A year ago, attorney Alex Spiro helped rapper Jay-Z win a lawsuit over perfume royalties. This week, he was part of a team that fired thousands of Twitter employees.
Evidence of Spiro’s meteoric rise could be felt throughout the social media company on Thursday and Friday, when a large portion of the company’s workforce was terminated while Musk frantically tried to stop an exodus of advertisers. Musk has assumed the public face of Twitter’s overhaul, but Spiro has done a lot of the heavy lifting behind the scenes on virtually all legal matters. Musk has built an inner circle that relies on people with an indefatigable work ethic and a strong sense of loyalty, traits that Spiro embodies.
He first worked for the billionaire back in 2019, when he helped quash a defamation lawsuit brought by a British diver who Musk called a “pedo guy” during one of his Twitter fights. His role in Musk-world skyrocketed, however, after he helped lead Musk’s doomed legal argument that he should be able to back out of the legal contract he signed to buy Twitter earlier this year.
Musk would ultimately reverse himself, again, and decide to buy the company after all. That deal — which Musk closed last month for $44 billion — has launched a new chapter in Spiro’s career. Hours after Musk closed the acquisition and fired Twitter’s CEO and three other top executives, Spiro gained oversight of Twitter’s legal, marketing, and trust and safety teams, which are responsible for Twitter’s elections work, according to four people familiar with Spiro’s role who weren’t authorized to speak publicly.
The lawyer has also been involved in the plans for laying off thousands of Twitter employees, which went into fruition Thursday as the company began terminating around half of its more than 7,000 workers. Firing that many people spread over several states and countries is a gargantuan task, and layoff notices received by employees in different places were carefully tailored to avoid running afoul of local laws.
A spokesperson for Twitter did not return a request for comment. It couldn’t be learned whether Musk plans for Spiro to play a longer-term role with the company or was just brought in to be part of the immediate shake up.
Spiro isn’t the only one in Musk’s inner circle taking an active role. Jason Calacanis, an investor, podcaster and associate of Musk, has been pitching ideas for new features for Twitter and meeting with advertisers to try to assure them about the company’s new direction. David Sacks, who worked with Musk years ago at PayPal and has been a successful venture investor since then, is also on board.
But Spiro is unique in his lack of previous corporate experience. He’s been a lawyer since 2008, and though he has extensive white-collar defense experience, he isn’t a trained manager.
Musk is a lawyer’s nightmare. He tweets constantly, getting in spats with celebrities, politicians and random strangers. Sometimes his unserious musings run up against the fact that he helms several giant companies, including one that’s publicly-traded, leading to lawsuits and fees.
He churns through lawyers, once cutting ties with a major law firm because they refused to fire an employee he didn‘t like. Tesla, his electric vehicle company, has had three legal heads in the past two years.
But Spiro has apparently cracked the code of working with Musk. Despite failing to extricate Musk from the Twitter deal, Spiro has been elevated even further.
Spiro has worked for years as a defense lawyer, representing some of the biggest names in sports and entertainment, including Aaron Hernandez, Jay-Z, Chance the Rapper and Naomi Osaka. His rapid rise to the center of Musk’s inner circle, and his newfound responsibility for helping run Twitter, shows how the tech billionaire prizes loyalty and tenacity over experience and a traditional skill set.
“He’s got a dogged personality and he will get after and continue to get after an issue until he gets what he wants,” said Ronald Sullivan, a professor at Harvard Law School who has had Spiro help him teach a class on trial litigation and has worked on a handful of cases with him.
While a typical partner at a corporate firm might have six or seven years-long trials going on at once, Spiro is often working 30 to 40 shorter ones at once. “He is in constant motion,” Sullivan said. “That is Alex personified, he seems to have unlimited wells of energy and he takes on all sorts of cases.”
Spiro grew up in Massachusetts and stayed local for college — studying psychology at Tufts University. While there he worked at Harvard’s psychiatric hospital, working with children with autism and Asperger’s syndrome, and considered going on to medical school, he told Harvard’s newspaper the Crimson in 2020.
But he opted for law instead, telling the Crimson he saw it as a better way to fight for the issues he cared about. He graduated from Harvard Law in 2008 and did a fellowship at the Central Intelligence Agency before getting a job as a prosecutor in the New York County District Attorney’s office. In 2013 he got a job as a defense lawyer at Brafman & Associates, a New York City law firm with big-name clients including pharmaceutical executive Martin Shkreli and former movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
In 2014 he represented rapper Bobby Shmurda who was charged in a 69-count indictment that included murder. The trial went viral, with hip-hop fans mounting a campaign called “free bobby shmurda” that was part internet meme, part protest the U.S. prison system.
The Shmurda case brought new media attention to Spiro and landed him on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah.” Comedian Roy Wood Jr. presented him with champagne and a cake that said “You did it,” for winning the case. Spiro responded in a serious tone, saying he warned his client it was incredibly risky to not take a plea deal and go to trial with the case.
Since then, he’s represented a parade of famous clients. In 2016 he helped represent former NFL player Aaron Hernandez who was standing trial for allegedly killing two men, while appealing his conviction on a different murder charge. The tragic case had a tragic ending, as Hernandez was acquitted in the double murder trial but died by suicide days later. Spiro went on to win a lawsuit for former NBA player Thabo Sefolosha against the New York Police Department for using excessive force against him. He represented several other famous people including musician and investor Jay-Z, billionaire owner of the New England Patriots Robert Kraft, and tennis star Naomi Osaka.
In 2019 he began working for Musk, who had been sued for defamation by British cave diver Vernon Unsworth. Musk had offered to build a submarine to help rescue a group of Thai teens who had been trapped in a cave, and was accused by critics online of forcing himself into the news story to get credit. The diver was part of the team who actually did rescue the boys.
During a Twitter spat, Musk called Unsworth a “pedo guy.” In court documents, Musk was quoted saying that emailing unverified information about Unsworth to a reporter in hopes it would lead to an investigation was “one of the dumbest things I’ve ever done.”
Still, Spiro won the case for him.
Since then, he’s represented Musk in a range of legal situations. He defended Musk in a fight with the Securities and Exchange Commission, which accused him of breaking an earlier agreement not to tweet about Tesla’s share price after he said online that he was taking Tesla private at $420 a share — a marijuana reference. He took on the Alameda County health department when it shut down a Tesla factory during the early months of the pandemic out of concern over coronavirus transmission. And he defended Musk in another defamation lawsuit brought by an online critic of Tesla.
He’s taken some unusual approaches in his work for Musk. In a filing in the SEC case, he quoted lyrics from the 2002 Eminem Song “Without Me.” “The [SEC] won’t let me be or let me be me so let me see,” the filing said. “They tried to shut me down …”
Then came the Twitter acquisition. Musk agreed to buy the company for $44 billion in April, but as fears about a recession and rising interest rates causes tech stocks to fall, his net worth shrank and analysts began suggesting the deal price was much too high.
Soon after, Musk was criticizing the company, saying it had misled investors about the number of bots and fake accounts it had. In July, he said he was pulling out of the deal, and Twitter sued him to force him to follow his signed contract and go through with it.
At the time, legal experts said Musk had a tough case, having signed the deal, waiving the right to take a deep look at the company, and committing to do everything he could to close it. Spiro and a handful of other lawyers worked to build a countersuit for Musk anyway, building on the bots argument and accusing Twitter of not providing the information it had promised him.
When The Washington Post reported in August that a former Twitter security chief was accusing the company of having bad cybersecurity practices, Spiro successfully fought for Musk to be able to amend his complaint against Twitter, arguing in court that the whistleblower’s allegations showed the company was not forthcoming during discovery.
Musk’s takeover of Twitter has been celebrated by conservative politicians and media figures as a win because the billionaire has criticized the company’s content moderation policies and said banning former president Donald Trump was a mistake. Sacks, another prominent member of Musk’s inner circle who has been active at the company over the last week, is a conservative media figure in his own right.
But Spiro is harder to pin down. He hasn’t publicly aligned himself with either political party, but he has worked with left-leaning groups on efforts to change the criminal justice system. He serves as an adviser to the charitable organization United Justice Coalition, alongside CNN commentator Van Jones and Rashad Robinson, the president of the civil rights group Color of Change, which coincidentally is one of the organizations which called for an advertiser boycott on Twitter out of concern that layoffs would affect the company’s ability to police its platform for hate speech.
He also has connections in the Washington-area. Earlier this year, he attended the White House correspondents’ garden brunch that was also attended by Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Anthony Fauci and prominent media figures.
At Twitter, Spiro is already working as a conduit for Musk, a loyalist the billionaire can trust to steer the company in his absence. During the first week of Musk’s ownership, the new CEO did not hold any all-company meetings or send out an email acknowledging he was now in charge. But as workers shared intel and tried to piece together what the new normal of their company was, one name kept coming up as someone who was making decisions: Alex Spiro.
Faiz Siddiqui contributed to this report.