The implosion of Dewey & LeBoeuf has rocked all corners of the legal world. But there is at least one positive result — a new professional alliance among lawyers who once worked in the national firm’s former Hartford, Conn., office.
The specialized financial product and commercial litigation law firm is based in West Hartford, launched by three attorneys who met while working more than 15 years ago in Hartford at what was then known as LeBoeuf, Lamb, Green & MacRae. The attorneys, Jim Reardon, Kathy Scanlon and Pete Vodola, all worked together representing insurance companies and other corporate clients.
Just before the firm’s 2007 merger with Dewey Ballantine, which created Dewey & LeBoeuf, Scanlon and Vodola left to work for Pullman & Comley and other Connecticut firms in insurance defense and commercial litigation practices. Reardon moved to Dewey & LeBoeuf’s New York office, where he stayed until the bottom fell out earlier this year.
On the up side, Reardon says he gained a big-firm perspective. “I was working for one of the largest litigation firms in the country, on a team of 20 lawyers, and that has really helped me manage large cases,” Reardon said. “We can go toe-to-toe with any firm,” he said of his new firm, known as Reardon Scanlon Vodola.
One thing the trio learned from their big-firm experience was how to divide the work up but still keep everyone in the loop. “That way we can be responsive to clients’ changing needs,” Reardon said.
His former colleagues, Vodola and Scanlon, have been working together ever since their early days in Hartford. “We have always worked well together,” Scanlon explained. They saw Reardon’s recent departure from Dewey & LeBoeuf as an opportunity to combine their comfort working on large litigation cases. Reardon “is an extremely tenacious and hard-driving litigator,” Vodola said.
While they each work in specialized areas that for the most part typically involve protecting the interests of insurance companies, the firm’s model is what they call flat. “In other words,” Vodola said, “we are involved in each other’s work.”
Reardon’s claim to fame is a 1999 case involving a man who faked his own death and tried to collect a $7 million insurance policy. While at Dewey & LeBoeuf, Reardon led an investigative forensic fraud case on behalf of the insurer that revealed Madison Rutherford set up an elaborate ruse to collect the money. “He ran off to Mexico and we proved it,” Reardon said. Because of strange circumstances of the lawsuit, which was resolved in his client’s favor, Reardon was invited to appear on 60 Minutes.
In that interview, Reardon was asked to describe how Rutherford went about faking his death. “Our understanding is he drove from the hotel that he was staying in Monterrey to the side of the road in Mexico,” Reardon said on the show. “He took gasoline with him. He doused the vehicle in gasoline. And he rode away in a bicycle.”
Other similar cases of fraudulent death claims have sent him to Israel and Europe.
While Reardon gets more involved in the fraud detection side of the practice, Scanlon and Vodola handle a lot of litigation involving claims against companies that sell insurance payouts to secondary markets.
For example, when a plaintiff wins a lawsuit settlement that calls for money to be paid in installments by an insurance company, sometimes companies — known as structured settlement buyers — offer to buy the rights to receive those payments. The plaintiffs often accept considerably less money than the original settlement called for, but they benefit from receiving an immediate lump sum. In turn, the structured settlement buyers bundle multiple settlements and sell them to investors, who ultimately collect the installment payments.
Unlike the stock market, where there is considerable risk, the investors are guaranteed steady returns.
“Sometimes they create problems for the insurance companies that are responsible for them,” Vodola said. “For instance, sometimes the person who sells the settlement rights realizes he didn’t get such a good deal. So they sue the company that bought it and then they decide to sue the insurance company, too.”
Another area of insurance defense the firm is handling is in the area of stranger-originated life insurance policies. If the insurance companies can prove that a person improperly took out a life insurance policy on someone they didn’t know, the insurance company doesn’t have to pay on the death. “We’ve been in court on those cases all across the country,” Vodola said.
While the three law partners share a big-law firm perspective gained from their time at Dewey & LeBoeuf, the use of technology has allowed them to handle the work of a much larger firm with relative ease. “Between e-filing, which makes court visits relatively infrequent, and e-discovery, we’re really able to tackle even the most formidable of document-intensive cases,” Scanlon said.
Another way the small firm can handle cases that would in the past “have taken 10 attorneys” is through the use of outsourced document review firms, said Scanlon. “We use outsourcing to our advantage,” she said.
Even though the firm was formed only two months ago, the partners already have plans to expand.
“Right now, we’re looking at hiring another lawyer very soon,” Reardon said.