Lawyer Limelight: Karen Dyer

For those who say you can’t have it all, we’d like to introduce Karen Dyer. She’s the most senior female trial partner at Boies Schiller & Flexner and has been a trusted lieutenant to David Boies for over two decades.  On the side, she’s the First Lady of Orlando, married to Mayor Buddy Dyer, and the mother of Trey and Drew.

In court, she’s a dynamo, examining witnesses in Starr International’s trial victory against AIG and the firm's more recent victory for John Ferolito, founder of AriZona Iced Tea, who is locked in a multi-billion dollar battle with his co-owner.  Currently, she’s preparing for the retrial of the $7 billion Terra Firma case while running a multi-billion dollar case in Texas against Trinity Industries.

Lawdragon: What’s it like being the top female trial lawyer at Boies Schiller?

Karen Dyer: Top female is a funny term to me.  There are so many talented female lawyers at Boies Schiller; I just happen to have been here the longest.  I laugh because when I joined the firm I had no idea I was the first female partner.  At the very first firm retreat, there was a partners’ meeting.  I walked into a room of all men and tried to play it cool, but quickly looked at the agenda to make sure I was in the right room. Fortunately we immediately elected two women to the partnership, who are both terrific, very talented lawyers.

LD: How do you balance everything in your so-called glamorous life?

KD: The one thing over the years that I know I have been able to contribute is to show young lawyers, especially females, that you can--and should--have a life outside the firm. It takes a lot of support from friends, family, and colleagues, and you have to find a good assistant. We’re in a profession where, albeit difficult, with the right support one does not have to choose between having a family or continuing to practice law.

LD: Tell me a little about some of the big cases you’re working on now?

KD: Well, there’s Terra Firma right now, which is fascinating not just because of its size, but also because of several interesting issues including the application of English law to an American trial.  Our client asserts it was duped by Citibank into bidding for EMI Records and we hope the jury will agree.

The AriZona Iced Tea case is also very interesting and the valuation trial, which should implement one of the largest corporate divorces in history, is scheduled for January. I’ve been working with our valuation experts, and this trial will be a battle of experts as it is estimated the company is worth between $4 billion and $6 billion.  Although we should only be fighting about that difference, it's a $2 billion-dollar difference to our client, whose family will be bought out of its 50 percent interest.

It’s also a fascinating look at how our client and the partner he brought in, both of whom were truck drivers, built a multi-billion dollar company from the ground up.  Because it's our client's and his partner's "baby," they are each very emotionally invested in every aspect of the company. We often have to work hard to keep everyone on track and avoid arguing over irrelevant issues, like which family really came up with the name "AriZona" some 20 years ago.

LD: And I understand you’ve recently gotten involved in a major qui tam action in Texas, which you’re quite passionate about?

KD: That’s the Trinity case, in Federal District Court in Texas, which is really a case about matters of life and death. The complaint in that case alleges that people are dying needlessly because the guard rails on many of our nation's roads and highways-- which were designed to certain very exact specifications in order to save lives-- are defective because the specs were changed without the knowledge or consent of the states and federal governments which purchased them.  Although the case is in the early stages, it’s one of those cases where you think, this is what I went to law school for; it could be one of my sons out there on the road. This product was designed so that people who veer off the road and hit a header on a guardrail are able to get up and walk away from vehicles. Now, because of the unauthorized design change, most are killed instantly.  How would you feel?

LD: You have such a wealth of career highlights to choose from. What are some of the tops?

KD: This is really going to date me, but working with David Boies and the late Tom Barr, when they were both at Cravath, on the Michael Milken junk bond litigation. That’s where my practice started.

I graduated in 1987, clerked for a federal judge until 1989, then joined Carlton Fields, where I started working with an extremely talented litigator, Anne Conway, who’s now the Chief Judge for the Federal Middle District of Florida. We did FDIC and RTC work during the savings and loan crisis, which is how I started to work with several top-flight New York law firms.

I’ve worked with David since ‘91. I was liaison at Carlton Fields for FDIC work in Florida and he was national counsel.  When that work ended, David and I began working together on several matters for Florida Power & Light, the largest public company in Florida.

LD: In 2010, you successfully represented the family of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed by the orca Tilikum in 2009. Ultimately, from what I understand, the family agreed to settle with the federal government out of court regarding disclosure of sensitive videos and photographs. How do you feel about that case now?

KD: After obtaining a temporary injunction immediately after the tragedy, we then obtained a permanent injunction to keep private the videos that SeaWorld had in its possession from cameras on the tank. They had two separate videos taken from different angles that showed the trainer actually being attacked and killed by the whale.  The state court quickly, without much media opposition, entered the permanent injunction prohibiting anyone from showing the videos. The only open issue was the federal government’s right to use of the videos, which we settled out of court.  What I remember most about the case is what an extraordinary family the Brancheaus were, and still are.

LD: Is your life as glamorous as it seems – litigation partner to David Boies, wife of the Mayor of Orlando with a huge caseload of billion-dollar matters?

KD: Ha! It’s one of those days. I started off by calling my son Drew, a freshman at the University of Colorado at 3:30 a.m. to see if he was affected by the floods in Boulder; our realtor decided to show our condo in New York today so I had to get that in order; I’m meeting our expert to defend her deposition at Paul Weiss today, after which I have several other matters to attend to. It's a whirlwind and my "to-do" list is crazy, but is it glamorous? No!  It's often anything but glamorous--but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.