Photo by Laura Crosta.
Craig Boneau was added to Lawdragon’s 500 Leading Plaintiff Financial Lawyers last year, and it’s no wonder: In the past decade, Boneau has recovered hundreds of millions of dollars for hedge funds, bankruptcy trustees, and major companies harmed by corporate misconduct or fraud. A former high school physics teacher and basketball coach, Boneau was drawn to the varied and complex life of the financial plaintiffs’ lawyer, and found a perfect fit at the boutique firm Reid Collins & Tsai. He is regularly up against Big Law firms and their clients, from major banks to other law firms to Fortune 100 companies — and he loves every minute of it.
Lawdragon: Will you please describe your practice for our readers, and your approach to it?
Craig Boneau: I almost exclusively represent plaintiffs in commercial litigation, the majority of which have some tie to a financial fraud or other financial shenanigans. Many of my cases arise out of an insolvency proceeding, whether that be a U.S. bankruptcy or an offshore liquidation. We bring a variety of claims, but the general buckets they fall into are fraud, breaches of fiduciary duty, and professional malpractice. The most common defendants are law firms, directors and officers, auditors, and banks. Nearly all of my cases are on an alternative fee arrangement, whether they be full contingency or a mixed-fee with flat fees combined with a contingent fee.
LD: Were you always interested in plaintiff-side work?
CB: After spending time in big law as a summer associate in law school, I knew I wanted to be in a boutique that was less rigid in its approach to practicing law. When I met Bill Reid at on-campus interviews for my 2L summer, he convinced me that the firm he was at at the time would be a perfect fit. That firm did similar work to what we do at Reid Collins, and so that is how I was introduced to the area of law I currently practice. The reality is, that I didn’t seek out the specific work, I really sought out a specific way of practicing, and the subject matter of the work was really secondary. But, after being introduced to plaintiffs’ side, complex commercial litigation, I never looked back and I really enjoy it.
LD: What are some things you enjoy most about it?
CB: Being on the plaintiffs’ side of a complex commercial litigation is fun. On the front end, because almost all of our cases involve some aspect of financial fraud, we first get to solve the puzzle of what happened and why. Then we get to figure out who was involved and is subject to liability as a result. Next we get to formulate a strategy with our clients about the best way to approach the litigation, who to sue, where to sue, what claims to bring, and how to avoid the various defenses that we see time and time again in our practice. That process from when a case comes in to when we have a full blown litigation strategy is very intellectually challenging, and is a blast. It allows us to really work together as a team, both within the firm, and with our clients.
As a former high school basketball coach, and even further back a player, I love being a part of a team and think it is by far the best way to get to the best result, and do it in the most efficient way possible. Then, once we have our strategy sorted out, we get to litigate, and hopefully obtain a recovery for our clients, who are either people who were damaged by some kind of corporate malfeasance or representatives of those folks. So really, every aspect of the process is something I enjoy.
LD: That’s interesting, that your time as a basketball coach is still serving you today!
CB: It really is. I was also a high school biology and physics teacher. I learned a ton from those experiences, including how to lead teams, explain complex ideas in a simple way, and how to connect with a diverse group of people depending on each individuals’ unique situation. All of those lessons have translated into my practice whether that is in my interactions with clients, our team, opposing counsel, or in court.
LD: Did you know back then that you wanted to be a lawyer?
CB: Not especially. I came to law in a roundabout way. But, looking back, it does make sense that I enjoy practicing law, especially in the way we do it at Reid Collins. While an undergrad at the University of Texas I changed my major about six times. Those majors ranged from petroleum and geosystems engineering to history, and many places in between. And I ultimately finished with a Psychology degree. The reality was that I found many things interesting, and so did not really want to settle on any one thing. It turns out, law actually is a great place for that because every case presents a new world that I get to learn about. And when the case is over, in addition to hopefully getting a great result for my client, I come out with an education in a new field. So for an undergrad who wanted to major in everything, it’s perfect. Law was a great fit for me.
LD: That’s great advice for students who aren’t interested in just one major.
CB: Absolutely. For a person that enjoys learning about a variety of things, law is the perfect fit because law itself is such a wide ranging topic. And, each case has its own mini-education on whatever the underlying subject matter is.
LD: How did you decide to attend Columbia for your J.D.?
CB: I grew up in Texas, went to undergrad at the University of Texas, and then taught and coached in Texas high schools. Law school was a great opportunity for me to try a new place. So, after weighing a number of options, I chose Columbia because it is a great law school and because I wanted to experience living in New York City.
LD: Did you enter law school thinking you would be a litigator, doing plaintiff work, focused on the financial industry?
CB: When I got to law school, I really did not know what practicing law looked like. No one in my family had gone to law school, neither my mom nor dad went to college and neither of my grandfathers finished high school. So, my background did not give me much perspective on what life would be as a lawyer. But, after my 1L summer at a large law firm, I knew I had no interest in transactional work, and no interest in litigating from the big law side of things. Instead I wanted to litigate in a boutique environment where I got experience early and I was able to curate our approach to a case based on the most effective way to get a result for our clients.
LD: So you entered the field of law with very fresh eyes! Did you have any mentors that helped you navigate the profession in the early days?
CB: Definitely. Bill Reid has been a mentor from the beginning of my career. He took me under his wing early on and ensured that I had great opportunities to grow professionally and succeed. His approach is certainly not one of hand-holding, but is instead about making sure young lawyers have a chance to get up on their feet and actually practice law as soon as they are ready and willing. Having those early experiences conducting witness interviews as a first year, taking depositions and arguing motions as a second year, and taking the day-to-day lead of a case as a fourth year accelerated my professional growth, and made practicing law more fun in those early years. The other thing Bill has always done is include the young lawyers in everything he is doing. So early on, I was on calls, going to hearings, and participating in mediations, and able to watch and learn from how he approached the practice of law.
The other person I would point to is Rachel Fleishman, who is the partner in charge of our New York office. Her willingness to patiently teach me the nuts and bolts of what being a lawyer is about was absolutely essential to my development. She has an incredible attention to detail, and that applies to how she helps young lawyers. From her I learned how to substantively approach a hearing or a deposition, and I learned how to handle the non-substantive parts that can trip up a young lawyer like how to get an exhibit marked and passed to a witness. She went as far as giving us young lawyers vocal lessons so we were confident in projecting our voice and enunciating our words. The combination of Bill and Rachel as mentors was in many ways about as perfect a combination as you can get as a young attorney, someone who is actively trying to find you opportunities very early on, and someone who is willing to spend the time to make sure you know what you’re doing when those opportunities come. I was incredibly lucky to have both of them in my corner.
LD: Strong mentors are so important. Is there a specific case you’ve handled over the course of your career that stands out as particularly interesting?
CB: One of the hallmarks of Reid Collins in our willingness to approach each case without a preconceived notion of how the case should be litigated. All of our cases have interesting quirks about them, which cause us to be willing and able to apply a novel approach to address whatever unique issues each case presents. So they are really almost all interesting in their own way.
LD: What do you do for fun outside the office?
CB: Spend time with my family. I have a 7-year-old boy and a 4-year-old girl so my free time is pretty dedicated to hanging out with my wife and those two. We love camping, so we spend a lot of time building fires and roasting marshmallows. We also love taking advantage of all the wonderful things Austin has to offer, like great outdoor spaces, restaurants, and whatever festival is happening. There’s pretty much always something going on.