When Ronald P. Schiller was looking to leave one of the largest law firms in the world with his team of insurance coverage litigators, he made one phone call.
Schiller, who was at DLA Piper until just under three years ago and opened up that firm’s Philadelphia office, told The Legal he called the firm that became Hangley Aronchick Segal Pudlin & Schiller because of the firm’s litigation reputation.
The lawyers are not afraid to try cases when clients want cases tried, and they are good with judges and juries, Schiller said.
Hangley Aronchick is able to go toe-to-toe with larger law firms, but the firm has more rate flexibility and fewer conflicts because the smaller environment means that lawyers tend to know what their colleagues are working on, Schiller said.
The biggest corporate institutions in the world used to be represented by big law firms in New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., San Diego and Los Angeles, but are now represented by the same people who left the large law firms to go to midsized firms with greater flexibility, reduced overhead and minimized conflicts of interest, Schiller said. In fact, almost all of Hangley Aronchick’s adversaries in Schiller’s practice area are big firms.
“I tend to run into the same people at Covington, Reed Smith, Jones Day and Morgan Lewis,” he said.
An example of Schiller and his team’s work was the firm’s successful representation of HSB Group Inc. as a plaintiff in a dispute with another insurer in a professional liability coverage dispute. The case went to trial before U.S. District Judge Stefan R. Underhill for the District of Connecticut, and the court found that HSB’s damages were the full $5.9 million of settlement and defense costs. The court also awarded 4 percent interest and found that the judgment was enforceable against all Lloyd’s syndicates that underwrote the policy.
Hangley Aronchick is good at litigation because of the people, firm chairman William T. Hangley said.
“It starts with the people,” Hangley said. “The people that were the original litigation partners – Dan Segal, Mark Aronchick, John Summers, me – were people who already had reputations for being able to handle the complicated cases and we’ve also been fortunate that we’ve been able to attract really young, bright people either laterally or coming out of clerkships.
“There are an awful lot of business cases where what the client is looking for is a core team of really good courtroom lawyers who also have the business skills to deal with details.”
Hangley Aronchick provides a “large law firm practice in a small-firm setting,” Segal said.
The firm even calls clients back, which Segal said apparently does not always happen at big law firms.
Lawyers at the firm, many of whom, including the original founders, are graduates of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, are unlike some good litigators in Philadelphia who have never tried a case, Schiller said. There are litigators who are good tacticians on discovery and strategists on how to preserve issues on appeal, and the firm does understand the importance of trying mediation. But Hangley Aronchick lawyers are ultimately trial lawyers, he said.
“Everybody who was ever staffed on the case I thought was a good litigator and I’m a litigator myself,” Margret Hagar, associate counsel for Nobel Learning Communities Inc., said. Hangley Aronchick represented Nobel Learning in an Americans with Disabilities Act Title III lawsuit.
The firm does not adhere to any particular industry for its legal work. There’s Schiller’s insurance coverage work. The firm represents corporate behemoths like Comcast and Microsoft. It represents small businesses. It has represented governmental entities often. It represents large law firms in legal malpractice cases and it represents media companies in libel cases.
Hangley Aronchick is always excited to take on a new industry and master the intricacies of that field, Segal said.
The firm has never lost a legal malpractice case and has rarely settled such a case, Hangley said. The cases do not involve simpler legal malpractice issues like forgetfulness over filing a complaint or the statute of limitations, Hangley said. “It’s usually a big-ticket financial transaction … where the client says, ‘My lawyer should have protected me better or my lawyer should have done a better job,’” Hangley said.
An example of that work is when a Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas jury cleared a client of Hangley and his co-counsel of negligence in a case in which a big law firm was hired to negotiate a business partner’s buyback. Eight months after the partner’s exodus, the firm was sold for $30 million. If the jury had found for the former client, it would have been an $8 million judgment.
“I’ve won my trial cases on that first question, which is the lawyer is not negligent,” Hangley said. “That way you’ve established what the lawyer most wants to hear, which is he did his job right.”
An example of the firm’s government work was when it represented the commonwealth of Pennsylvania in Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and Pennsylvania Medical Society v. Department of Public Welfare. In February, the state Supreme Court ruled that the commonwealth had the discretion to transfer $700 million from the fund that provides excess malpractice coverage to Pennsylvania health care providers. The court has not yet ruled on whether the state government had the authority to transfer $100 million from another account that receives a portion of the Pennsylvania tax on the sale of cigarettes.
Hangley Aronchick also places priority on pro bono work.
Segal, who has been involved with the Juvenile Law Center for years, got his firm involved in representing pro bono a putative class of approximately 2,400 juveniles who were sentenced by a former Luzerne County juvenile court judge to detention facilities. The juvenile court judge, as well as the president judge, had received payments from the builders, as well as the owners and operators, of the facilities.
While the firm may ultimately receive a fee if it prevails in the class action, the case is essentially pro bono, Segal said.
“It got much bigger than any of us had really contemplated,” Segal said. “I have represented to my colleagues, as well as to clients, to a person this is why we became lawyers.”
Segal and associate Rebecca L. Santoro are “both just brilliant lawyers,” Marsha Levick, legal director for the Juvenile Law Center and co-counsel with Hangley Aronchick in the class action, said. “They’re thoughtful, compassionate. They’re there when you need them. They’re dedicated to the case. They are lawyers who are every day dedicated to excellence.” •