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When Cooper, White & Cooper said it wasn’t interested in using its insurance practice to lure more high-tech clients, three partners and an of counsel hit the road — Interstate 680 to be exact. Earlier this month, the four Walnut Creek, Calif.-based lawyers took a book of business that they estimate at $3 million and joined forces with San Ramon, Calif.’s Smith, Lally & Peffer. There, they hope to stake a claim in what they see as an emerging practice area, advising and representing insurers — as well as companies — in high-tech coverage disputes. Former Cooper White rainmaker James Greenan, who defected along with partners Robert Sallander Jr., David Ostrander and of counsel John Makin, says they have found a potentially lucrative niche in insurance, a specialty that has suffered as insurance companies have reined in billing rates on defense work. Also, more attorneys are competing for lower-end insurance coverage work. In the words of Greenan, the move into tech coverage will allow them “a back door into technology” clients. “You have to learn the products and the [technology] issues,” Greenan said. “It is an excellent way to build a practice.” With high-tech coverage, insurance companies offer policies designed to deal with technology-related matters, such as Web sites or intellectual property. And lawyers who represent insurance companies say it could potentially be a more lucrative practice than much traditional insurance coverage work. “In a sense, this is a growing area,” said Michael Donovan, the partner who heads Hancock Rothert & Bunshoft’s technology group. “Many insurers have developed groups to deal with these types of risks.” Even companies that don’t have a high-tech bent now need insurance that traditionally was used by media and intellectual property companies because they have content posted on an Internet site, he explained. “They have new types of risk of exposure that they didn’t have before,” Donovan said. When Donovan, an experienced litigator and insurance specialist, began working on high-tech insurance policies two years ago, he said, “I got blank stares from people.” Now, conventions are devoted to the subject, said Donovan. There was a convention in Wayne, Pa., in early February, and a Defense Research Institute convention is scheduled for March that will cover similar topics, he said. Not everyone, of course, is jumping on the bandwagon. Cooper White’s top partners, for example, said the firm is willing to let the trend pass — especially given the volatility of the technology economy. “We are interested in maintaining a balance, not following a trend that may go up or down,” said managing partner Mark Schreiber. Schreiber also downplayed the defection of the attorneys, saying the decision to depart was mutual. Greenan’s interest in advising insurance companies in high-tech matters created conflicts of interest with the firm’s home building and telecommunication practice. Cooper White would have been representing the insurance companies in some matters and the policyholders in others, Schreiber said. Schreiber noted that 58-attorney Cooper White does have a hold in the technology market through its representation of telecommunication companies such as GTE California and media firms such as KTVU. He also tried to put to rest reports that with the departures, Cooper White would shut down its Walnut Creek office, which currently is staffed by 13 attorneys. “We are still in business,” he said, “and we are not closing our East Bay presence for some time.” For his part, Greenan said he had nothing negative to say about his former employer. However, he said he was unsure what the firm’s corporate direction is. “I don’t know what they are doing,” said Greenan, who worked at Cooper White for 28 years. The new firm they created, Greenan, Peffer, Sallander & Lally, tacked Greenan and Sallander’s names to its letterhead and added high-tech insurance coverage litigation to its list of services. Smith Lally focused on business and transactional law, including securities, mergers, acquisitions and franchising law. The departing attorneys say they took with them lucrative clientele, including St. Paul Insurance and the Beasley Syndicate of Lloyds of London. By setting up in San Ramon, the new 10-attorney firm hopes to wield home-court advantage when it seeks clients among the Silicon Valley businesses that have overflowed into the 580-680 corridor. The attorneys also said the work is more challenging for them. Sallander termed it “cutting edge,” and San Francisco recruiter Avis Caravello said technology offers a lucrative, high-end alternative to “cookie cutter insurance coverage” such as real property coverage. Greenan is a Caravello client. And by offering services to old-economy companies as well as technology startups, the lawyers may be able to weather the tech sector’s financial turbulence. “It’s not just a dot-com issue,” Donovan said. “It’s much bigger than that.”

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