Daniel Standish of Wiley Rein (Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ)
Wiley Rein’s insurance litigators have witnessed with their clients some spectacular crashes. In 2013 alone, the law firm represented XL Specialty Insurance Co. in response to the bankruptcies of Dewey & LeBoeuf, the country’s largest law firm failure, and Washington Mutual, the largest bank collapse in U.S. history.
These and other cases have bolstered the Washington firm’s presence as a national player in complex insurance cases, especially involving professional liability.
The insurance group has about 50 practitioners among Wiley Rein’s 275 lawyers.
“People perceive us as bigger players because we’re a K Street law firm,” insurance practice leader Daniel Standish said. “We have the benefit of three national airports in our area, and our practice spends a lot of time on the road.”
His team, which represents the side of insurers in disputes, often finds itself across the table from larger New York firms representing companies or financial institutions.
Standish said he’s made a habit of following news of potential insurance conflicts long before they land on his desk.
“There’s always an insurance angle to it,” Standish said. “From a defense counsel’s perspective, they don’t care if a case settled as long as it pays. A lot of times there’s complicated negotiations around that.”
That moment­ — on the precipice of mediation, when a company tries what Standish calls “the flip” and settles — is what sends insurance litigators into action.
After Dewey’s collapse, the bankruptcy trust for the law firm claimed mismanagement and sought millions in damages and $25 million from Wiley Rein’s client, XL Specialty Insurance. XL agreed to settle for $19 million, but objections to the settlement from former Dewey leaders Stephen DiCarmine and Joel Sanders almost tanked the deal. The judge released the insurer from further exposure because the insurers had acted in good faith. DiCarmine, Sanders and others now face civil claims and indictments.
XL Specialty, along with another Wiley client, Columbia Casualty Co., faced $50 million of risk in a $250 million insurance pool for 2008-2009 in a claim against Washington Mutual.
The bankruptcy trust sued insurers in a Delaware state court, and Wiley Rein partner Charles Lemley argued on behalf of his clients and the other insurers. Although the bankruptcy court dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction, the state Superior Court revived it in a decision on the case’s standing.
The Delaware Supreme Court took the appeal in September 2013, and, after Lemley’s argument, reversed the Superior Court judgment because the dispute wasn’t “ripe.” The trustee still could choose to sue the directors and officers instead, but Wiley Rein’s strategy delayed any case.
“It certainly gives [the insurers] a great deal of breathing room,” Standish said.
In a fourth 2013 case, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. sought Wiley Rein’s assistance to access and retain records related to a person injured in a car accident. An appellate court overturned a lower judge’s ruling, allowing the insurance group to challenge the records’ confidentiality. Standish said one of the firm’s assets in this and other cases is its “deep bench” of attorneys with Supreme Court and appellate experience. The firm now acts as State Farm’s national coordinating counsel.
Other clients driving major cases for the firm in 2013 included Continental Casualty Co. and Starr Indemnity Liability Co.
KEYS TO SUCCESS
♦ Know your client’s business and how your role in insurance meshes with their business. Often we’re in the delicate position of representing a business in dispute with a customer.
♦ Maintain a deep and talented bench of lawyers.
♦ Partner closely with clients on all key litigation decisions.
♦ Constantly evaluate how the litigation is unfolding, manage risk and consider the client’s overall objectives­ — both in the case and for the legal portfolio. Is this the best case to establish a key precedent? — Daniel Standish