-runner of a major law firm has been dwarfed by the daily news. Over at David Lat's new Substack, Original Jurisdiction, he talks to Boies about the "admittedly chaotic and drawn-out change in leadership" and the company's ultimate realization that it would team up for Harrison's leadership:
Over the past year, Natasha has really stood out as a leader. We have had a number of very talented people in leadership positions over the past few years. But you have to choose the best, and there was a real consensus on the Executive Committee that we should appoint Natasha vice-chair with the expectation that she would eventually succeed me.
After Harrison has moved to Vice Chairman and Gravante to Cadwalader, the company will now attempt to appoint three partners to the role of Co-Managing Partner to see that all employees are busy and that there is more than enough management work.
There will be voices who believe that the company should remain the big talent tent that it has become in its rapid growth. Others who believe it needs to cut out some of its practices in order to become an enterprise testing company. Others who so wish would evolve into a full service company. And others who embrace the current sort of doubling down to fewer offices and an opportunistic litigation practice that defends a large corporation as much at home as it does a class action lawsuit against large insurers. It is evidence for the company that it may have succeeded in one of these ways. But at some point decisions had to be made and this is the path the company has chosen and it will mean a lot of people are going.
After a few detours on the way to this point, the company has chosen the market leader that it expects for its future.
Boies Schiller Leader leaves the company [WSJ]
Earlier: Blue Cross Blue Shield plans to settle for $ 2.7 billion … and that's not the main relief
Joe Patrice is Senior Editor at Above the Law and co-moderator of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to send tips, questions or comments via email. Follow him on Twitter if you're into law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe is also the managing director of RPN Executive Search.