Notable Alumnus Profiled: Howard Vickery JD'75
Howard Vickery is a Partner in the NYC office of Boies, Schiller & Flexner LLP. He graduated from the Law School in 1975, and often tells his children that the two best decisions in his life were marrying his wife and attending the UChicago Law School.
We had the pleasure of hearing from Mr. Vickery about his time at the U of C, and the Law School's impact on his life and career:
Who was your favorite professor, and why?
[Howard Vickery] My favorite professor was Geoffrey Stone in evidence and constitutional law. He was brilliant, insightful, approachable, and a person I would like to have a beer with. In fact, I probably did have one or two at Wine Mess on Friday, a great tradition which I hope lives on. Runners up included Harry Kalven, Norval Morris, Grant Gilmore, Richard Epstein, and John Langbein. Favorites aside, the faculty was uniformly spectacular and the teaching was superb. They made the subject matter come alive in the process of scrambling our brains with diabolical questions.
Was there a particularly memorable class at Chicago, and why?
[Howard Vickery] A large part of my practice has involved private international disputes. I was fascinated by the course that I took in conflicts of law from Max Rheinstein, but had no idea at the time that I would ever put the concepts to use. As it happened, the bulk of my cases have involved issues of conflicts and foreign law. If I had to pick one course that been central to my practice, it would be conflicts of law.
How has your Chicago education contributed to your career?
[Howard Vickery] I have often thought that the intellectual rigor, depth and breadth of my legal education at the University of Chicago made me better prepared to practice law than my colleagues from other first-rate schools. I was confident that I had a head start tacking issues in unfamiliar areas.
Do you have an interesting story about your time as a student at Chicago?
[Howard Vickery] Before matriculating at the law school, I worked full-time 24/7 as a field organizer and advanceman for George McGovern’s ill-fated presidential campaign. Although I found time to apply to law school, I was too busy with the campaign to bother with the financial aid application. A few weeks before the fall term was to start and while the campaign was in full swing, I happened to be in Chicago for a rally. I took the L to Hyde Park and arrived unannounced to see Dean Richard Badger, then the Dean of Admissions. Trembling inwardly, I broke the news to Dean Badger that I was penniless and had no idea how I was going to pay for law school. To my immense relief and gratitude, Dean Badger did not throw me out of his office or berate me for my stupidity. Instead, he arranged a $2500 student loan to tide me over. That loan enabled me to attend law school. I had no plan B and do not know what I would have done if Dean Badger had not bailed me out.
When you were a student at Chicago, is this the life and career you had anticipated -- if not, what is different?
[Howard Vickery] I never thought or intended that I would end up in New York City as a partner in a powerhouse law firm. Quite the contrary - the idea of working for a traditional Wall Street firm was an anathema. My plan for life after law school was to return to San Francisco and to seek a reasonable balance between interesting legal work and an enjoyable life style. After graduation from the Law School in 1975, I took a job as an associate with a prominent litigation firm in San Francisco. I had, however, negotiated a deal with the firm for a leave of absence to work on the 1976 presidential campaign. The firm honored its pledge so I spent the fall flying around the country organizing meetings and rallies for the Carter/Mondale ticket.
Back in San Francisco after the election, I received a surprise phone call asking me to advance a state visit to Yugoslavia and the U.K. for Vice President Mondale. The highlight of the trip was attending a meeting with President Tito in his well-guarded palace. A few days later in London, I found some time to tour Westminster Abbey. Overcome by the setting, I asked myself why I was practicing law in San Francisco rather than working on important public policy issues. On my return to California, I immediately quit my job and headed to Washington, D.C. I ended up working as a defense analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, International Security Affairs for three years. My career in government came to an abrupt end when Ronald Reagan won the 1980 election. Thrown on the market, I took a job with a small boutique law firm in Washington, D.C. specializing in private international law. As a career move, I decided to relocate to the firm’s New York office where many of our international clients were located or did business. Fate intervened again to change my life – in 1999, Petrobras, the Brazilian national oil company, hired my firm to represent it in a billion-dollar dispute involving the conversion of two supertankers and a semi-submersible oil drilling platform into offshore production platforms. The dispute started in Brazil, but ended up in United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. When one of my partners left the firm unexpectedly, I was thrust into the role of lead counsel with no experience whatsoever in construction law and never having tried a major case. Our adversaries were represented by a large Philadelphia firm that specialized in complex construction and surety law litigation. After a two-month bench trial, however, the district court ruled in Petrobras’ favor on all counts. With the Petrobras victory under my belt, I moved to join my brother Alan as a partner in Boies, Schiller & Flexner thirteen years ago. My career path was not what I had envisioned in law school, but somehow it worked out.
Thank you to Katherine Malone, AB'06 for this interview.