What was once a relatively unknown law firm with just a handful of attorneys in 1970 has blossomed into an insurance practice of national import. Philadelphia-based Cozen O' Connor now has more than 500 lawyers in 21 offices worldwide.Its insurance practice has 204 attorneys, enough to be named the country's largest insurance firm by industry sources.
With a client list including companies such as The Dow Chemical Company, ARAMARK Corp., ACE, Blue Cross of Northeastern Pennsylvania, Comcast-Spectacor and Liberty Property Trust, the law firm saw overall revenues jump to $294 million in 2011 -- a six percent increase from the previous year.
With such a large talent pool to draw from, Cozen can focus on blending subject matter expertise with legal expertise by drawing on its vast pool of attorneys.
In the event of a pipeline failure, for example, Cozen may call on one of its energy attorneys in Houston to help, even if it's a first-party coverage claim, a recovery claim or a labor-and-employment matter.
"Our goal is to blur those lines. We need to apply the lawyers with the best knowledge base for those claims," said Elliot Feldman, co-chair of the litigation department and chair of the subrogation and recovery group "That's a big deal for us right now."
Top leaders at the firm say that complex litigation is emerging as one of the its most important issues -- with single events that trigger multiple exposures or affect multiple policy lines or business locations.
"It's a complex world," said Feldman. "You can't just say, 'I do one particular area.' You need the resources to combine skill sets and talents."
William Shelley, chair of Cozen's global insurance group, said he's seeing more "long-tail claims" where more than one policy is triggered. For example, the firm is working on a case involving tainted Chinese drywall, which can trigger property, construction and general liability policies.
Feldman said that weather events can also create more complex cases than in years past.
With insurance companies being inundated with freeze claims from the virtually unprecedented cold weather that hit the normally warm states of Arizona, New Mexico and Texas, Cozen attorneys are trying to reduce liability for insurers there, arguing that there may have been construction defects, housing built without proper insulation and utility companies that may have been unprepared for the event.
"The company that supplies natural gas ran out of gas, so people were unable to heat homes and businesses and we had multiple freeze-ups," said Feldman.
Cozen has also been involved in some cases involving even larger losses over the years. The firm on behalf of insurers and victims' families sued governments, Islamist charities and alleged terrorism financiers for sponsorship of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
On March 16, a federal district court in New York denied a motion to reinstate Saudi Arabia as a defendant. Cozen plans to appeal.
"We are proceeding against countries that have provided material support and non-governmental units, commercial entities and individuals that have been named as sponsors of terrorism in a list the government maintains," said Feldman before the latest district court ruling.
Cozen attorneys see first-hand the mistakes being made by risk managers, and Shelley said that the biggest mistake risk managers make is not communicating with their insurance companies quickly enough once a possible claim has been discovered. The risk manager is either relying on a broker that isn't particularly aggressive in dealing with the insurer or they try to get a handle on the claim first before presenting it to the insurer. Either way, it's the wrong thing to do.
"Somebody's got to be talking to the insurer," said Shelley. "It creates notice issues, control issues and some risk managers don't want insurers involved too early because they don't want to lose control over the process."
Cozen's insurance practice has grown over the years from a combination of home-grown talent and lateral moves from partner-level attorneys at other firms. Feldman, for example, spent a few years with another firm but came to Cozen in 1982. Shelley joined in 1994 as a partner.
While it's impossible to keep everyone happy, Shelley and Feldman agree that the firm hasn't suffered any large group defections.
"We don't have split-offs. We don't have groups of lawyers departing. We don't have offices closing," said Feldman. "We have a lawyer here or there but never a mass defection."
That's because Cozen is widely seen as a great place to work. They handle big claims, operate on a meritocracy and pride themselves on giving lawyers trial experience early on.
Plus, Cozen thrives on its atmosphere as a collegial, non-bureaucratic place to work.
"People talk to each other at different levels. The person that makes our coffee says 'Hi Tad' to Tad Decker our CEO. It's not Mr. Decker," said Feldman.
The company's growth also helps it attract and retaining top talent -- and its leaders see plenty more to come.
"There's a level of excitement that there are still a lot of opportunities," said Feldman. "We don't feel in any way shape or form that we've maxed out and if anything we really haven't begun to hit our stride in terms of the next level."
Jared Shelly is senior editor/web editor of Risk & Insurance®
May 1, 2012
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