Boies Schiller Expands In D.C. By Hiring Young Legal Superstars « Above the Law: A Legal Web Site – News, Commentary, and Opinions on Law Firms, Lawyers, Law Schools, Law Suits, Judges and Courts + Career Resources

"Eric Schwerin"
"Hunter Biden"
2014-02-12 22:29
Boies Schiller Expands In D.C. By Hiring Young Legal Superstars « Above the Law: A Legal Web Site – News, Commentary, and Opinions on Law Firms, Lawyers, Law Schools, Law Suits, Judges and Courts + Career Resources

Eric D. Schwerin
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Boies Schiller Expands In D.C. By Hiring Young Legal Superstars

  • 11 Feb 2014 at 5:57 PM
  • David Boies: just one great lawyer among many at Boies Schiller.

    What comes to mind at the mention of Boies, Schiller & Flexner? Perhaps the legendary named partners — David Boies, Jonathan Schiller, and Donald Flexner — or perhaps the legendary bonuses, which last year went as high as $300,000.

    But there’s much more to the firm than that. Even though BSF is most famous for its litigation work, it has a sizable and well-regarded corporate practice, for example. And even though its biggest presence is in the state of New York, with offices in Albany, Armonk, and New York City, the firm has several other outposts — including a growing and high-powered presence in Washington, D.C.

    Boies Schiller has been adding some impressive new talent to its D.C. outpost. Last week, the firm welcomed a leading litigatrix. Let’s learn more about her, shall we?

    First, a bit of background. In October, we noted the arrival at BSF of Michael Gottlieb. Although he’s been out of law school for just over a decade — he graduated from Harvard Law School in 2003 — Gottlieb has already racked up extensive and diverse legal experience. He clerked for Justice John Paul Stevens on the U.S. Supreme Court, served as an assistant U.S. attorney, advised a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and did two stints in the White House Counsel’s office.

    Last week, Gottlieb was joined at the firm by a former colleague from his White House days, Karen Dunn. As you can see from her firm bio, she too has a dazzling résumé:

    Prior to joining the firm, Ms. Dunn served in all three branches of government. She worked in the White House as Associate Counsel to President Barack Obama, in the Eastern District of Virginia as an Assistant United States Attorney, in the Senate as communications director and a senior advisor to Hillary Rodham Clinton, and as a law clerk first to Judge Merrick B. Garland of the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit and then to Justice Stephen G. Breyer of the Supreme Court of the United States.

    Karen Dunn

    Late last week, I spoke with Karen Dunn about her decision to join Boies, Schiller & Flexner. I first asked her to walk me through some highlights of her career to date. We began by discussing her work as communications director for then-Senator Hillary Clinton, which Dunn did after graduating from Brown and before enrolling at Yale Law School. Dunn praised Clinton’s “authentic leadership” and said that she would make “an extraordinary president. (But Dunn carefully noted — as one would expect from a former communications professional — that Clinton has not yet declared herself a candidate, and “it’s a good idea for everyone not to get ahead of her decisionmaking process.”)

    Working for Senator Clinton was a wonderful experience, but after working for Clinton for four years, Dunn decided to go to law school (at Yale, Clinton’s own alma mater). Dunn was interested in becoming a prosecutor, and she felt that the skills she had developed working in communications for someone as high-profile as Senator Clinton — skills such as sorting through facts, prioritizing them, and presenting them to others clearly — would be helpful in litigation.

    After graduating from YLS, Dunn clerked for Judge Garland on the D.C. Circuit, whom she praised as “the best appellate judge in America,” and then clerked for Justice Breyer on the Supreme Court, “an amazing experience — with no offense to my law school, I learned more during my year at the Court than I did during law school.” She cited reviewing the flood of certiorari petitions, which some clerks regard as boring work, as “a tremendous legal education — you analyze so many different issues, and the incentive to do it perfectly is very high.”

    Following her SCOTUS clerkship, Dunn joined Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. She worked closely with David Axelrod, a celebrity within political circles, who had recruited her to the campaign (having known her from working together on Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate race). After Senator Obama became President Obama, Dunn joined the White House Counsel’s office, where she worked on such major matters as the Supreme Court confirmation of then-Judge Sonia Sotomayor.

    At some point during her White House tenure, Dunn learned of an opening in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. Wanting to fulfill her longtime career goal of working as a prosecutor, Dunn applied for the opening and got the job. As an assistant U.S. attorney, Dunn handled a wide range of cases and got excellent experience, including jury trials and appellate arguments.

    What could cause Karen Dunn to leave a job she loved? Another extraordinary opportunity: the chance to spearhead President Obama’s debate preparation during the 2012 election. As followers of that election may recall, the president’s debate performance started off rocky but got dramatically better over time — perhaps thanks to Dunn?

    Karen Dunn sharing her insights with President Barack Obama (official White House photo by Pete Souza).

    Working with President Obama on debate prep was “very fascinating” and an “extraordinary privilege,” according to Dunn. And she managed to do it while in the third trimester of her second pregnancy, no easy feat. (As longtime readers of Above the Law might remember, from Dunn’s 2009 triumph in Legal Eagle Wedding Watch, she is married to Brian Netter, a fellow Yale Law grad and former Breyer clerk who is now a partner at Mayer Brown.)

    After the 2012 campaign ended in December, Dunn had her second child and took some well-deserved time off. After a period of consulting and other outside projects, including helping fellow YLS grad Cory Booker with debate prep for his U.S. Senate race, she started talking to firms in the summer of 2013.

    With her impeccable credentials and experience, Karen Dunn could have gone anywhere. Why did she select Boies Schiller & Flexner?

    “In the end, I chose it because it’s the nation’s foremost litigation boutique. I loved being a litigator and trial lawyer, and I wanted to go to a place with excellent litigators whom I could call my colleagues, like when I was at the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”

    Dunn also cited the firm’s entrepreneurial spirit, in terms of its seeing the opportunities in crisis management, and the enthusiasm that BSF lawyers bring to their work.

    “Once I was in the door, everyone I met was incredibly energized about their work. There was a real sense of ownership — perhaps because it’s relatively young, or perhaps because of the spirit that flows downward from David [Boies] and Jonathan [Schiller] and Don [Flexner].”

    (The generous pay probably helps energize people as well. As David Boies explained when I interviewed him in 2012, the firm’s compensation system reflects the view that all lawyers at the firm, partners and associates alike, are “important stakeholders in the institution.”)

    Finally, in light of Dunn’s interest in crisis management, Boies Schiller was a natural fit.

    “Crisis management is in their DNA here,” she said. “There is a recognition here, based on matters they’ve already handled, that litigation is often accompanied by government investigations, inquiries by regulators, or media scrutiny. Clients need to navigate all of these things as a whole and have one integrated, strategic approach — otherwise your litigation strategy can undercut your government strategy, or your media strategy can undercut your government strategy. If you’re going to solve a big problem, you need to look at all the aspects of that problem and solve them.”

    Jonathan Schiller

    Given Boies Schiller’s strength in helping its clients deal with crises, one can see why Karen Dunn opted for Boies Schiller. What drew Boies Schiller to Karen Dunn? I chatted with co-founder and managing partner Jonathan Schiller about her hiring, as well as that of Michael Gottlieb.

    “Karen is an outstanding lawyer, and we’re really happy to have her with us,” said Schiller. “People like Karen and Mike have experience from the White House and the Justice Department that crosses over a lot of areas of need in Washington. They are familiar with agency practices, they know many people within these institutions, and they understand and are up to speed on policy in key areas that matter to our clients. So they fulfill the fundamental missions of our active Washington practice: the capability to conduct litigation and arbitration globaly, and to represent our clients before the Justice Department, the SEC, the CFTC, and other regulators.”

    I asked Schiller: given Dunn’s past work for Hillary Clinton, who might mount a 2016 presidential bid, as well as Dunn’s and Gottlieb’s service in the Obama Administration, is the firm concerned that they might move back into politics or government in the near future?

    “That may happen,” he said. “We hope that they stay at the firm and flourish, but we don’t require anyone to take a blood oath to stay here forever. If Hillary Clinton runs for president, there are a number of people here who might want to work with her. We understand that in Washington these sorts of things happen. We’re not set up to be a revolving door, but it comes with the territory of hiring young people who are smart and ambitious.”

    Schiller cited the example of Tanya Chutkan, the Boies Schiller D.C. partner recently nominated by President Obama to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

    “I recruited Tanya years ago out of the D.C. Public Defender Service. She did some major trials for us, including the vitamins antitrust litigation [that resulted in an award of $149.5 million]. Am I sorry that she might be leaving for the bench? No — I’m excited, I’m thrilled for her. We didn’t plan that when she started working for us, but she earned it. She’ll be a terrific judge.”

    And so swings the revolving door — sometimes for the benefit of the public sector and sometimes for the benefit of the private sector, but in a way that allows talented lawyers to serve their country, develop their skills and experience, and pay off their law school loans too. Congratulations to Karen Dunn on joining Boies Schiller, and congratulations to Boies Schiller on hiring Karen Dunn.

    White House Legal Adviser Decamps to Boies Schiller & Flexner [Main Justice]
    Former White House Lawyer Joins Boies Schiller [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]
    Boies Schiller Partner Nominated to D.C. Federal Trial Court [The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times]

    Earlier: Associate Bonus Watch: A $300K Bonus At Boies Schiller
    Legal Eagle Wedding Watch 9.6: The Point Is Probably Moot