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David Boies: the man taking on a prince

Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg

Prince Andrew is fighting to stay out of a US sexual assault case brought against him by Virginia Roberts Giuffre, who claims she was forced to have sex with him when she was 17. Giuffre is represented by David Boies, one of America’s most famous – and ruthless – lawyers.

Who exactly is the Duke of York up against?
Boies, 80, doesn’t come cheap – at just under $2,000, his hourly rate is one of the highest around. “Everybody’s entitled to a lawyer, but not everybody is entitled to me,” he reasons. But you get bang for your buck: The New Yorker once described Boies’s cross-examination as “like watching your cat play with his food before he eats it”. Boies represented Al Gore against George Bush in the 2000 tussle over the presidential election result. Though that case didn’t go Boies’s way, he successfully argued in favour of same-sex marriage in front of the Supreme Court in 2013. He still celebrates the wedding anniversaries of the plaintiffs.

So he’s a liberal darling?
A couple more recent clients have put paid to that. One was Harvey Weinstein, who Boies took on after magazine editor Tina Brown introduced the pair in 2001. The mogul got Boies on to some exclusive guest lists, and though Boies acknowledges Weinstein’s “reputation as a philanderer”, he maintains he never knew about any rape allegations when he took him on as a client. In 2017, Boies brought in the Israeli spy agency Black Cube to gather “intelligence” that could help Weinstein prevent The New York Times from publishing details of the allegations against him. When the stories broke later that year the pair parted ways.

Doesn’t sound very progressive. What else?
Boies was deeply involved in Theranos, a blood-testing company that collapsed in 2018 amid widespread allegations of fraud. Boies joined the company’s board in 2015 and let his firm accept half its legal fees in Theranos stock. When the Wall Street Journal reporter John Carreyrou came sniffing around, Boies mounted efforts to silence whistle-blowers in a manner Carreyrou compared to “thug” tactics. (Boies has called the comparison “over the top”, arguing that it was his duty to robustly defend his client’s interests.) He stepped down as a Theranos director in February 2018, a month before it was charged with fraud by the US government. The mammoth trial of founder Elizabeth Holmes began last month.

How did Boies get to the top?
One of five children born to a modest Illinois family, he struggled with severe dyslexia and didn’t learn to read until he was eight. (He developed a prodigious memory in compensation and has never needed to use notes in front of a jury.) After graduating from Yale Law School in 1966, he joined the rather starchy Cravath, Swaine & Moore, where he stood out in his off-the-rack suits and plastic watch. But he got results, successfully defending CBS when it was sued for libel over a Vietnam War documentary by a US general. Boies was so fearsome that court reporters would hum the Jaws theme song when he was about to interrogate a witness. In 1997, despite earning the modern equivalent of $3.6m a year, he left his employer of 31 years after a disagreement over which clients he could represent.

What next?
He founded his own firm, Boies Schiller Flexner. His first big break came that November, when he represented the US government in an anti-trust case against Microsoft. Even the brainy Bill Gates crumbled under Boies’s razor-sharp questioning, though the sanctions against Microsoft were watered down when the business-friendly Bush administration came in. In 2008, Boies wangled a $4bn settlement for American Express in an anti-trust case against Visa and Mastercard. Boies Schiller Flexner’s fee was reportedly more than $150m.

Not bad. How much cash does Boies make himself?
His net worth is estimated to be north of $20m, although in 2017 one legal magazine put it at at least nine figures. Boies freely admits to spending “a lot of money”. He owns a 17-acre estate in Westchester, New York, and a 1,100-acre California ranch, put on sale for $23m last December. In 2019, he sold a fancy Fifth Avenue apartment for $13.6m. Then there’s the 184ft sailboat and 900-acre California winery. Boies is a serious wine afficionado, with a cellar that holds at least 10,000 bottles. And it’s not unknown for him to combine business with pleasure: when a warehouse misplaced $5,000-worth of his wine and only offered $150 in compensation, he sued them personally and won $78,000.

Any family to enjoy it all with?
Plenty. He’s had six children with three wives, and all bar one followed in his footsteps to law school. He says his current wife, Mary, 71, is even more driven than he is – she’s a successful lawyer who competes in triathlons for fun, and who sometimes cycles to dinner while David drives. Mary and four of Boies’s children have all worked for his firm at various points, leading to office jokes that the firm’s nepotism policy is simply “pro-nepotism”.

How’s the firm doing today?
Not brilliantly. The headcount has plunged from 320 in 2019 to 177 today, with staff, including those groomed for top jobs, leaving due to the firm’s unsavoury clients. Vanity Fair reported “chatter about ‘cash flow’ problems” in December, and annual revenue dipped from $405m in 2019 to $250m last year. Boies has an eye on his legacy – a corridor in his Westchester mansion is filled with press clippings and career mementos – so his championing of Giuffre, who he’s representing for free, is a big chance at redemption.

History might be the toughest judge he has faced so far