Donald W. Ricketts calls insurance companies’ in-house counsel “kept lawyers.” He says it with the distaste of a man who was one until he saw the light.

From 1993 until 1996 — when his firing made him a solo practitioner — Ricketts was a senior trial attorney at the Los Angeles firm of Early, Maslach & Price. Founded in the 1940s, the firm would be venerable by West Coast standards if it hadn’t always been a subdivision of Farmers Insurance Group, which employs its three to four dozen lawyers to defend policyholders who have been sued.