Robert T. Horst, a founding partner of Blue Bell, Pa.-based insurance law firm Nelson Levine de Luca & Horst, has left the firm to join Bucks County firm Curtin & Heefner.

Horst, who helped found Nelson Levine in 2000 and served as its managing partner from 2003 to 2008, will join the Morrisville, Pa.-based firm as a partner in its litigation section, focusing his practice on first-party property bad-faith work.

Horst will work out of the firm’s Doylestown, Pa., office. His official start date is yet to be determined, however, because the deal to bring him to Curtin & Heefner was finalized Friday morning.

Bonnie S. Stein, co-chair of Curtin & Heefner’s litigation section, said the firm first discussed hiring Horst years ago when he left the Law Offices of Jonathan Wheeler, a Philadelphia plaintiffs firm.

At the time, however, what Horst was looking for and what the firm had to offer didn’t mesh, Stein said.

“He had come out of a plaintiffs firm, he wanted to be in the city, we weren’t in the city,” she said.

Horst eventually became a partner at Post & Schell, but he and the attorneys at Curtin & Heefner kept in touch, according to Stein.

Before Horst left Post & Schell to start Nelson Levine, he again met with Curtin & Heefner.

“I believe our conversation at the time was, ‘Do you want to be a big fish in a little pond or a little fish in big pond?’” Stein recalled. “I believe his quote to us was that he wanted to be a big fish in a big pond, but the best way for him to do that was to stay in the city.”

Fast-forward more than a decade, however, and circumstances finally appear to be right for Horst and Curtin & Heefner to come together.

“We offer something Bob wanted, which is a smaller practice, a county lifestyle [and] the ability to be a bigger player in a smaller legal community,” she said.

Curtin & Heefner has about 27 attorneys, while Nelson Levine has more than 60 lawyers.

Stein added that Horst was also looking for a firm with a smaller rate structure.

“The industry’s moved in such a way that there’s such rate pressure to stay profitable and the carriers are among the many companies who resist that,” she said.

Curtin & Heefner managing partner Frank S. Guarrieri said Horst’s practice, which focuses on defending insurers in complex coverage, bad-faith and class action litigation as well as in suspected fraud investigations, complements the firm’s existing practice.

“He does a lot of similar work to that which we already handle but does it with carriers that we don’t already represent,” Guarrieri said. “It was an opportunity to take a strength that we already have and make it even stronger.”

Both Stein and Guarrieri said Horst also brings to the firm a strong ability to market himself to clients.

“One of the advantages of having known Bob for 20 years is that we’ve had the opportunity to see his career developing over time and, although he was always a good lawyer, his business development efforts have grown along with it,” Guarrieri said.

An existing book of business was not a selling point for the firm, however, Guarrieri said.

“I don’t believe he had spoken to any of his clients before he had given notice” at Nelson Levine, Guarrieri said. “We had our hopes and expectations because we know him, but there was no known book of business that was going to follow him here.”

Horst did not return calls for comment on Friday.

Nelson Levine Chairman Michael R. Nelson, who was traveling on Friday and also could not be reached, said in a voicemail message to The Legal that Horst’s departure would not change the firm’s direction.

Nelson Levine has remained in the headlines over the past few weeks, with news of Horst’s departure coming just over a week after Nelson Levine announced it had hired an insurance brokerage executive as its first vice president of business development.

Stanley Jablonowski joined Nelson Levine’s New York office on March 22 from Langhorne, Pa.-based insurance and financial company Selling Technologies Inc., of which he was chief executive officer.

That news came on the heels of the firm’s announcement that it had opened a Washington, D.C., office in March. According to Nelson, the office will focus largely on the government’s regulation of the insurance industry.

Zack Needles can be contacted at 215-557-2493 or Follow him on Twitter @ZNeedlesTLI.