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When he looked at Blatt Hammesfahr & Eaton, a Chicago-based, 40-attorney insurance litigation boutique, Steve Cozen says, he saw a bit of himself in the firm’s young partners. So it should serve as no surprise when the Cozen & O’Connor founder and chairman announced the acquisition of the firm, giving Cozen its first-ever office in the Windy City and bumping it well over the 400-attorney mark. Cozen also took the opportunity to announce that it had opened a four-attorney San Francisco office to be staffed with two lateral hires and two lawyers relocating from Cozen’s San Diego office. Both moves fit within Cozen’s strategic plan to expand into selective geographic locations with its bread-and-butter insurance litigation practice and then enhance many of the new offices with commercial litigators and transactional lawyers. While there are no definitive expansion plans for San Francisco, the Chicago site is ripe for it, according to Cozen, who says the firm will transfer some of its existing attorneys from other offices to its new office there. Cozen & O’Connor targeted Chicago as a gateway to the Midwest. When looking at Chicago firms, Cozen said, vice chairman Patrick O’Connor, who oversees all firm expansion, narrowed the choices down to full-service firms and firms that specialize in insurance and commercial litigation practices. After realizing a deal could not be reached with a full-service firm, the firm quickly turned its attention to insurance litigation firms. “We don’t open offices just for the sake of opening offices,” Cozen said. “That’s why you haven’t heard much from us in the last year and a half. This fulfills our strategic goal of establishing offices with our core practice areas — insurance litigation, reinsurance and commercial litigation — as a base and building out from there. Aside from Philadelphia, I think we could be full-service in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles and Charlotte, N.C. Once you have the infrastructure in place, then your long-range goal is to go full-service.” The Blatt Hammesfahr firm was formed in 1994 when 17 lawyers split from the much larger Peterson & Ross. The firm focused on insurance-related litigation in overseas markets, opening a London office just weeks after the Peterson & Ross split. In early 1998, the firm opened a regulation-heavy New York office and added a Los Angeles office this year. The New York and Los Angeles sites will consolidate into Cozen’s offices in those cities, but the London office will remain open for the time being. Cozen said the firm is in the process of entering into another alliance with a 40-attorney London firm — which he declined to name — in hopes of eventually acquiring it. The firm had entered a similar strategic alliance with the 70-attorney, Uniontown, Pa., Radcliffes firm in 1998, only to decide it was not the right fit for a merger partner. Cozen has moved its small contingent of lawyers out of Radcliffes offices and into its own, smaller space. Blatt Hammesfahr’s principal clients in Chicago, New York, Los Angeles and London include an extensive group of domestic and international insurers and reinsurers in Europe, the United Kingdom, Latin America and Asia. The practice encompasses a full range of services, including policy development, alternative risk transfer and financial solutions, claims prevention and claims valuation management, as well as effective dispute resolution services that include federal and state litigation, arbitration and mediation. Blatt Hammesfahr managing partner Robert W. Hammesfahr, who will head up the new Chicago office, said Cozen & O’Connor contacted him about four months ago at the suggestion of Cozen partner Richard Allen. Allen himself joined Cozen last year to start its Seattle office, which also focuses on a London-based insurance practice. He got to know Blatt Hammesfahr people after working together with them on several cases. Hammesfahr said his firm swelled to well over 50 lawyers a few years back while working on several complicated cases but recently cut back to about 40. Merging with Cozen & O’Connor, he said, provides synergy to both sides, as Blatt Hammesfahr focuses on overseas work and Cozen has tremendous geographic reach domestically. “Cozen gets to expand its franchise to the Midwest while we get that geographic reach and a full range of legal services to offer our clients,” Hammesfahr said during a phone interview from his London office, where he was meeting — and golfing — with O’Connor and other Cozen lawyers. “I’m here in the process of trying to set up a technology company. Now you know somewhere down the line that client’s going to need help with patent infringement. I can just refer them to one of my [new Cozen] partners.” The Chicago office is scheduled to open Oct. 1, while the San Francisco office opened as of Sept. 1. The San Francisco office will be headed by Norman Ronneberg and Cynthia Mitchell, both formerly with Booth Banning in San Francisco. Graeme Reid and Blanca Quintero, currently associates in Cozen’s San Diego office, will also be assigned to the San Francisco office. Cozen said San Francisco will complement the firm’s existing West Coast offices in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego. “We had Seattle, and we were set in the Southwest with L.A., but [California office managing attorney] Gerry Harney felt we needed a San Francisco office because we have some major clients there.” The San Francisco practice will include an emphasis on commercial litigation, insurance coverage, maritime cases and environmental and pollution matters. The new offices will bring Cozen & O’Connor’s attorney count to more than 420 attorneys practicing in 16 offices.

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