Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott has grabbed nine lawyers from New York-based insurance defense firm McGivney & Kluger.
The expansion not only adds attorneys across Eckert Seamans’ Boston and White Plains, N.Y., locations, but it also gives the firm a new office in Newark, N.J.
Attorneys David Katzenstein, Kevin E. Young, Craig Waksler, Jennifer Whelan, Nathaniel J. Dudley and Michelle Grady joined Eckert Seamans as members. Stephanie Batchelder, Brad W. Graham and Kerry L. Seagle joined as associates. Katzenstein will be the sole attorney in Newark. The rest of the group is based in Boston, except for Grady, who is in White Plains.
The new team focuses on products liability and mass tort matters. That is a practice area Eckert Seamans said it has seen grow over the past several decades, creating exposure for the firm’s industrial and manufacturing clients. Eckert Seamans attorneys have served as national coordinating counsel for the defense of claims involving pharmaceuticals, chemical products and asbestos-containing products. The firm has also served as lead trial counsel in single- and multiple-plaintiff exposure cases and joint defense counsel in multiple defendant matters.
The attorneys joining the group focus their mass torts and products liability practice across a spectrum of cases, including asbestos, environmental and pharmaceutical matters.
Harold Balk, director of business development at Eckert Seamans, said products liability and mass torts is one of the staples the firm was built on. He said the firm was looking to complement the existing practice, which is spread across all of its offices, with additional talent.
Along with bulking up the products liability and mass torts practice, the new team fills a need for the firm to open in New Jersey and helps expand Eckert Seamans’ presence in New Jersey and New York, Balk said.
Katzenstein, who will lead the Newark office, has spent his career defending mass tort cases in New Jersey Superior Court as well as in New York, Delaware and Maryland. He has particular experience with "low dose" and epidemiology-based defenses in asbestos cases. He has also handled federal and state environmental cases in New Jersey and New York.
Katzenstein said that after 10 years at McGivney & Kluger, he was looking for a new challenge and Eckert Seamans was looking to fill a gap in its Mid-Atlantic presence that reached from Boston to Virginia but didn’t include New Jersey. Katzenstein said the firm had to turn away work in New Jersey because it didn’t have an office there. And from his perspective, Eckert Seamans’ larger footprint in terms of headcount was a great place to support Katzenstein’s practice serving as national counsel for certain clients.
Eckert Seamans has nearly 350 attorneys across nine offices. McGivney & Kluger has around 70 lawyers across 12 offices, including an eight-attorney outpost in Philadelphia. Katzenstein said his decision to leave his old firm was in no way a reflection on the firm, but rather a reflection of the opportunity available at Eckert Seamans. A call to McGivney & Kluger managing partner Charles McGivney was not returned by press time.
This isn’t the first time Eckert Seamans has hired a team of nine products liability and mass tort attorneys. In May 2012, partner Mark Reardon and a team of eight other attorneys took their products liability practice to Eckert Seamans’ Wilmington, Del., office from Elzufon Austin Reardon Tarlov & Mondell.
Katzenstein said Reardon has "trailblazed a bit" for Katzenstein’s group in terms of integrating his insurance carrier clients into Eckert Seamans’ business model.
"The carriers behind the clients I do work for have all accepted us without hesitation," Katzenstein said when asked whether he would have to increase his rates at his new firm.
He said his group is using "present" rates and said Eckert Seamans is open to different models for charging clients.
"We were profitable before," Katzenstein noted. "It’s not like the work done in my business is unprofitable."
Katzenstein said his hope is to grow the Newark office, which is something that may be supported just by the work the firm can now do in the state for existing clients. He said Eckert Seamans had already hired another attorney to work with him in Newark. Balk said the plan is to grow the Newark location.