Don Flexner of Boies Schiller Flexner (Photo: David Handschuh/NYLJ)
“In the days when we worked together, he would always turn out the lights,” says Richard Favretto, a partner at Mayer Brown, of his former Department of Justice colleague Donald Flexner.
Flexner worked late nights for the duration of his career, and with good reason. In 12 years with DOJ’s Antitrust Division, where he rose to become deputy assistant attorney general and acting head, he oversaw major litigation such as United States v. AT&T, which ultimately led to the breakup of the telephone giant in 1984.
After leaving the DOJ in 1980, Flexner built a premiere antitrust practice at Washington, D.C.’s Crowell & Moring before joining a two-year-old litigation boutique called Boies & Schiller in 1999 as a name partner. His work since has helped power Boies Schiller Flexner into a 310-lawyer firm that ranks 82nd on the Am Law 100.
“The thing that has distinguished him among first-rate antitrust practitioners in the country is his judgment and the confidence people had in that judgment,” says his partner David Boies, who adds, “Lawyers are not always the most liked people in the room, but I don’t know anybody that doesn’t like and admire Don Flexner.”
“A lot of it is being in the right place at the right time,” Flexner says of his career. “I have been an extraordinarily lucky lawyer for the opportunities that I’ve had in the government and in private practice.”
Crowell & Moring was just a year old when Flexner joined in 1980. At Crowell, Flexner represented The Walt Disney Co. against Fox Sports West in the fight for the broadcasting rights of Disney’s National Hockey League team, The Mighty Ducks. That case eventually settled outside of court. Also at Crowell, he represented now-President Donald Trump in his purchase of Eastern Air Shuttle in 1998.
Flexner joined Boies Schiller Flexner shortly thereafter in 1999 at the invitation of Boies, a friend since law school. “That was a magical opportunity,” says Flexner. “I loved Crowell, but I could not give up the idea that practicing law with David, Jonathan [Schiller] and the group of people that we’ve developed over the years couldn’t be passed up.”
While at Boies Schiller, he has represented Northwest Airlines through its purchase by Delta Air Lines Inc. in a $2.6 billion merger to create the world’s biggest airline. He also represented American Express Co., reversing a decision by the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York that had found American Express had violated the Sherman Antitrust Act.
“He really cares about the work and it shows,” says Boies Schiller partner Jim Denvir, who worked with Flexner at the DOJ. “He also really cares about the people he works with and has a way of imbuing confidence in other people about his judgment and analytical abilities. I think people automatically like and trust him. That may be the most important thing making him able to succeed in public and private sectors.”
Advice to Young Lawyers: “Follow your own star. Do the things that excite you. Keep in mind that there are people who can’t … afford you and that it is the responsibility of lawyers to work on pro bono matters and work in the government.”
If Flexner Weren’t a Lawyer: “I [think I] would be in medicine because my family was a medical family, but I can’t be sure. I think I would look at it as, ‘What would be interesting, fun and challenging?’”