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Add health care and construction law to the groups of practices that don’t mix well together under the same roof. At least that’s what Jennifer L. Cox learned in her 4 1/2 years at Hartford, Conn.-based Pepe & Hazard. Pepe had long been among the region’s top construction law firms when it recruited Cox in October 2000 to build it a health care practice. Though the two practice groups on the surface seem to be mutually exclusive from each other, it wasn’t long before Cox and Jennifer A. Osowiecki, who divided her time between the firm’s construction litigation and health care clients, realized the obstacles they were up against. Pepe & Hazard’s construction practice, which has traditionally defended contractors, too often found itself in conflict with the hospitals that the health care practice represented. “Every time a hospital would do a major expansion, we would see [a conflict of interest] coming,” said Cox. No longer. In March, Cox and Osowiecki, along with Pepe & Hazard associate Preeti A. Garde, ventured out on their own, forming the Hartford firm of Cox & Osowiecki. “We have more entrepreneurial opportunity here,” said Cox, who had been a member of Pepe’s executive committee. Their decision to leave has, in effect, suspended Pepe & Hazard’s health care practice, according to managing partner Timothy Corey. Whether to rebuild the practice, Corey said, is one of the strategic planning issues up for discussion. That decision should come by year’s end, he added. Cox and Osowiecki initially worked together to build the practice for Pepe & Hazard. Osowiecki, however, found herself increasingly being pulled into construction litigation. A pharmacist before becoming a lawyer, Osowiecki said she didn’t feel her professional training was going in the direction she wanted it to. “Construction work kept calling my name,” she said. Cox said the new firm, located on the ninth floor of Hartford Square North on Columbus Boulevard, primarily focuses on regulatory issues and litigation. “We’re defining it as health law, complex commercial litigation, appellate work, regulatory advice and compliance planning,” said Cox, though she and Osowiecki estimate that 65 percent to 70 percent of their practice will be related to health care matters. The duo described their departure from Pepe & Hazard as amicable, which Corey confirmed. Cox said it was difficult to continue growing the health care practice within a large law firm environment. “It wasn’t worth it to the other 29 partners to … take a 10 percent discount to attract a new client,” she said. All of the pair’s former clients came with them from Pepe & Hazard, they said. “We have a full plate,” said Cox. “We feel fortunate we can sit back and decide what direction to head in.” One piece of advice they received is to proactively manage the new firm’s growth. “We’ve had friends tell us to pick a number and stick to it because otherwise you grow randomly,” Cox said. Right now, the target for the firm is 10 attorneys. “We don’t want to see it become a machine,” she said. While not marketing themselves as an all-female firm, Cox and Osowiecki are cognizant of it. Cox said she’s been trying to figure out why there aren’t more women law firms. Her class at the University of Connecticut School of Law in the early 1990s was split evenly between genders. She said the demands on women as primary caregivers make it difficult to balance a full-time law practice. And litigation, she said, is difficult to do part-time. “It’s more difficult for women to build a book of business,” she said. Neither has experienced gender discrimination in the legal industry, but know women lawyers who have. “For us, it hasn’t been [a problem], but a number of contemporaries feel it has been,” Cox said. “They’re passed over for partner, not given certain cases or not placed on certain tracks. I haven’t felt that, but it’s happened and still happens,” she added. “It’s hard to understand why only one in five partners at Connecticut law firms are women.”

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