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A Morristown, N.J., firm is hopping the pond in hopes of improving its foothold in London’s insurance and reinsurance industries. Riker, Danzig, Scherer, Hyland & Perretti becomes the first major New Jersey firm to open in London, setting up shop in the city’s financial district where the largest carriers have offices. The 158-lawyer firm has leased space for a half-dozen lawyers but at the outset will have only two: a British solicitor and a New Jersey associate. One or two more are expected by the summer’s end. Riker, Danzig hopes to build on an existing base of insurance clients and to start a commercial litigation and banking practice in London as well, says firm co-chairman Shawn Kelly, who heads the 40-lawyer insurance practice. He says the firm has 300 open cases for British insurance clients, with policy limits at issue totaling over $100 million. The longtime client most responsible for the London opening is Castlewoods EU Ltd., which together with its subsidiaries makes up 80 percent of Riker, Danzig’s London insurance business. “They came to me six or seven months ago and said, if you come to London, we will keep you busy,” Kelly says. With that commitment, Riker, Danzig has decided that the venture – contemplated for a few years – is now worth the investment, he says. Castlewoods acquires and manages financially distressed U.S. and British insurance companies that have stopped writing new policies, mostly because of excess liabilities for asbestos or other environmental problems, and ekes out a profit by managing claims. The company is in the midst of a restructuring that will provide more capital and permit an ambitious expansion, Kelly says. On May 24, Castlewoods announced a merger with The Enstar Group of Montgomery, Ala., and will become part of a new Bermuda-based subsidiary, Enstar Group Ltd. Riker, Danzig also does work for RiverStone Insurance Co., Highlands Ins. Co. and Mutual Marine Office Ins. Co. and hopes to add others. The resident partner in the London office is Castlewoods’ former general counsel, Eleni Iacovides, a solicitor of the Supreme Court of England and Wales. Kelly says that when the London office was on the drawing board, Iacovides seemed like a natural fit and so he asked Castlewoods officials if he could approach her. They agreed. “I think they understood she wanted to work at a law firm again,” he says. “They’ve been very supportive.” Although phones and computers were being connected Tuesday at the new office in London’s banking district, located at 33 Cornhill, within walking distance of London Bridge, Iacovides has been on the job for several weeks, Kelly says. Joining Iacovides as a resident associate is Helen Franzese of the Morristown main office. An Irish citizen, Franzese expects to become a British solicitor by the end of the summer. Kelly and fellow partners Gerald Liloia and Brian O’Donnell will work on London matters from Morristown. Kelly’s confidence about Castlewoods’ support stems from his friendships with company executives, who have lodged him in their homes when he visits London. He says English lawyers socialize more with clients than do their American counterparts and expect to have regular face-to-face contact. “In Morristown, at the end of the day, lawyers get in the car and go home” Kelly says. “It’s different in London. You spend a lot more time with British clients at dinner, at lunch, entertaining. If you’re in the office at 5, you’ll go to the pub afterwards and have a glass of beer.” Though Kelly says he’s mindful that other U.S. firms have tried and failed to make a go of a London insurance practice, he says the firm has good odds of success due to the promise of steady Castlewoods work and to its bevy of local contacts. Riker, Danzig has been telling its U.S. clients about its London office, and has seen particular interest in the new venture among banking clients, says Kelly. He adds that the firm also hopes to get work from British companies with U.S. operations that need advice in areas such as real estate or taxation, he says. The firm was set to hold a reception in London on June 14 to celebrate the opening of the new office, and representatives of about 40 insurance companies were expected to attend. Riker, Danzig also has offices in New York and Trenton, N.J.

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