A National Litigation Practice Picks Up The Pace

Saturday, July 1, 2006 - 01:00

Editor: Would each of you tell our readers something about your background and professional experience?

Field: I attended the University of Houston Law Center, graduating in 1984. I began practicing law in Atlanta with a small firm and, after three years, moved to Cozen O'Connor in Philadelphia. Over the past 15 years, I have concentrated on aviation litigation work. I am very active in aviation organizations, including serving as current vice-chair of the Aviation & Space Law Committee of the Tort and Insurance Practice Section of the American Bar Association, former board member of the International Association of Women in Aviation, and former chair of the Philadelphia Bar Association Aviation Section.

Bowman: I was born in Philadelphia and attended Dickinson School of Law, now Penn State, graduating in 1978. After clerking for the Hon. Robert N. C. Nix of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, I worked for a large firm for three years and then moved on to what was then a 34-lawyer litigation firm, Cozen O'Connor.

Editor: What were the things that attracted you to Cozen O'Connor?

Field: I joined Cozen O'Connor 18 years ago. The friendly atmosphere of the firm and the very high intellectual caliber of its lawyers were very attractive.

Bowman: For me, the attraction was in the opportunity to try cases. I had worked with Cozen O'Connor and knew Steve Cozen and Pat O'Connor. The firm had brought in an excellent team of trial lawyers, and I joined a group headed by David Strawbridge, who is now a federal magistrate in Philadelphia.

Editor: Please tell us about your respective practices. How have they evolved?

Bowman: Mine has developed into a complex litigation practice with a concentration in construction litigation. The construction industry has gone through several booms in various geographic regions; this has had an extraordinary impact on my practice.

Early in my career, I was primarily involved in fraud cases, and my trial work evolved into a more diversified commercial litigation practice during the 1980s. My cases ranged from securities fraud to copyright infringement, and one of my favorites involved our CEO, Patrick J. O'Connor. In 1986, Pat and I tried a Rule 10b-5 securities fraud case, which settled favorably after a four-week trial. Shortly after this, the firm asked me to move to Texas to open an office and build its operation there. Over the years, I have not only worked to expand our footprint across Texas and other states, but I remain actively engaged in my own broad-based commercial litigation practice.

Field: I, too, started out handling fraud cases. I then moved to try product liability cases until Patrick O'Connor helped me launch an aviation practice - now a major niche for me. I have been fortunate to develop a strong national reputation as one of the attorneys who has represented manufacturers' interests in major disasters ranging from Lockerbie to 9/11.

Editor: I understand that Cozen O'Connor has been expanding its national litigation practice and has appointed each of you to major leadership efforts in this process. What is the background of this initiative?

Field: Nationally, Cozen O'Connor has enjoyed a strong reputation as a litigation powerhouse for years. While much of our business was historically referred by the major national and international insurance companies paying the costs for disasters, we often represented the interests of multinational corporations and their executives in those disputes in scores of jurisdictions. Today, we have 23 offices (21 domestically, one in Toronto and one in London) and a wealth of well-respected trial lawyers in each office. Therefore, we can staff cases in any location in the United States with an experienced trial team. Also, Cozen O'Connor wants to continue growing our commercial practice across the country, as we bring an even greater number of trial attorneys in new areas.

Bowman: The strength of our firm, both nationally and internationally, is hands-on litigation in significant and extremely complicated cases. The World Trade Center insurance coverage litigation is but one example. The trial lawyer talent here is extraordinary; seven are American Academy of Trial Lawyer members, making them the finest trial lawyers in the country. With such a platform, we believe we are in a position to build our capabilities in New York, Chicago, Dallas and Los Angeles. We just opened an office in Miami with a very strong group. One of the advantages of possessing such talent is that we can leverage it to expand our national footprint.

Editor: What are your specific responsibilities in this initiative?

Bowman: As chair of the litigation group, my responsibility is to provide the vision and direct our efforts to expand and diversify our practice in cities across the country. I am also responsible for recruiting laterals to join us and building new practice groups to meet client and commerce needs, in addition to seeing that we maintain internal programs to preserve quality control and training for our seasoned and young lawyers.

Field: I manage the administrative end of the practice and work with Larry to ensure that the department grows, and that our balance sheet is healthy.

Editor: Cozen O'Connor started out in 1970 with five lawyers. Now the firm is in the ranks of the top 100 in the United States. That type of success does not just happen. Would you share with us your thoughts on what accounts for it?

Bowman: There is a strong bond among the lawyers here. To maintain the collegial culture, we try to attract the best and brightest lawyers that we come across in our practice, and, given the quality of litigation work that we handle, many of them are quite exceptional. That is a pattern that has been in place for many years, and I think it is a major factor in our success.

Field: In addition, we have all benefited from the outstanding leadership of Steve Cozen and Pat O'Connor. They created the original culture that built this firm, and now our future leaders are building further on that foundation. They also have a highly developed vision for where we should be, both in terms of our geographic presence and the nature of our expanding practice. They instilled that vision in our firm, our strategic plans embraced it, and we are building on these insights for our future growth and strength.

Editor: In which practice areas do you anticipate significant opportunities for growth?

Field: Outside of the commercial litigation area, we anticipate significant growth in our labor and employment work, in many areas within our IP practice, and across our transactional practices. In addition, we have seen growth in our real estate practice, adding a midtown New York office last year and bringing in 38 new people.

Our litigation initiative builds upon our very strong collective experience in trying cases to verdict. We know how to evaluate our cases, advise clients as to the costs and risks involved, and strongly prepare the case for trial. Most importantly, we are prepared to go forward in court and win. That constitutes an excellent platform for client respect and firmwide growth.

Bowman: In addition to our depth of experience, we have the benefit of being local in many jurisdictions. That is a great advantage. We are a national practice, but local in our connections and sensitivities.

Editor: What are the major litigation risks that companies face today?

Field: I think that most companies face risks from class actions, securities-related actions, product recalls or defects, director and officer malfeasance cases, and also litigation arising out of IP technology. These are the areas where we anticipate being busy.

Editor: How does the growth of a national litigation department - and Cozen O'Connor's in particular - impact relationships with in-house counsel?

Bowman: With a presence in so many different places and major corporate clients in different jurisdictions, we put a great deal of effort and resources into coordinating with corporate counsel. The company cannot take one position in New Jersey and the opposite in Nevada, and the only way to avoid that is for trial counsel and in-house counsel to be in constant communication. We have many close relationships with corporate counsel that are national in scope, and, with the growth of our department, that is only going to increase.

Editor: As you know, one of the themes of our publication is partnering between law firms and the corporate legal departments of their clients. Would you share with us your thoughts on how to go about such an effort?

Field: We believe that it is important to partner with our clients, and we encourage their participation in matters, both litigation and transactional. We support the community and pro bono initiatives our clients support - we have set up a foundation to serve this end - in addition to encouraging our attorneys to give at least 60 hours of their time to pro bono service annually. And on certain matters, we have had members of a client's legal department working at our offices and assigned our attorneys to work at theirs.

Bowman: In-house counsel are involved in our practice, from the investigation stage through preparation of witnesses and trial. We have close working relationships with in-house lawyers and believe this strengthens a case and the ultimate results.

Editor: What are your overall goals for the department?

Bowman: I would like to replicate the full-service capability we have developed specifically in Philadelphia and New York in other cities across the country. We have strong offices in Atlanta and Charlotte, and I think we have wonderful opportunities in the Midwest, on the West Coast, in Texas and elsewhere. We are focused on cities with very diverse corporate, commercial and litigation environments. I see us developing a very strong presence in all of them in a variety of disciplines, including litigation, IP, employment law and our transactional practices.

Editor: Where would you like the department to be in, say, five years?

Field: We currently have about 120 commercial litigators spread out over approximately eight of our offices. The majority of those attorneys are in Philadelphia and New York, and I would hope that in five years the total would approach 180, even 200. At the same time, where we have a commercial litigation presence, we should have a core group of at least five to ten attorneys in action.

Bowman: This is an exciting time to be at Cozen O'Connor. We are a large firm, but we have many of the features of a small firm. Each of our offices is its own community, yet connected to a larger undertaking that is national in scope. We are also moving into our second generation as a firm, and the nationwide network of offices we have built is going to be a terrific platform for the new generation of lawyers who have grown up in the firm.

Please email the interviewees at lbowman@cozen.com or afield@cozen.com with questions about this interview.