Back row: Lawrence Klein, Gregory Lahr, Jovana Vuyovic, Matthew Mazzola and Daniel Bryer. Front row: Michael Bernstein, Peter Fabiankovic, Marc Haas, Cara Vecchione and Stephen Goldman. ()
A group of 12 lawyers, including four partners, have joined Am Law 200 firm Robinson & Cole in New York and Miami in the latest round of defections from the reeling Sedgwick, which has lost more than 30 partners so far this year.
The team is led by New York-based partners Lawrence Klein, a highly regarded insurance coverage expert who is said by one source to have a “massive” practice representing clients like insurance giant American International Group Inc., and Michael Bernstein, who has a national practice handing litigation stemming from employee health care and benefits plans.
Robinson & Cole added 11,000 square feet of space to its office at New York’s landmark Chrysler Building to accommodate its new Sedgwick lawyers. The mass hire puts the Hartford, Connecticut-based firm’s total head count to roughly 225, with its contingent in New York now numbering 31 lawyers, said Robinson & Cole managing partner Stephen Goldman, adding that the additions help accomplish a number of strategic goals.
“We wanted to grow the depth in our New York office; it did that,” Goldman said. “We wanted to diversify our insurance practice; it did that, because we were too one-dimensional. We wanted to increase our large-case litigation practice as a general proposition; it did that. So it hit a lot of markers for us at the same time.”
For Sedgwick, the move will put a large dent in a New York office that will fall to about 16 lawyers from around 27. The San Francisco-based firm has cut a number of offices in recent months, most recently closing an outpost earlier this month in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, Sedgwick’s shuttered offices in Austin, Texas; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; and Houston. Sedgwick’s Dallas office also dramatically downsized its operations in January after 23 lawyers decamped for Drinker Biddle & Reath.
Data from ALM Intelligence shows that Sedgwick has lost more than 30 partners this year, with one of the first major departures coming in January when Michael Tanenbaum, a former chairman of the firm from 2007 to 2015, formed mass tort litigation boutique Tanenbaum Keale after leaving the firm with a 30-strong team of lawyers and staffers in New Jersey.
Sedgwick has experienced a more than 20 percent decline in its head count in 2017, according to ALM Intelligence. Sedgwick’s gross revenue has fallen 18 percent since 2013, when the firm recorded $208.5 million in turnover. Last year, that number was $170.5 million, putting Sedgwick at No. 157 in The American Lawyer’s Second Hundred rankings this year.
A source within Sedgwick said the firm had lost more than 20 percent of its annual gross revenue as of June, when the firm laid off a number of staff members in response to increasing partner defections.
Sedgwick managing partner Michael Healy did not respond to a request for comment about the departure of Klein and Bernstein’s team. He told The American Lawyer in June that the firm had experienced partner departures that were attributable to a changing legal market.
“As the legal landscape has become more global, the requirements of our clients have become more complex and diversified,” Healy said. “This globalization has led to the departures of lawyers, and Sedgwick has experienced some of those departures. Sedgwick has also brought additional attorney groups on board in 2017 that align with our strategic growth initiative.”
Robinson & Cole reported $111 million in gross revenue for 2016, up 1.8 percent from the year prior, placing the firm at No. 183 on this year’s Am Law 200 list.
In addition to Klein and Bernstein, Robinson & Cole is poised to pick up Sedgwick partners Gregory Lahr and Gilbert Lee in New York, where they will be joined by associates Daniel Bryer, Peter Fabiankovic, Marc Haas, Soo Kim, Matthew Mazzola, Cara Vecchione and Jovana Vuyovic. Sedgwick counsel Jeannine Jacobson as joined Robinson & Cole in Miami, where the firm opened an office in late 2014.
Robinson & Cole’s Goldman, an insurance coverage and class action litigator tapped to lead his firm last year, said the hire of Klein will broaden his firm’s insurance coverage litigation practice, which up until now had largely focused on property insurance coverage disputes.
The firm took a lead role on a number of insurance coverage cases stemming from Hurricane Katrina in 2005, as well as Superstorm Sandy in New York. Goldman said his firm expects to be involved in legal disputes stemming from Hurricane Harvey, which recently devastated Houston and other areas of southeast Texas.
Klein’s practice is broader, however, including coverage disputes on issues ranging from opioid manufacturers’ insurance in ongoing litigation to construction coverage disputes.
“For many years, Robinson & Cole has been known to have one of the leading property insurance practices in the country,” said a statement from Klein, a former managing partner of Sedgwick’s New York office. “I look forward to introducing my clients to the firm’s noteworthy experience in that area and to providing a broader range of services to the firm’s existing clients.”
Bernstein’s health and benefits litigation practice will add a more national component to a practice that Robinson & Cole is already known for, having recruited Patrick Begos, a founding member of Begos Brown & Green, earlier this year in Stamford, Connecticut. Bernstein’s team, which includes Jacobson, Mazzola and Vuyovic, currently handle cases in California, Texas and Utah, Goldman said.
“One of the nice things about Mike is he does a lot of work for some clients we do a little work for, and he does a little work for some clients we do a lot of work for,” said Goldman, who has represented AIG.
Goldman noted that Robinson & Cole will be looking to hire more lawyers in New York now that it has the office space for them. Sedgwick, however, could struggle to make up the gross revenue hits it has taken as partners with large books of business continue to walk out the door.
“The people who have left are not just any partners,” said one source with knowledge of the firm. “They were the firm’s biggest rainmakers.”