Cozen O'Connor snaps up 14 lawyers from Drinker Biddle

Cozen O’Connor, the international law firm headquartered in Philadelphia, continues its aggressive expansion with the addition of 14 seasoned litigators from Drinker Biddle.

Michael J. Miller, Gregory J. Star, and Stephen R. Harris — experts in international commercial arbitration — will join the full-service firm as partners and bring 11 colleagues with them. Miller and Star will lead Cozen’s new Life Insurance and Annuities Practice Group and the firm’s new Software Industry team.

The lawyers will take their substantial book of business with them to Cozen.

Their clients include large insurance companies, annuity issuers, real estate companies, and software providers, Miller said. Moving to Cozen will allow his team to stretch.

“This firm, Cozen O’Connor, permits us to do it all,” Miller said. “We’ll be able to simultaneously provide all our clients what they’re looking for, with complex commercial litigation including software-defect implementation and licensing cases, and complex financial service and insurance litigation.”

Joining the trio will be partners Joseph Kelleher, Jennifer Smith, and Susan Stauss; counsel Nicole Calabro, Jessica Goebeler, and Lisa Stern; and associates Alex Hayden, Sarah Kalman, Daniel Thiel, and Laura Zulick. Charles Vinicombe, who retired from Drinker in January, will join Cozen O’Connor as of counsel.

A decamping of talent in such a large group is uncommon in the legal world, where the defection of one major player to another law firm usually is enough to generate a headline.

Miller and several of the new Cozen O’Connor lawyers forged reputations at Drinker while battling stranger-originated life insurance (STOLI) cases.

STOLIs are policies taken out by investors as a gamble against the lives of people they don’t know. The policies are then sold on the secondary market, like mortgage-backed securities, with the expectation that the stranger will die sooner rather than later. STOLIs are illegal in many states.

“You’re not allowed to bet on the life of a stranger, so those policies are totally void,” Miller said.

Many fraudulent STOLI policies were issued between 2005 and 2009, and the insured strangers are beginning to die off. Insurance companies don’t like to pay out on fraudulent policies. That means plenty of work for Miller and his team.

Michael J. Heller, CEO of Cozen O’Connor, said acquiring Miller’s group was “part of a strategic plan to develop niche practices that are national in scope so we are the undeniable leaders in the space.”

The chairman of Drinker Biddle, Andrew C. Kassner, wished his former colleagues well.

“The departure of Mike and the others was expected for some time. Their practices no longer aligned with our insurance and financial services sector strategy and plan and, in fact, increasingly caused numerous conflicts with our financial services company clients,” Kassner said. “We are glad that Mike and his colleagues were able to find a solution by joining Cozen O’Connor.”