That’s because just 11 years after it brought on Philippe Selendy from Boies Schiller – who went on to net $35B in recoveries – the firm has wooed Luke Nikas, an inspiring litigation partner dubbed one of the nation’s top lawyers just 11 years out of Harvard Law School. Nikas represents a breadth of clients that includes the Andy Warhol Foundation, The Related Companies, 9/11 workers and Paul Napoli, founder of the Napoli Bern law firm.
“Luke is known to be one of the rising litigation lawyers in the U.S. We are delighted to have him,” said John Quinn, founder of Quinn Emanuel, which has expanded to 720 lawyers in 21 offices since its founding in Los Angeles in 1986. That makes it the world’s largest law firm devoted solely to business litigation and arbitration. It has won more than $60B in judgments and settlements.
Nikas’ path to early recognition came as a result of mentoring from Nicholas Gravante, who worked with him in his breakthrough case defending Ann Freedman, the president of the former leading New York art gallery, Knoedler gallery. Knoedler was ensnared in an art fraud ring, which resulted in $70M in claims against Freedman and the gallery, which closed. Nikas became lead counsel in what was described as “The Art Trial of the Century,” appearing on “60 Minutes” and earning recognition as one of the top art lawyers in the U.S. before turning 35.
“It was a privilege to be his mentor, I have to tell you,” said Gravante, one of the top rainmakers at Boies Schiller. “He is one of the most innovative, entrepreneurial and creative lawyers I’ve ever worked with.
“We’re going to miss him dearly,” said Gravante, who said there is no doubt Nikas will be a tremendous success. “My hat’s off to Quinn Emanuel.”
Peter Calamari, one of the earliest Quinn Emanuel partners in New York, acknowledged Selendy crossed his mind when he met Nikas earlier this year. After graduating from Harvard Law School in 1993, Selendy started his career at Cravath, was a partner at Boies Schiller from 2000-2006, then moved to Quinn Emanuel just in time to become the primary litigation force in the financial crisis on behalf of the Federal Housing Finance Agency, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac against major Wall Street banks in landmark residential mortgage-backed securities litigation.
“For us the appeal of Luke is his agility, his skill and trying cases,” said Calamari. “It’s the kind of thing we do and we like to do and we like our firm to be known for being capable of doing. Luke has gotten exposure as being a superb young lawyer. I do think he’ll fit in very well with our platform.”
Clients Nikas has represented include Fortune 100 companies; large private companies and executive-ranks; prominent art foundations, collectors and galleries; and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalists.
“I focus my practice on matters that raise one-time issues for my clients, from Ann Freedman, to stolen works of priceless art, missing for decades, or representing workers injured cleaning up after 9/11 to the copyright case that will define Andy Warhol’s legacy,” says Nikas. And while some of those clients may end up having additional legal needs, others are a once in a lifetime situation.
Though his practice has been diverging from Boies Schiller’s core client focus for the past year or two, it was painful for Nikas to leave. “David is an incredible leader and Nick has been an incredible mentor to me. At this point in my career, however, I need a platform that will support the most complex high-profile cases regardless of whether they are for the firm’s core clients. And Quinn Emanuel does that.”
Quinn Emanuel, of course, also focuses on the billion-dollar case, but maintains a steady appreciation for $20M matters. “Quinn Emanuel focuses on bet-the-farm cases. We want to appeal to clients literally all over the world with issues that are crucial to their very existence, and significant in terms of size. But that’s not the only client we want to appeal to,” said Calamari. “We know the client with the smaller matter today might have the bigger matter in two years. Luke is an entrepreneurial young partner and we will do everything we can to encourage him to keep that up. We certainly won’t discourage him for going after new business and new clients, as we’re not exclusively about bet-the-farm cases.”
David Boies, chairman of Boies Schiller, said “Luke is an excellent lawyer. He’s going to be successful wherever he is and I wish him all the best. He had an opportunity at Boies Schiller & Flexner to learn, to develop, and I look forward to seeing what he accomplishes.”
And Boies respects the need for lawyers to sometimes leave the nest. He, Gravante, Quinn, Calamari, Bill Urquhart and Selendy all started their careers at Cravath a few moons ago.
“It’s the way of the world. When I was at Cravath lots of people left what they referred to as the mother ship and went off,” Boies reflected. “I think it’s a very healthy environment where firms can help people develop their practices and careers.”