We're taking a break from our roster of megafirms to speak with Alan Vickery, hiring partner of Boies, Schiller & Flexner. As every law student knows, the firm was founded by litigation superstar and former Cravath partner David Boies and a handful of other lawyers in 1997. The urban--or suburban--legend is that the firm started in Boies's garage in Armonk, New York. Now at 240 lawyers with a thriving Manhattan office, the firm is a litigation dynamo that reported profits per partner of $2.88 million in 2009.
The Boies legend must loom large at your firm. Is the place full of baby Boieses--sharp, iconoclastic law grads with a taste for gambling?
What's typical is the diversity of personality and style at the firm. David has a broad scope of interests and abilities; he sends a strong signal that individualism is tolerated and encouraged. For instance, there's lots of support for our work on Prop 8 [where the firm is arguing against the ban on gay marriage in California], but there are also lots of Federalist Society members here. There's no sense of someone not fitting in because of their views. The idea of a stuffy lawyer is inconceivable here.
I guess it's hard to be stuffy when Armonk is one of your major hubs. I'm curious: Do those bright young things actually want to work in Armonk?
Armonk is a fabulous recruiting tool! Each year there are people who refuse to work in New York--people with families who want to be in the suburbs but want New York-type work.
Who are your competitors in the hiring game?
The usual suspects: Wachtell, Davis Polk, Cravath. And if they're looking for a [litigation] boutique, it'd be Susman Godfrey, Williams & Connolly, or Quinn Emanuel.
Why should someone go to Boies Schiller instead of one of those competitors?
People have more autonomy here. We give them discretion as to how they work and where they work from. They can call in from their weekend house, work from home, telecommute. At big firms, you have to be there and put in face time.
What do you look for in your hires?
The top 10 percent of the top ten schools, which is probably really the top 15 because they all claim to be top ten. I'm also for brainpower, success, and competitiveness. We look at how [candidates] debate and discuss issues, and whether they have a hunger to win cases.
So being brilliant at research won't cut it?
We aspire to try cases and want people who want to go to trial. Our whole approach is to view a case as an eventual trial. I loved standing up in court as a prosecutor, and get a warm and fuzzy feeling when I'm in court.
Sounds like you want combative personalities.
Yes, but not to the point of obnoxiousness. Someone who can stake out a position and defend it--that's good. But you need someone who can work well with clients and not piss them off.
But I assume not everyone with stellar credentials and sharp personalities succeed. Who tends to falter?
People who don't have a realistic understanding of how much hard work and grit is required of litigation. Sometimes people who are very smart suddenly go into systemic shock that they have to work so hard. Sometimes you have to grind; sometimes you have to review documents. It's not all about arguments before the Supreme Court.
Let's turn to a cheerier subject: money. I've heard even junior associates can make a bundle at your firm.
Young associates here can make a lot more than at Davis Polk. First, our base salary is higher. Then, on contingency cases, they can participate on the fee and do quite well. In the early years, some associates got paid more than partners.
You can also opt to have your bonus pegged to how much you billed, right?
It's a very simple incentive: If you're going to give up your weekend, or it's 2 a.m. on a Sunday, and you have to be in court the next morning, the fact that you know you're getting more money is wonderful.
Yes, wonderful. Would you call Boies Schiller the litigators' Wachtell Lipton?
That's exactly what I try to tell candidates. I tell associates to enjoy their lives, but I absolutely demand that they do a good job. We're open to people being themselves, but we don't tolerate sloppy work.
Do you have topics you'd like to discuss or tips to share? Email The Careerist's chief blogger Vivia Chen at VChen@alm.com.