January 22, 2014

The Reemergence of Specialty Law Firms

Big law firm headquarters.

A recent Wall Street Journal article, “Big Law Firm Mergers Questioned,” raises some important issues to consider when hiring coverage counsel.  As noted in the article, “[l]arge companies tend to use a mix of firms for their legal work, ranging from small boutiques to name-brand Wall Street firms.”  Although the article does not expressly address the hiring of insurance coverage counsel, it raises some important considerations.

As stated by John Schultz, General Counsel of Hewlett-Packard Co., “when I talk to my colleagues, we are all still fairly much aligned on the idea that we hire lawyers, not law firms.”  The consensus opinion is that lawyer quality matters far more than overall law firm size and geographic reach.   Although efficiencies may be achieved by large law firms in situations where a company is defending lawsuits in multiple jurisdictions, quality and reputation of the individual lawyers matters most.

The renewed attention on quality and responsiveness – over numbers of lawyers, practice groups and offices – is important when it comes to selecting policyholder-side insurance coverage counsel.  Big law firms offering “one stop shopping” may not be the best bet for insurance claims because insurance-related conflicts grow exponentially with law firm size.  Many large law firms represent insurance companies.  Others have “panel counsel” relationships with insurance companies that permit them to defend claims on behalf of policyholders and insurers.  Because of this, many larger firms do not represent policyholders in disputes against insurance carriers.

Some large firms, however, represent both insurance companies and corporate policyholders.  Insurance company guidelines may allow these larger law firms to represent corporate clients on insurance claims, but only on the condition that those firms will not assert bad faith claims against the insurer.  Very little has been said about the “secret deals” that some law firms make with insurance carriers in order to attract and retain their business, but it may not be a good thing for law firms making these deals to also represent corporate policyholders in insurance coverage disputes.

What matters most are individual lawyers who have a track record of winning cases, irrespective of the odds.  Although larger may be better for certain kinds of cases, adding a multitude of lawyers to insurance coverage cases seldom produces the desired result.  Rather, undivided attention, coupled with unparalleled experience in a specialized area of practice, leads to better results, time and time again.

Miller Friel, PLLC is a specialized insurance coverage law firm whose sole purpose is to help corporate clients maximize their insurance coverage.  Our Focus of exclusively representing policyholders, combined with our extensive Experience in the area of insurance law, leads to greater efficiency, lower costs and better Results.  Further discussion and analysis of insurance coverage issues impacting policyholders can be found in our Miller Friel Insurance Coverage Blog and our 7 Tips for Maximizing Coverage series. For additional information about this post, please email or call Brian Friel (, 202-760-3162).

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