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Another small insurance defense shop has folded into a bigger firm. Citing changes in the market and in its practice, Thornton, Taylor, Becker & Shinn closed this spring after slowly shrinking from a high of 23 lawyers in the mid-1990s to five last year and, ultimately, three. “It began to feel at some point like Phil’s Diner,” Phillip Shinn, who’d joined the firm in 1984 as an associate and was managing partner of the firm from 1997 to 1999, said affectionately. “I was the one having to cook the food and wait the tables and bring in the customers.” In April, he and Thornton of counsel Otto Becker, who’d spent his entire 43-year law career at the various iterations of that firm, moved into the San Francisco office of Fox Rothschild. The 400-plus-lawyer, Philadelphia-founded firm is trying to build its three Western offices into full-service branches that would mirror its East Coast operations. Their joining closes the final chapter on a San Francisco firm that first opened in 1915. Over the decades, Thornton Taylor developed a reputation in property insurance coverage work. Among its clients have been State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., Farmers Insurance, Zurich Insurance Co. and Allianz. Long & Levit partner Howard Garfield, whose practice includes insurance coverage, said that in the 1980s and 1990s, Thornton Taylor was particularly known for first-party insurance defense work, representing homeowner and property insurers. “Otto Becker is a giant in the insurance law world,” Garfield said. “He handled cases that became case law.” Shinn, who’s joined Fox Rothschild as a partner, said that he felt fortunate to have received training from Jerome Downs, who retired from Thornton Taylor in 1986, and Becker. They helped write the law in a number of published appellate cases, Shinn said, mentioning a 1963 case of Downs’, Sabella v. Wisler, 59 Cal.2d 21, and a case of Becker’s that went to the Supreme Court in 1989, Garvey v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 48 Cal.3d 395. Those cases addressed exclusions in insurance policies and how they’re interpreted in events with multiple causes of loss. “That [concurrent causation] standard, which was adopted in California, then became a standard that was recognized throughout the country,” Shinn said. But in more recent years, consolidation and other changes have reshaped the market. Shinn said that many carriers brought legal work in-house and opted more often to settle cases rather than litigate. “We were in a market that was downsizing,” said Shinn. There was also competition from firms multiple times bigger than Thornton Taylor. Shinn watched as major cases went to bigger firms like Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold; Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal; or Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. At the same time, Shinn’s practice shifted from all insurance defense litigation to just one-third insurance clients and more work in general commercial litigation, some product liability and employment cases. Also, he added, an increasing number of his commercial clients are foreign-based companies in places such as Korea, Finland and Taiwan. He mentioned to a friend in New Jersey, who happened to be a lawyer at Fox Rothschild, that his practice could use more resources. Shinn, who has served as president of the Korean American Chamber of Commerce of the North Pacific Coast, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association and the Asian American Bar Association of the Greater Bay Area, said he’d made good contacts but couldn’t handle some potential work without the resources of a bigger firm. Shinn, who described his hourly rate as in the $300s, said he expects it to increase gradually. He added that Fox’s rates are a little higher than his, “but not so high that it became a problem.” Shinn said Fox Rothschild appealed to him in part because of its 100-some-year history. Founded in 1907, the firm now has 14 offices and has recently been bolstering its West Coast outposts. Since March, in addition to Shinn and Becker, Fox Rothschild has added three other partners in San Francisco and five lawyers in Los Angeles. Fox Rothschild made its entry into California in 2006 through a merger with labor and employment boutique Grotta, Glassman & Hoffman, said Fox Rothschild San Francisco managing partner David Faustman. Currently, Fox Rothschild’s Los Angeles and San Francisco offices employ eight lawyers each, while Las Vegas has six. Having inherited the labor and employment focus, Fox Rothschild is now on a mission to expand those branches into full-service offices, employing between 20 and 30 lawyers and vastly expanding practice coverage to include commercial litigation, real estate, corporate, tax, bankruptcy and intellectual property and high-tech patent work. Fox is ranked 140th on the latest Am Law 200 list, with revenue of $184 million and revenue per lawyer of $540,000. The goal, Faustman said, is for its presence in the West to mirror Fox Rothschild’s Eastern Shore. He cited Princeton, N.J., as the model, where he said about half a dozen of the attorneys have Ph.D.s in biochemistry. “We are actively recruiting partners from all disciplines,” Faustman said. “This is a new operation, and we’re really just getting off the ground.” Faustman declined to discuss billing rates in detail. Becker said that so far the biggest challenge at Fox Rothschild has been getting up to speed on modern technology. For instance, this is the first time he’s had an IT help desk at his service and someone else buying his airplane tickets for him. “I’m old-school,” said Becker, who joined Fox Rothschild as special counsel. “I’m not at all comparable to an entry-level lawyer or even my children.” Any culture shock from switching to a much larger firm has been cushioned by the fact that the San Francisco office is small and collegial, he said. “We have a common purpose in building a practice.” On rates, Becker said that his are comparable to Shinn’s $300s. For Shinn, the turn of the page is a bittersweet one. Already, he’s feeling the benefits of Fox Rothschild’s geographic reach and head count in the form of referrals and help from the firm’s transactional attorneys. On the other hand, it’s not easy to leave the firm that had given him all his training: “I was hoping to see it through to its centennial, but we were a few years short.”

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