Global Investigations Review - The law and practice of international investigations

GIR 100 2019

Boies Schiller Flexner

25 October 2019

US firm Boies Schiller Flexner has never shied away from the spotlight, acting in headline-grabbing matters that have occasionally been at the heart of US politics.  

The firm

The firm’s route to become one of the largest names in US litigation over the last 20 years began unconventionally. In 1986, co-founder Jonathan Schiller ran a boutique firm in Washington, DC, which counted the US white-goods manufacturer Westinghouse among its clients.

However, when the government of the Philippines accused the company of bribing former President Ferdinand Marcos, it turned elsewhere – to David Boies, then at Cravath Swaine & Moore.

Schiller told Forbes in 2017 that he spent two weeks in Boies’ New York apartment that year, transferring Westinghouse documents to the company’s new counsel. Sometime within that fortnight, Boies proposed that they jointly represent Westinghouse. The pair built a relationship over the next decade and, when Boies left Cravath in 1997, they launched their own firm.

The firm’s reputation is largely shaped by its co-founder Boies, who has acted in a litany of landmark cases. For one, he represented Democratic presidential candidate Al Gore in the infamous Bush v Gore Supreme Court case that settled a vote recount dispute in Florida and handed US President George W Bush the votes he needed to clinch the 2000 presidential election. Such is his notoriety that The New York Times labelled him “The Wall Street Lawyer Everyone Wants” in a 1986 feature, and in 2000 Time magazine published an article titled “Get Me David Boies!”.

However, more recently, Boies has made headlines for his aggressive tactics in representing defunct blood testing start-up Theranos, after an exposé about the company, titled Bad Blood, was published in 2018. He has also attracted scrutiny for his representation of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein – a reported long-time client whom US prosecutors charged with predatory sexual assault – among others – in 2018. Weinstein has pleaded not guilty.

But, with over 300 lawyers, the firm is considerably more than just Boies. The investigations practice contains several former prosecutors, including Matthew Schwartz, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan and a senior member of the office’s securities and commodities fraud task force. Andrew Michaelson, who worked at both the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, handles investigations by the Department of Justice (DOJ), Commodity Futures Trading Commission and foreign authorities.

In London, Matthew Getz predominantly acts for large financial institutions and multinationals in investigations by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) as well as the DOJ. Before joining the firm, Getz worked at Debevoise & Plimpton in London, where he investigated bribery at German engineering company Siemens and Kazakh miner Eurasian Natural Resources Company. 

Recent events

The firm represents Malaysia’s former prime minister Najib Razak, who is currently facing dozens of charges in Malaysia linked to the alleged embezzlement of billions of dollars from the country’s sovereign wealth fund 1MDB.

The firm also acts for Hollywood production company Red Granite Pictures, which US prosecutors alleged funded several films, including The Wolf of Wall Street, with money embezzled from 1MDB. The company agreed to pay US$60 million in March 2018 to resolve a civil lawsuit with the DOJ.

The firm recently ushered UK bank HSBC to a $765 million settlement with multiple state and federal US agencies in October 2018.to resolve allegations the bank fraudulently sold residential mortgage-backed securities in the lead up to the 2008 financial crisis.

The firm acts for Sam Walsh, the former CEO of Anglo-Australian mining company Rio Tinto, as the company faces investigations by the DOJ, SFO and Australia’s Securities and Investments Commission over alleged bribery in Guinea.

Transportation company Uber has hired the firm for a DOJ probe into whether former executives at the company conspired to steal trade secrets from Waymo, Google’s self-driving car project.

Network

The firm has 14 offices dotted across the US, with white-collar partners located in Washington, DC, New York and Los Angeles. Outside of the US, the firm only has a presence in London.

Clients

The company has acted for a diverse group of clients from banks, such as HSBC and Barclays, to US sportswear brand Nike and the Kazakh bank BTA Bank. In terms of individuals, the firm has acted for the former CEO of Anglo-Australian miner Rio Tinto and the head of Blackwater, Erik Prince.

Track record

John Zach acted for Peter Humphrey, an investigator employed by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) in a US lawsuit against the UK drug manufacturer. Humphrey formerly ran a Beijing-based investigations consultancy called ChinaWhys, which was hired by GSK to investigate an anonymous whistleblower who alleged GSK had engaged in bribery. Chinese authorities arrested both Humphrey and his wife Yu Yingzeng in 2013, alleging they illegally obtained private information. A Chinese court convicted Humphrey and Yingzeng that year, and they were released from prison in 2015.

Humphrey said his business was destroyed by GSK for allegedly sending ChinaWhys into a “red herring” investigation to discredit a whistleblower who was trying to expose the truth of GSK’s bribery and racketeering. The US Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit dismissed the civil lawsuit in 2018, ruling that the matter was not sufficiently linked to the US.

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