Damon Vocke of Vocke Law Group ()
Damon Vocke, a former president and general counsel at Berkshire Hathaway Inc. reinsurance subsidiary General Re Corp., announced Wednesday that he would form his own boutique. Four other lawyers are joining Vocke as partners at his new firm, which will have offices in three cities.
The Vocke Law Group will be led by its namesake and his longtime colleagues Cynthia Bordelon, Ronald Lepinskas, Scott Ostericher and Tomas Thompson. The new firm will directly target reinsurance and insurance companies and have offices in Chicago, New York and Stamford, Connecticut.
“We’re branding ourselves as trial lawyers who understand the business of the business of insurance,” said Vocke, who spent the last 12 years at Stamford-based Gen Re.
This summer, Vocke was approached by his four new partners about the possibility of opening a firm, he explained in an interview Wednesday. The firm would provide specialized support and a cost-effective alternative to reinsurance and financial services companies, something that Vocke said is missing today with some larger firms.
“Many [lawyers] don’t have a holistic view of the [insurance] business,” Vocke said. “Law firm partners are focused on billable hours.”
Vocke’s boutique is seeking to corner the reinsurance market and capitalize on the partners’ outside litigation experience and extensive in-house operational knowledge, as well as their extensive Rolodex of contacts.
“I anticipate that we will do quite well and grow as we need to grow,” said Vocke, who during his time at Gen Re spent four years as chairman of Faraday, also known as Lloyd’s of London Syndicate 435. (In the insurance industry, syndicates are groups of companies or underwriters that band together to insure something.)
Vocke is no stranger to Big Law, having spent nearly 15 years as an equity partner in the complex corporate litigation group at a predecessor of Locke Lord. He left the firm in July 2004 to serve as global general counsel at Gen Re, which Berkshire Hathaway bought in 1998 in a $23.5 billion deal. The reinsurer is a leading player in the casualty, life and property insurance space.
Just a few months after Vocke accepted the position at Gen Re, the reinsurer was investigated by then New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer for a 2000 transaction between Gen Re and American International Group Inc. The probe led to the conviction of four former Gen Re executives, including an assistant general counsel, and an AIG officer, although a high-powered outside legal team got those convictions reversed by a federal appellate court in 2011.
“It was a baptism by fire,” Vocke told sibling publication The National Law Journal in 2010. (The five defendants saw their legal ordeal end in 2012 after agreeing to pay fines.)
In January 2015, Vocke was promoted to president of Gen Re, where he was responsible for the oversight of a $6 billion business across 30 countries. He left the company this summer. Vocke’s new boutique has six lawyers, each of whom have some Big Law experience.
Until he became global manager for casualty and liability claims at Gen Re in 2014, Lepinskas was a litigation partner at DLA Piper in Chicago. Prior to joining DLA Piper, Lepinskas worked with Vocke at Lord, Bissell & Brook, a Locke Lord predecessor where he was a litigation partner from 1993 to 2008.
Ostericher was also a partner at Lord Bissell from 2002 to 2004, when he left to become assistant general counsel at Gen Re. He re-joined Lord Bissell in 2006, but left two years later when the Chicago-based firm merged with Texas-based Locke Liddell & Sapp to become Locke Lord. Ostericher and seven other former Lord Bissell partners formed Hinkhouse Williams Walsh, a Chicago-based litigation firm that specializes in representing insurance companies.
Thompson, a former Lord Bissell associate, left the firm in 2008 to become of counsel at DLA Piper in Chicago. He left the global legal giant in June 2014 to become a partner at Duane Morris, leaving that firm’s office in the same city earlier this month to join Vocke. Bordelon, another former Lord Bissell associate joining the new boutique as a partner, is a former assistant general counsel and deputy director of the corporate regulation division at the Illinois Department of Insurance.