Sabina Mariella, Andrew Steinmetz, Valecia Battle and Jeffrey Waldron
Groundbreaking, high-profile, landscape-altering litigation – just some of the things that come to mind when you think of the legendary law firm Boies Schiller Flexner. The intimate firm's diverse breadth of practice makes it hard to categorize and impossible to put into a box.
Founded by legal industry titans David Boies and Jonathan Schiller, the firm has long been steadily positioned on the front lines of the most relevant and impactful cases of our time. For an incoming associate these are colossal shoes to step into, no doubt – but the firm’s culture and track record are attracting a stellar younger generation that is more than up for the task.
“Associates here are given high-level work right out of the gate, on all sorts of complex litigation,” says associate Andrew Steinmetz. “It’s exactly the right mix of awesome and terrifying – it’s everything I wanted coming out of law school.”
Steinmetz and fellow associates, Sabina Mariella, Valecia Battle and Jeffrey Waldron, joined Lawdragon for a roundtable forum to discuss the parts of the story you don’t always hear about in the news. The associates share common traits – they are self-starters, ambitious, driven and fearlessly ready to jump in when called upon. Boies Schiller Flexner has proven to be the perfect place to do just that.
Sabina Mariella always knew she wanted to be a litigator, and she joined Boies Schiller in the fall of 2019 after a clerkship. Mariella says, “It was one of the few firms that sat somewhere in between a big, white shoe, New York law firm and a tiny, specialized, boutique firm. The work is at the highest level, but the teams are small. It feels intimate, and you can really contribute.”
Jeffrey Waldron, who started in 2021, concurs, “This place is unique. I knew I would have more opportunities as a junior associate to work closely with partners, have really great experiences right off the bat and I wouldn't feel like as much of a cog – and that has been my experience. The partners trust you to step up, they have this belief in you, and I’ve quickly become a better lawyer because of it.”
Because of our size and because of our mixture of work, there's an opportunity to really chart your own course, which is pretty unique.
For Valecia Battle, the decision to join the firm was even more personal. After finding a mentor in Tanya Chutkan, then a Washington D.C.-based partner, Battle was inspired to learn more about the firm from which Judge Chutkan came. An internet search turned up Bush v. Gore, U.S. v. Microsoft, Proposition 8. It didn’t take much to persuade her after that. “I decided to go to Boies Schiller Flexner before I even went to law school.”
The firm devotes significant time to large-scale pro bono work, which is a major attraction for forward-looking associates. According to Mariella, “People find their appetite for serving the community is fulfilled here.”
It’s a firm that leads by example and manages to empower and embolden associates to take the reins – liberating them and promoting growth internally. The Big-Law-Boutique balance has been struck, and for the right associates coming in, it’s a career-shaping game-changer. As Steinmetz puts it, “Boies Schiller is the best of all worlds.”
Lawdragon: When you first started, how long before you were working on high-level cases? Did it take time to break in?
Andrew Steinmetz: My first year here there was a big, international, bid-rigging conspiracy case involving a state-run oil company. I took the opportunity to get involved early on. David Boies was leading the team, and several other partners in the firm were involved. As a first-year associate, I was assisting a partner in interviewing a witness who we intended to put on the stand at an evidentiary hearing the next day. I will never forget getting a phone call at eight that morning from the partner saying, "My throat is closing. I just called the doctor. You've got to go do this."
AS: So, I interviewed the witness on my own with a top partner at a well-known firm sitting across the table – then had to turn my notes into a direct examination. That is Boies Schiller in a nutshell. It is very much a next-person-up kind of culture. Whoever is here, capable and competent, does the work. Opportunities are plentiful and can fall into your lap, even in your first year.
Sabina Mariella: I have a similar story. On my first day, I was called into a partner's office who I had never met before to get my first assignment, which was to work on the Jeffrey Epstein matter. It totally changed my career and my outlook on practicing law.
LD: Congratulations, first of all. You all have been doing incredible work for the victims.
SM: Thank you. I was at a large, white shoe firm before and had never done plaintiffs’ work. I previously represented banks, credit rating agencies, and other financial institutions. Then, I got here, and they said, “We’ve got a couple of clients who were sexually abused by this serial pedophile." And I remember thinking, "Whoa. Are you sure you want me to do this?"
If you're intellectually curious, you can do anything and learn anything here. It speaks to the breadth of the firm – I think that is what draws people here.
And it’s been amazing. Over the last four years, I've helped with civil cases against Epstein’s estate. I saw my clients testify in a criminal trial and put Ghislaine Maxwell in jail. I saw when that relief hit our clients – that something had finally been done. We sued Prince Andrew. We sued Epstein’s banks. Honestly, there have been so many milestones in that case that it’s hard to clock all the wins. Every time we have a major win, it’s another victory that changed the law and the world.
LD: That's wild.
SM: That's how I knew I'd made the right choice in coming here. Representing victims of crime has been something I continue to do, and I really like it. The ability to make people feel good about something really bad that happened to them is a skill that I didn't have before.
LD: What's the mix of your practice other than that case?
SM: It's quite diverse. I had a jury trial in the fall with Valecia, where we represented another crime victim, but a very different one – a bank in Kazakhstan that was the victim of a money laundering scheme.
I also represent a longtime client of the firm, Red Granite Pictures, the production company that made “The Wolf of Wall Street.” The client was accused of receiving funds from a money laundering scheme in Malaysia. We've helped that client through government investigations, civil forfeiture cases, foreign lawsuits, and civil litigation, including against Jordan Belfort, who is the main character in “The Wolf of Wall Street.”
Jeffrey Waldron: The amount of experience you get right off the bat here is great. There's a copyright case that just concluded over the past month. I joined the case in April 2022, and at the time I was a first-year associate. Through personnel changes over the course of the case, all of a sudden, I was the only associate with any institutional knowledge of the matter and had to step up into that leadership role. At another firm, I would not have been given that amount of trust. It was stressful and intimidating, but I learned a ton.
AS: I'm going to chime in on that, because I joined that case about three months ago, right as we were ramping up for trial. I'm a few years ahead of Jeffrey, but Jeffrey was totally the person running that case. I took my orders from him because he had the case knowledge – he made the trains run on time.
JW: Andrew gave a lot of pep talks along the way.
LD: Sounds very merit based. Less hierarchical than some firms.
Valecia Battle: That's what we all love about this place. I came to the firm in 2018 after clerking right out of law school. It was my first year as an associate, and we were representing Nike in an investigation, and Michael Avenatti decided to try to extort my client, and that failed miserably for him.
You build your own path. The people who are successful here take advantage of the model and are able to build a career for themselves that looks exactly how they want it to look.
LD: Did you wear a wire?
VB: I was not one of the ones that wore a wire, no, but I did get subpoenaed. Before Avenatti involved himself, I flew out with a partner to do the investigation. I was just there typing notes, and the partner stopped and said, "Valecia, what do you have to say? What do you think?" And then he and the head of litigation at Nike asked me to talk to the GC about it. The partners saw that I had experience and knowledge and highlighted that in front of the GC and the head of litigation. That's what the partners do. Some people say they throw you into the deep end, but that involves a level of respect that I love at the firm. They expect us to do well, and they give us the opportunity to do that.
LD: How would you describe the culture for associates at the firm?
AS: There's an Associates Committee that Sabina and I have spent time on. Associates have a voice in helping to shape the firm’s priorities and policy. That's something that we all value. Of course, not every recommendation that the Associates Committee makes becomes policy of the firm, but this has been a historical feature of this place. Associates are treated as real stakeholders in the firm – and that comes with a responsibility, not only in terms of case work, but also in terms of stewardship of the firm.
VB: That goes for formal things, like the Associates Committee, but also informal conversations. I have found that the things that I say are heard, and I've learned that those things are repeated in other rooms. The firm listens to the associates. If you speak up, you will be acknowledged.
At one point following George Floyd’s death, I was quite vocal about race issues. I wondered whether there would be any backlash, and it was the exact opposite of that. The firm saw me more as a leader. Because of that, we've made important investments in DEI and recruitment and retention. At some places, I’d probably get fired for saying what I did – here, I got even more respect.
SM: They listen. We have a huge voice as associates here. We work on big cases at Boies Schiller, and we're seen as among the biggest law firms in New York – but actually we're pretty small. So, we're all really close – to partners and each other.
I’ll add that pro bono work is a big part of firm culture. People stay here because we do so much pro bono work, including big cases that require a lot of resources. Associates find their appetite for serving the community is fulfilled here.
LD: Are you all now taking younger associates under your wing?
VB: Yes. That's one of my favorite parts. There are no sharp elbows, you're not worried about the people who are coming after you, because it'll make this a better place at the end of the day.
I have found that the things that I say are heard, and I've learned that those things are repeated in other rooms. The firm listens to the associates. If you speak up, you will be acknowledged.
JW: As a more junior associate I can tell you there's a very horizontal type of mentoring. There’s a camaraderie. We learn from each other and in some ways, it’s as useful and rewarding as traditional, hierarchical mentorship. That is a big part of the culture as well.
SM: Now that I'm more senior, when there's an opportunity that comes to me that I know someone junior on the team can handle, I put them forward. There's no reason not to pass that opportunity to someone else. To me, that's the most important type of mentorship, spreading opportunities around.
VB: There’s a lot of collaboration and conversation.
LD: Andrew, are you still in Armonk?
AS: I split my time between Armonk and New York City. That was one of the things that drew me to the firm, actually – the flexibility. And that goes beyond just the flexibility to choose where I work on a given day. Because of our size and because of our mixture of work, there's an opportunity to really chart your own course, which is pretty unique.
LD: How would you say your experiences here have aligned with the expectations you had when you joined this firm?
VB: I wanted experience more than anything. I wanted to be a general litigator. At the moment, I'm doing an SEC matter with Matthew Schwartz, a sex assault matter with Sigrid McCawley and Kenya Davis, a contracts case, complex commercial litigation with a recent lateral partner, Jenny Kim, and I’m doing a First Amendment defamation case with David Boies, among other things. It's a bit of everything, and I love it that way.
JW: If you're intellectually curious, you can do anything and learn anything here. It speaks to the breadth of the firm – I think that is what draws people here. Currently, I’m on a bankruptcy litigation, an oil and gas dispute, a family trust battle, a pro bono case about a child removal during Covid – there's such a variety of work you can get your hands on. You’re not expected to specialize, you're just expected to be a good lawyer.
SM: There's structure, but there's very little formality around how work is distributed. You build your own path. The people who are successful here take advantage of the model and are able to build a career for themselves that looks exactly how they want it to look.
AS: And you've really got to take ownership of your career, be entrepreneurial, and be proactive about building the mix of cases and opportunities you want.