Canada - Law Firms Delivering Outstanding Legal Services In The U.S. And Across Borders

Saturday, October 1, 2005 - 01:00

Editor: We have been watching Cozen O'Connor's growth as you continue opening new offices and expanding existing ones to deepen your national and international practice. What has contributed to your success?

O'Connor: When I started my practice more than 30 years ago, clients were loyal to institutions and lawyers were loyal to their firm. At many firms, that does not happen any more. We have worked hard not to be part of the contemporary pattern of shifting loyalties. We have one of the best retention rates of all the firms in the U.S. People do not leave this firm too often. We try to maintain the atmosphere where people believe that they are treated fairly and want to stay here. As well as being blessed with good people, we are fortunate to have loyal clients.

Editor: Please tell our readers about your recent expansion in New York and Canada.

O'Connor: This spring we opened our second New York City office with the addition of more than 35 lawyers from Fischbein Badillo Wagner Harding. The expansion enhances our commercial litigation, real estate, land use, zoning, and trust and estates practice groups.

With an office already well established in London, we are deepening our international practice by looking beyond the southern and northern borders of the U.S. We just opened an office in Toronto where we are building on our leadership position as one of our country's dominant firms in insurance litigation.

Editor: Cozen O'Connor has an office in lower Manhattan in the financial district. Why did you open a second office in midtown, and how does the nature of the work in those two offices differ?

O'Connor: Historically, our firm's focus for our business clients and corporate work has been on the middle market, where we have been very successful. The addition of our midtown Manhattan office accommodates the needs of our growing client base for a full-service law firm. The midtown office will service primarily the firm's real estate, land use, corporate and general commercial litigation clients. The lower Manhattan office will continue to serve the firm's financial services and insurance clients.

Editor: Why was Canada a target for you, and what do you envision as your future growth plans north of the border?

O'Connor: A very cosmopolitan and exciting city, Toronto is home to many insurance companies. The focus of our Toronto office will be subrogation and insurance litigation coverage, as well as D&O and some corporate litigation. The office's five attorneys are led by Jamie Halfnight, who is one of the outstanding practitioners in Canada.

Toronto is one of the fastest growing cities in North America. Based on our experiences serving Canadian corporations and insurance companies from our Toronto base, we will make the decision whether to expand to Vancouver, Ottawa, Montreal and other Canadian metropolitan centers.

Editor: What has been the key to Cozen O'Connor's successful integration of lateral lawyers, law firms and practice groups into your culture?

O'Connor: All law firms have different cultures with different styles of management, different approaches to fiscal responsibility and different compensation arrangements. It is always our hope that over a period of six to eight months the incoming attorneys will have truly become Cozen O'Connor lawyers embracing our culture and working off the same page as we are.

Integration of firm cultures takes work, meetings, good conversation and follow up. We have been doing just that in a very serious and intensive way, integrating our midtown New York and Toronto offices. As we speak, the managing partners of all our offices are meeting in Toronto for two days to discuss issues and to formally welcome the Toronto office into the Cozen O'Connor family.

Elaine Rinaldi, Director of Strategic Expansion, has played a very critical role in our practice expansion efforts. She, along with Administrative Managing Partner Vince McGuinness, was instrumental in opening our office in Toronto. Primarily based in our Philadelphia office, Elaine visits our Toronto office regularly.

Similarly, Fred Jacoby, also primarily based in our Philadelphia office, is a regular visitor to our midtown office in New York.

Many of our attorneys also travel to Philadelphia. In fact, earlier today I had the privilege of meeting one of our top partners in our midtown New York City office who was in Philadelphia to meet with his Philadelphia colleagues.

Editor: Cozen O'Connor was recently listed in the Am Law 100. Can you tell us about your continuing plans for staying and climbing in the top 100 law firms list?

O'Connor: For a firm that started with five lawyers in 1968, we think our growth has been phenomenal. We owe our success to our loyal clients and an ever-expanding client base. We are extremely competitive in all aspects of the law and deliver outstanding services to companies, corporations, partnerships and individuals looking for the best return on their legal investment dollar.

Editor: Cozen O'Connor has received numerous awards in recognition of its commitment to pro bono work and public service. Recent recognition includes being listed among the top 30 firms nationally and as the top firm in Philadelphia. Congratulations.

O'Connor: As we have grown, we have had great success in driving pro bono initiatives. I have personally led our effort to provide a level of pro bono legal services worthy of our national reputation as an exemplary and successful law firm. Right now, I am involved in a murder one case that is pending before our appellate courts in Pennsylvania.

We at Cozen O'Connor adhere to the principle that we have to give back to our communities and to those who cannot afford competent legal talent on major issues. What greater issues are there than safeguarding our fellow human beings' right to freedom?

As well as handling pro bono criminal cases, we also represent those who cannot afford legal services in routine civil matters where our lawyers are very well trained. We are committed to doing whatever is necessary to right whatever wrongs exist.

Editor: What underpins your firm-wide commitment to pro bono work and public service?

O'Connor: Pro bono work is very satisfying. The defendant I represent in Allentown was granted a new trial because evidence was withheld from his defense lawyers at the initial trial. If the case is retried, I think that justice will prevail. It is very fulfilling when that happens. At the very least, he will have the best effort that we can provide to him with the same caliber of service that defendants with more assets have.

While pro bono service is a professional responsibility, it is also part of our culture. When the Katrina disaster hit, we reached out to everyone in the firm and matched dollar for dollar their contributions to the relief efforts. Perhaps we will do more.

I am very proud to be part of the legal profession. I can see all the good that we can do for those less fortunate.

All pro bono work is voluntary with the expectation that each lawyer in our firm will contribute at least 60 hours of pro bono service each year. We fit our pro bono work within our specialties and skills so we can maximize the value to the client. I encourage your readers to visit http://www.cozen.com/site/pro_bono.asp for information about the depth and breadth of pro bono work we provide.

Editor: What are Cozen O'Connor's next geographical targets for expansion and why?

O'Connor: Miami is a vibrant and prosperous area and is our next target for expansion. We do a substantial amount of work in Latin America. We believe that with a Miami base, we can do much more.

Florida is one of the largest states in the U.S. Our primary focus will be on building an insurance litigation practice in Florida. We will complement it with some commercial litigation and gradually have a full service presence in the state.

Most firms are looking to expand east to Europe and west to China. We are one of the rare firms focusing on relationships north and south of the U.S. borders. We expect to announce the opening of an office in Miami in the next five to six months, which will provide a point of entry for furthering our reach into Central and South America.

Editor: As well as opening new offices across borders, how do you plan to further enrich your full service capabilities in the major cities in the U.S.?

O'Connor: Many small to mid-size firms and practice groups want to join us. The critical factor to us is whether their culture matches ours. I say that very seriously because it is not just a bottom line profitability question. Successful expansion requires much more than dollars and cents. Anyone joining our firm has to share our values.

Similarly, joining our firm has to work from their perspective as well. They have to be comfortable with and believe in our leadership. They have to understand our goals, determine how realistic they are and share in our drive to achieve them.

We are continually in talks with amazingly talented and capable attorneys about areas of future expansion. We are always looking at how to improve ourselves and our reach in all practice areas.

Patrick J. O'Connor is President and CEO of Cozen O'Connor, a full-service firm with nearly 550 attorneys practicing in 24 offices. The firm has 22 offices located across the United States and international offices in London and Toronto. In 2004, Cozen O'Connor was the largest firm in the City of Philadelphia.

Please email the interviewee at poconnor@cozen.com with questions about this interview.