NEW YORK, Aug 15 (Reuters) - David Bernick, an experienced
litigator and the recently departed general counsel of Philip
Morris International Inc, has joined Boies, Schiller & Flexner,
the law firm led by celebrated attorney David Boies.
Bernick, 58, resigned from Philip Morris in February after
about two years on the job. Previously he had been a partner at
the international law firm Kirkland & Ellis.
Bernick will start immediately, working at Boies Schiller's
New York office.
The hire, which gives Boies Schiller another accomplished
trial attorney, represents a rare high-level partner acquisition
for the firm. Bernick is only the fourth senior partner the firm
has brought on since it was founded 15 years ago.
"It's a huge step for the firm," said Boies, who represented
former vice president Al Gore at the Supreme Court over the 2000
Boies and Bernick discussed Bernick's move, the direction of
Boies Schiller and the state of the law firm business in an
interview with Reuters in New York last week.
Bernick said his short stint at Philip Morris was a positive
experience. He said he left because he missed implementing
strategies for clients and also because he was anxious to get
back into the courtroom.
"Once a duck learns to swim, you never forget it," he said.
Before Philip Morris, Bernick was a senior partner and a
member of the management committee at Kirkland & Ellis. His
litigation practice varied widely in his 31 years at the firm:
He gained widespread attention for defense work for tobacco
companies, breast-implant makers and corporations with asbestos
In 2009, he won an acquittal for WR Grace & Co, which was
accused by the U.S. Department of Justice of knowingly
endangering the lives of residents in Libby, Montana, and
concealing information about its asbestos mining operations.
Bernick was recruited to Boies Schiller by partner William
Ohlemeyer, with whom he had worked on tobacco litigation in the
1990s. Bernick said he was struck by the speed with which Boies
Schiller had built an identity that extended beyond Boies.
"You now have a new organization with its own brand,"
At 71, Boies is still the public face of the firm. And he
shows no evidence of slowing down. In the last two years, he has
represented Oracle Corp in two high-profile trials and taken on
the federal government in a case over the bailout of American
International Group Inc on behalf of the insurer's former chief
executive, Maurice "Hank" Greenberg. He has also been the lead
lawyer, along with Theodore Olson, in a case challenging
California's ban on gay marriage.
But Boies Schiller has expanded well beyond Boies. After
starting off with eight lawyers in 1997, the law firm today has
more than 250, mostly devoted to litigation and a growing
corporate practice. It also is now among the top 100 U.S. law
firms by gross revenue and among the top 15 measured by profits
per partner, according to The American Lawyer magazine.
Boies, wearing his customary navy jacket and a plaid
shirt, said that while the firm has seen its profits reduced
during the financial crisis, it has not had to lay off
attorneys, unlike some of its competitors. It has also not had
to rescind any job offers to new recruits.
The financial crisis has actually helped the firm pick up
some new clients, he said. Before 2008, the firm had not
represented many financial institutions and instead marketed its
ability to sue banks, which other law firms with strong ties to
Wall Street were unwilling to do.
But the firm began to break that pattern as the financial
crisis spawned litigation against and among the banks. Barclays
Plc, for instance, hired the firm to defend against a claim that
it wrongly reaped an $11 billion windfall when it bought the
U.S. investment banking brokerage operations of Lehman Brothers
Holdings Inc in 2008.
Since the court ruled in favor of Barclays, the bank has
doled out more work to Boies Schiller, including a role as
counsel in the scandal involving the alleged rigging of the
interest rate known as Libor.
Bank of New York Mellon Corp has also given the firm more
work in recent years and HSBC Holdings has become a client,
according to Boies.
"HSBC, Barclays and Bank of New York are now three of our
largest clients," he said.
When Boies started the firm, the business plan was to devote
40 percent of its time to repeat clients, with the rest devoted
to one-off engagements and other types of assignments. But Boies
said that around 65 percent of the firm's time is now devoted to
its core clients.
It's unclear how many of the repeat clients would stay with
the firm if Boies decided to, say, work full-time on his wine
vineyard in California. But Boies said that the firm's upward
trajectory would continue without him.
"Unlike any other firm that has grown up as a litigation
specialist firm ... we have serious core clients," said Boies.
"There's isn't another firm our size ... that has the kind of
core clients we have."
(Reporting by Andrew Longstreth)
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