(Gordon Studer)

After 20 years at litigation defense firm Deasey, Mahoney, Valentini & North, name shareholder Jane A. North is leaving to become senior vice president of claims at client Philadelphia Insurance Cos.

North is the latest high-level partner to leave a firm for an in-house position with a longtime client.

The most high-profile of those recent moves was Gregory B. Jordan’s October 2013 departure from Reed Smith, where he was global managing partner, to join client PNC Financial Services Group as executive vice president, general counsel and head of regulatory and government affairs.

In 2012, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney Chairman Thomas L. VanKirk left the firm to join client Highmark Inc., Pittsburgh’s largest health insurer, as its executive vice president and chief legal officer.

While no firm wants to lose a productive and well-liked partner, having one accept an in-house position with a longtime client is typically preferable to losing them to another firm, legal consultant Frank D’Amore said.

“If that person is at a stage in their life where maybe they’ve accomplished a lot and this is the next step in their career … you’d rather have them go to a client than not,” D’Amore said, but added that there is no guarantee that a firm will be able to garner more work from a client just because one of its own has gone in-house with that company.

North said she was offered the position with Philadelphia Insurance in April and accepted primarily because it is likely to demand a less hectic schedule than her current job and she wants to spend more time with her family.

North, who has three sons and a daughter between the ages of 6 and 13, said the work-life balance of raising kids and managing a busy litigation practice has become increasingly difficult.

“I think it’s very difficult for a woman to be a very good litigator and a very good mother at the same time, or at least I’ve found it to be,” North said. “I think the younger generation of women lawyers are better at carving out their personal time. My generation, we’re not as good at that.”

North said bringing home a trial bag full of work every night and regularly working weekends has taken its toll on her and her family.

“I didn’t like the fact that I was always missing school events and activities because I was getting home late,” North said. “This opportunity really will afford me a little more balance in my life. My partners here have been extremely supportive of my decision. They understood my reasons.”

Francis J. Deasey, North’s fellow shareholder at Deasey Mahoney, declined to say how North’s move might affect the firm’s relationship with Philadelphia Insurance, but said he thought she was “making a very wise decision for her and her family.”

“She’s going into a very exciting new chapter in her life and I think she’s going to do very well,” Deasey said.

In her new role at Philadelphia Insurance, North said, she will be responsible for overseeing the evaluation of claims nationwide and helping to determine whether cases should be litigated or amicably resolved.

“That’s where all my litigation experience, particularly in Philadelphia, will be helpful,” North said, adding, “Since I’ve been in the trenches for the past 23 years, I think I could add value to the company.”

North joined Deasey Mahoney in 1994 and was elevated to shareholder in 2000.

She served as managing partner of the firm from 2004 to 2007 and became a name shareholder in 2009.

North said that, because Philadelphia Insurance is a Deasey Mahoney client, she had been aware there was an opening in the senior vice president of claims position at the company, but never thought she might be considered for it.

Eventually, however, she was offered the position and decided it was the right time to make the move in-house, North said.

As with her partners, North said her clients have shown nothing but support for her decision.

North said transitioning the practice she has built over the past two decades has actually been a relatively smooth process, largely because of Deasey Mahoney’s longheld philosophy that its clients should maintain relationships with multiple firm shareholders.
”I’m fortunate that all of the firm’s clients have gotten to know all of the partners over the years so, even though one partner may have primary responsibility over a client, [that client is] comfortable with a number of partners,” North said. “That model has been very successful for us. In a lot of firms, it gets very territorial with a lot of partners not wanting to share clients, but it’s never been like that here and it’s worked for us.”

Deasey agreed.

“We don’t think the firm is going to skip a beat; we’re very strong up the middle,” Deasey said. “Jane had a great team of attorneys working with her here and they’ve immersed themselves with the clients.”

As for how the firm will rebrand following North’s departure, Deasey said the plan, at least in the short-term, is to go back to the firm’s name prior to North’s elevation to name shareholder in 2009: Deasey Mahoney & Valentini.

Zack Needles can be contacted at 215-557-2493 or zneedles@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZNeedlesTLI.