In Spiro’s view, his advocacy for Megan and Musk aren’t disconnected. “My instincts are often to rally behind people who are under attack.”
Spiro grew up in the Boston suburbs and studied psychology at Tufts. After college, he remained in the area and briefly considered a career in medicine or science while working at a psychiatric unit for teenagers at McLean Hospital. He found it engaging and revealing but thought that he lacked the patience for medical school or lab work. An executive assistant for his mentor, psychiatrist Sherv Frazier, suggested he take the LSAT. “You like to sit in here and ask so many questions and argue so much,” Spiro remembered her saying. “You should go take this test.” He graduated from Harvard Law in 2008.
Spiro began his career in law as a prosecutor at the Manhattan district attorney’s office. By the time he switched to defense law a few years later, he was known as fast-moving and trial-hungry. Whatever one’s definition of celebrity lawyer, Ben Brafman, who has counted Diddy, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, Martin Shkreli, Harvey Weinstein, Peter Gatien, and Sammy “The Bull” Gravano as clients, is inarguably one. Spiro went to work at Brafman’s firm in 2013. He found an easy affinity with musicians and athletes, and his early cases included Bobby Shmurda’s gun, drug, and murder conspiracy charges in 2014 and the former NBA player Thabo Sefolosha‘s wrongful arrest in 2015. (Shmurda pleaded guilty to conspiracy and gun charges and served six years in prison before his release in 2021. In 2017, New York City agreed to pay Sefolosha $4 million to settle a federal lawsuit he filed.)
Spiro and Charles Oakley met a few times in passing, but he didn’t get to know the former NBA player well until 2017. In February of that year, Oakley was arrested after a run-in with security at Madison Square Garden, the arena where he spent the better part of the 1990s as a fan-favorite Knick.
“I still can’t believe it. To this day, I’m having nightmares,” Oakley told me. “Somebody will walk up to you and grab on you and just throw you out for no reason.”
The night of Oakley’s arrest, Spiro was one of the first people to arrive at the police precinct. Misdemeanor charges of assault, aggravated harassment, and trespassing were dropped the following year.
“People will like someone who gets the job done,” Oakley said. “When you are consistent with what you do, words get out about how you present yourself in a courtroom.”
“Athletes respond well to other big personalities,” said the sports lawyer Yared Alula, a law school dormmate and longtime friend of Spiro’s. “So even if you were someone who was more talented than Spiro, but they were a little meek and shy, that would not be appealing.”
“Who is the top trial lawyer in America?” legal writer David Lat spiro-quinn-emanuel-podcast-interview#details"” href=”https://davidlat.substack.com/p/alex-spiro-quinn-emanuel-podcast-interview#details”>asked in September, before suggesting that, love him or hate him, Spiro is now objectively up there. Spiro has a kind of naturalist approach with judges, avoiding expert witnesses and being careful not to overprepare his own witnesses.
Now a partner at the law firm Quinn Emanuel, he believes himself to be on a plane every other day. “I don’t think anyone who knows me thinks I have much of a corporate job,” he said, and later noted with a laugh that “I think the people who work with me are even a little bit surprised when they see me reading case law.”
As he took on more high-profile cases, Spiro developed specific pockets of influence. Jay-Z hired him to represent 21 Savage in 2019 after Immigrations and Customs Enforcement arrested the Atlanta rapper, born in London, for overstaying a visa. (The case is currently on hold pending a separate criminal case in Atlanta.) Last year, Spiro coauthored a letter, signed by Meek Mill and FatJoe among others, in support of a New York state bill limiting the use of rap lyrics in criminal trials. He orchestrated a visit to a Harvard Law class from Kim Kardashian, who has joined the expanding celebrity wing of criminal justice reform efforts in recent years.
The human rights attorney JessicaJackson has mentored Kardashian in her study of law, and Jackson introduced him to Spiro for further discussions of the depth of the issues in prisons and probation and parole systems. “Getting to know Alex has reinforced my desire to become a criminal defense lawyer,” Kardashian said.
“It’s a very small world,” Spiro said of his regular and prominent clients. “The majority certainly knows the majority of the others.”
As brusque and assertive as he can be, he’s easy to talk to. Perez, the Roc Nation CEO, pointed to his adaptable personality. “I have people who are incredibly successful, financially and career wise, who haven’t even been to high school,” she said. “So how do you connect with someone like that? You know, he graduated from Harvard. So how do you do that?”
“I think he’s a cool nerd,” she went on.
Perez also saw him as suited to the combat side of the role. “There’s lawyers that will probably want to hide under the table, or maybe wanna say something. Well, we really don’t comment on things like that,” she said. “He has the stomach for it.”
Spiro didn’t make it to the Roc Nation Brunch and Super Bowl (halftime show by Roc Nation) this year, and when asked about any extracurricular pursuits, he offered pickup basketball and sometimes having sports on in the background in his hotel rooms.
“Spiro’s gonna wear the same Nikes he’s had for 10 years,” Alula said. “But he’s gonna have a big personality, you’re gonna like him, and he’s gonna be a good lawyer for you. He’s not going to play the part.” He’s in it, Alula thought, more for the sport of it. From a publicity standpoint, “when you do a billion-dollar case for Jay-Z, if you lose, it’s almost worse for you than if you lose a $10 billion case for a Wall Street investment bank.”
When the bodyguard in the Lanez trial went missing in December, Spiro saw it as a part of a larger issue. “Megan is alone being attacked everywhere,” he said. “And every which way.” By sounding the alarm on TMZ, he thought he could send a message “to people who know me, know me by reputation, that be careful before you just assume that she’s lying. And be careful who you’re shooting at, because I’m standing in the way too.”
“The second thing I would say is,” he continued, “I needed to find a bodyguard.”
Part of Spiro’s job, as he performs it, is to project constancy and a vigorous belief in a given client’s greatness. He also seemed to genuinely sympathize. “You’re an advocate, but you also gotta be a human,” he said. “And you gotta understand, it’s not that easy to just become famous either, right? So everything is on a backdrop where the person already has some isolation that occurs as a matter of natural course.”
Such caring words have become increasingly hard to come by for Musk—and Spiro’s work with the lightning rod billionaire has made him a polarizing figure among some of his peers. “He’s a pretty divisive personality,” a former colleague at the Manhattan DA said, though “he’s probably one of the more tolerable of that level of lawyer.”
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