Three years ago, Robin Cohen had lofty goals when she joined Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman from Dickstein Shapiro, including a plan to double to 60 the number of attorneys in her new firm’s insurance coverage practice by the end of 2011.
While Cohen now concedes that number may have been a bit overambitious, her group does have roughly 40 attorneys following Monday’s announcement that Kasowitz Benson has poached partners Jerold Oshinsky and Linda Kornfeld from Jenner & Block. The new additions, who have worked with Cohen on and off through the years, are coming aboard to help Kasowitz Benson establish a Los Angeles office, the first location the firm has opened in Southern California in its 20-year history. (The Wall Street Journal first reported the moves Monday.)
Kasowitz Benson has traditionally chosen not to represent insurance companies and banks so that it would be free to represent plaintiffs suing those entities, a stance that paid off in the wake of the credit crunch and financial crisis. In focusing exclusively on policyholder-side insurance coverage work, the firm competes against rivals such as Covington & Burling and Reed Smith.
"Strategically, the whole goal is to increase your leverage against the insurance industry," says Cohen, the practice group’s leader. "The insurance industry is starting to consolidate. Berkshire Hathaway keeps buying up these liabilities and taking very aggressive and coordinated positions. To increase your leverage, you need to do the same thing."
While Cohen and Kasowitz Benson managing partner Marc Kasowitz were both mum on how exactly the hiring of Oshinsky and Kornfeld came together, there is plenty of history behind the move. Cohen says Oshinsky — who has helped shape legal theories benefiting insurance policyholders — was her mentor when she joined what was then Anderson Kill Olick & Oshinsky after graduating from University of Pennsylvania Law School in 1986. The pair moved with a group of about 40 lawyers to Dickstein Shapiro in 1996, and Cohen later mentored Kornfeld after recruiting her to launch a Los Angeles office for Dickstein in 2005. That firm became the second to add Oshinsky to its masthead, going by Dickstein Shapiro Morin & Oshinsky until shortening its name in 2006.
By the time Cohen and a dozen other lawyers split off to join Kasowitz Benson in January 2010, Oshinsky had moved to California from the East Coast, spending less than a year at what became Gilbert Oshinsky before moving to Jenner in August 2009. Two years later, Kornfeld followed Oshinsky there. In a statement, Jenner managing partner Susan Levy wished the pair well and said, “Jerry and Linda have made many contributions to the firm in their short tenure with us."
Neither Oshinsky, 70, nor Kornfeld, 47, immediately returned calls for comment Monday, their first official day at Kasowitz Benson. The two lawyers are working in office space that Cohen says the firm secured just a week ago in Century City, a business district on Los Angeles’ Westside. "We looked at a few spaces, and two hours later we had space," Cohen says of the real estate search. "There’s not a lot of bureaucracy here." Kornfeld will serve as managing partner of the new office, and so far one associate has committed to join the partners, Cohen says.
For Kasowitz Benson, the move to establish a Los Angeles presence follows the departure of the firm’s Silicon Valley head, Douglas Lumish, and two other California partners to Latham & Watkins, as reported by The Recorder. After the trio and a New York partner resigned, Kasowitz Benson enforceed its 90-day notice period before agreeing to release the intellectual property team. The firm has since recruited former Fish & Richardson patent litigator Steven Carlson to lead its Silicon Valley operation.
Cohen says the L.A. duo represents clients similar to those already in Kasowitz Benson’s stable, including universities locked in insurance coverage disputes and companies seeking coverage after being sued for alleged privacy violations. Cohen’s team has handled a number of major cases lately, including representing firm client Warren Pumps against a dozen insurance companies in a three-week trial last November that ended with a jury ruling that the insurance companies were required to provide defense and indemnity coverage for thousands of asbestos-related claims.
For his part, Marc Kasowitz was effusive in touting the lateral hires Monday. "When you have the opportunity to get someone like Jerry Oshinsky, that window opens once in many many years, and you have to step through it," he says. "It’s not just a question of having great practitioners — these are people we knew as people."
Sara Randazzo is a reporter with The Am Law Daily, a Recorder affiliate.