Photo by Chris Renton.
Passing the leadership torch is never easy for major legal institutions, particularly when a firm’s founding partners carry the enormous weight and history of achievement associated with the likes of Boies Schiller Flexner. By selecting Natasha Harrison and Nicholas Gravante as the new Managing Partners, Boies Schiller has guaranteed that the challenge will also bring tremendous opportunity, excitement and positioning for continued success as one of the world’s leading litigation firms. New York standout litigator Gravante will lead the firm from its historical roots while the equally admired Harrison will do so from the firm’s London office. Harrison exemplifies the firm’s outstanding reputation in the areas of international litigation and arbitration for a wide range of clients.
Lawdragon: Can you tell us about your new role as a Managing Partner of Boies Schiller Flexner?
Natasha Harrison: Nick Gravante and I both appreciate the confidence David Boies, Jonathan Schiller, the firm’s Executive Committee, and the whole partnership have placed in us. It is a great honor, but also a responsibility, to be the first Managing Partners whose names are not also on the door. We are just getting started in our new positions, and we are looking forward to continuing the firm’s record of unparalleled service – both to our commercial clients and to our plaintiff and pro bono clients.
LD: What’s the current state of your practice and more generally of the London office?
NH: I have built a top-end international disputes practice in London, involving complex and often unprecedented disputes of very high value. My work is solution-focused, using the law as a tool to drive successful outcomes for our clients. The client base of the London office includes investment funds, private equity houses, investment banks, corporates, and governments. We are probably best known for our work in special situations on behalf of hedge funds, as well as value-driven creditor litigation.
LD: What aspects of this work do you find professionally satisfying?
NH: First, working with the smartest people in their chosen industry. My best clients are at the top of their game, bringing a unique perspective to the issues. By combining our different experiences and perspectives, we can achieve unprecedented outcomes in and out of the courtroom. Secondly, the opportunity to learn about and become expert in the industries and investment positions, as well as the social and economic issues surrounding the disputes. We blend this knowledge with our knowledge of the law to deliver very sophisticated legal strategies. Thirdly, but not finally, building the top teams, by growing up best-in-class lawyers and growing as organically as possible.
LD: Is there a recent development or achievement that you would like to tell us about?
NH: I believe passionately in diversity, in all of its forms, and that diverse teams get better results. This has been the foundation on which we have built our London office. I was delighted to be recognized as one of the HERoes 100 Women Executives for driving change and increasing gender diversity in the workplace. The award was not just for the legal profession, where we have a lot of catching-up to do, but for the economy as a whole, so it was a big honor. Because we have built the London office from scratch, diversity is in our DNA – gender, social diversity, and ethnic and racial as well – which I firmly believe will deliver better results for clients. With Tracey Dovaston joining us from Barclays, three out of seven, or more than 40 percent, of our London partners are women.
LD: Could you also describe a recent matter that the London team has worked on?
NH: Our London team played an interesting and crucial role in a huge intellectual property and technology dispute, which played out around the world in the past year. The dispute was over whether one of the companies was licensing its handset technology on fair, reasonable, and non-discriminatory, or FRAND, terms. We were able to get the English Courts to accept jurisdiction over a very significant portion of the dispute.
LD: What was challenging about handling that type of dispute?
NH: It was a massive battle. English law was untested in relation to FRAND, and it was one of the toughest, hardest-fought cases I’ve ever worked on because the stakes for both parties were so incredibly high. A key component was seeing this as part of a global effort, and we worked very closely with my partners Bill Isaacson, Karen Dunn, Meredith Dearborn and others who were driving the litigation from the United States. And the English Courts, which are incredibly sophisticated, were able to understand the issues – and were willing to accept jurisdiction.
LD: What is the impact on the client?
NH: By opening up cases creatively on different fronts and in different jurisdictions, as we did in the English Courts, we were able to create leverage globally that ultimately helped win a very favorable global settlement in one of the biggest IP and technology disputes the world has ever seen.
LD: What early experience or mentor helped shape the course of your professional life?
NH: From early on in my career, I was exposed to a new breed of hedge fund that had opened up in London. I worked day-to-day with senior portfolio managers and investment professionals, crafting legal strategies designed to maximize value. That had a dramatic influence on me because, rather than working with the legal teams, I was trained by the business side. It taught me to be fierce and brave in my litigation strategies; it also taught me to always remain completely focused on finding a solution for the client, rather than on the process of litigation itself.
LD: Can you describe your career path and how you arrived at your current position?
NH: I was one of the first generation of English lawyers to grow up in the U.S. system, by which I mean, having gone to the bar, I started as a young associate at Weil Gotshal just when the London legal market was opening up fully to U.S. firms in the late 1990s. So I’ve gone through nearly all of my career working for U.S. firms, and this has effectively shaped my career. People say I litigate more like an American lawyer than an English lawyer. It also means I have a very deep understanding of U.S. firms, their values and their culture, so I’m very comfortable spearheading Boies Schiller Flexner’s move into London at just the right time.
LD: How has your practice changed since the early part of your career?
NH: The driving theme to my practice remains the same: doing top quality work for the most sophisticated entities, in the cases that matter the most. Over the last few years, I have increasingly been involved in leadership and management. Since joining Boies Schiller Flexner I have had the opportunity to build an office (and business) from scratch, and more recently I have sat on the firm’s Executive Committee. This has given me unique insight into top-end management, which in turn is invaluable to advising the boards of my clients.
So my workload has increased! The real challenge continues to be working full time as a lawyer, while being heavily involved in the management of the firm, running an office, generating business, as well as raising two children (not necessarily in that order…).
LD: There are many high-quality firms out there. How do you sell yours to potential recruits?
NH: We blend the prestige of a white-shoe law firm with the best work in town, combined with an entrepreneurial spirit that you normally only find in a smaller, more start-up type of firm. That combination is pretty unique. We’re creative, we have a flat structure, and the opportunities are immense. Our associates are also drawn to the opportunity of being part of building, and contributing at all levels, to the growth of the London office as well as being part of a truly diverse work environment.
LD: What about pro bono?
NH: Our strategy with pro bono is to take on fewer cases but focus on them as closely as we would with a fee-paying client. It is a huge privilege to work for the environmental group ClientEarth, which uses the law to defend nature and combat climate change. We undertook a landmark case for them last year, blocking the planned construction of a coal-fired plant in northeastern Poland – by challenging the board’s decision to move ahead on the grounds that this was poor financial governance.
LD: Can you share some strategic plans for the coming months or years?
NH: Brexit continues to dominate the headlines in the UK. However, regardless of the outcome, we see a lot of opportunities in London going forward. We will continue to grow our London office organically, as far as possible, by promoting internally; for example two of our star junior partners, Fiona Huntriss and Will Hooker were promoted from associate roles in the last few years while supplementing with strategic lateral hires from time to time. Tracey Dovaston, in January 2020, follows Ken Beale, Matt Getz, Will Hooker, and Dominic Roughton as lateral partners. We are building further strength in international arbitration, litigation, and investigations, while always preparing for the next wave of bankruptcy work, distressed debt, and creditor litigation.