Ever-growing Philadelphian Cozen O'Connor offers associates mentorship, fancy new architecture, and “high-level exposure.”
WHAT'S new with Cozen? Where to begin? Over the past twelve months it has relocated six of its 24 offices to brand new digs, not least its Philadelphia HQ where attorneys have settled in to the new Center City building. Meanwhile, the 46 year-old acquired a labor and employment litigation team in Chicago by incorporating local firm Meckler Bulger Tilson. The maneuver also landed Cozen a new office in San Francisco, with 15 new attorneys. Over in DC, meanwhile, Cozen launched a new State Attorneys General practice made up of former Dickstein Shapiro partners.
Associates told us they chose Cozen over other firms “because of the sense of camaraderie that permeates the corridors, where people are clearly focused on more than just their book of business, and where you're trusted and encouraged to strike a healthy work/life balance.” They singled out mentoring as one of the aspects of life at Cozen that confirmed “they want us here for the long term.” Along with what some characterized as a “small firm feel,” comes top dog expertise.
Cozen O'Connor – both of whose namesakes, by the way, are still around as chairman and vice chairman – sweeps up Chambers USA rankings for real estate, labor & employment, construction, transportation, litigation, corporate/M&A, bankruptcy, government and insurance. If you're wondering what the deal is with the firm's specialty area of subrogation, check out our website.
During their summer, interns in Philly get to spend half their time in litigation and half on the transactional side. At the end they express a preference, and sources reassured us that “they're always willing to find the best fit for you.” When associates arrive as first-years, they're split between one of the transactional practices – such as corporate, real estate, energy or IP – and the so-called litigation pool. Litigators enter the pool for up to 18 months, rotating between different sub-groups, like commercial litigation, global insurance or subrogation. “It's really interesting and it helps you find your niche; they're invested in that search because they want you to build a career here.”
“At mega New York firms, aren't associates just doing due diligence?”
“At mega New York firms, aren't associates just doing due diligence? I don't know of any other firms where first and second-years get the sort of high-level exposure that I've experienced,” a content corporate junior confided. “I've been asked to draft purchase agreements, and have taken the lead on some smaller deals, where I was the primary client contact.” Litigators were similarly satisfied, one tallying up: “By the end of first year I had taken ten to 15 depositions and been to federal court. I was genuinely surprised by how much hands-on experience of case management and drafting we got. I'm loving it.” While a couple of litigation interviewees hadn't been to court yet, all concurred that levels of responsibility were high “beyond expectation.” The consensus view was: “I feel like I'm not replaceable, and that's empowering.”
Training & Development
A litigator felt that “the sense that the firm wants you to succeed, and that they're investing in you, is palpable.” Summers are assigned a partner mentor, an associate mentor and a writing tutor to check over assignments. When fresh-faced lawyers arrive as junior associates, they're still matched up to formal mentors, but they also “naturally find other mentors too. I have lunch (on the firm!) every month with my partner mentor, and she takes her role very seriously. She doesn't always give me the 'friend answer': she tells me what I need to hear, which is helpful.”
“I have lunch (on the firm!) every month with my partner mentor.”
Last year we reported that Cozen was in the process of revamping its training scheme, and this year's insiders confirmed “the new curriculum is excellent. It's rare that there's training I think I won't benefit from.” A source reflected that “training and mentorship were two things I didn't consider when I was making a decision, but I've used Cozen's so much. Training is ongoing, which keeps it fresh.” The firm offers COTA, Cozen O'Connor's Trial Academy, and CODEP, a Deposition Program. If something is going on in Philadelphia, rookies from other offices can tune in via video conference, but “once a year we're all flown out to the HQ for a firmwide associate training session.”
Hours & Compensation
“My friend works at another big law firm in Philadelphia,” a participant shared, “where the hours requirement is 2,400. That pressure would stop me from concentrating.” While Cozen introduced billable targets a couple of years ago, all sources agreed “they won't beat you up on it, and the targets are totally reasonable. The corporate group has a 1,600 minimum, but we all exceeded it by several hundreds of hours.” In real estate it's 1,650, and litigators should shoot for 1,800. Relaxed associates were quick to point out that “we do work really hard.” Litigators cited 11-hour days as standard, and others confirmed that “logging on from home at night is often necessary just to keep a deal moving.” Weekend work was rare: “They know no one wants to be in the office on Saturday morning.”
“We're a meritocracy, not a lockstep."
Cozen's associate salary has been a slightly contentious topic in the past, mainly because the firm pays under market rate. This year it has upped its first and second-year salaries, to $145,000 in Philadelphia and $155,000 in New York and DC. Third-years were sitting tight and waiting for the end-of-year bonuses to be announced, “which will reflect a pay rise retroactively.” Managing partner Vince McGuinness confirms this, adding “we're a meritocracy, not a lockstep. We didn't want to increase everyone's salary without doing performance reviews first.”
Sources certainly didn't feel like Cozen was counting its pennies: “The resources the firm's willing to give are second to none. If you say you'd like to buy a table's worth of seats at a fundraising event, they write you a check. They're beyond generous, particularly from a philanthropic perspective.”
“There's a sense that you'd struggle to get your bonus if you didn't use up your 60 hours of billable pro bono.” A designated director of pro bono circulates wide-ranging opportunities: “We work for Wills for Heroes, helping police officers and firefighters with their wills. We take part in a mock trial program at a local high school, and we have a scheme with the Federal court in Philadelphia taking their pro se clients. Someone did a social security case from start to finish. Others hosted a divorce clinic, wrote clemency petitions, and worked at a legal clinic for the blind.”
Pro bono hours:
Sources had only nice things to say about Cozen's culture. They pointed to “how relatable people are, how partners' attitudes create a collaborative environment, and what a good job they do at encouraging a healthy work/life balance” as contributing factors. “When I interviewed, people talked to me about their schedule, not just their work,” one recalled, while another explained that “sure, there's a hierarchy, but it doesn't permeate the atmosphere, which is more results-oriented. I worked on a weekend once but it was only because the partner on the team was also working. Shareholders ask me for my opinion in front of clients.”
"Bowling, pizza and beers.”
And how better to end a productive day of solid team work than by celebrating in style? “I love all the social occasions they put together. They understand how beneficial it is to have people interacting.” These included “random happy hours, practice group gatherings, and bowling, pizza and beers.” The highlight was undoubtedly the firm's retreat: “Every couple of years everyone gets together and goes to Florida. It's so much fun.”
Diverse attorneys across the entire law firm, from shareholders to associates, were asked to arrive at the latest retreat a day early. “I chatted to an LGBT partner from Texas,” a Philadelphian enthused, “and at the end they gave you a little brochure with everyone's names in it, so you can use that network forever. Everyone was in such high spirits by the time the others arrived.”
Overall, most associates agreed that “Cozen is committed, and does particularly well at hiring women,” but some felt that “it could do better, especially with regards to ethnic minorities.” Diverse sources spoke with conviction about “never having felt excluded,” however, and were enthusiastic about the firm's chair of diversity and about the various collaborations in place.
When we spoke to Philly Cozenites last year they were buzzing in anticipation of their new HQ. Can reality ever meet such high expectations? “Absolutely. It's light years away from our previous office.” The space analogy is especially apt given that Cozen's starship has also risen from “the ground floor of our previous building,” to occupying the 21st to 28th floors of One Liberty Place. “When clients get off the elevator to go to our 28th floor conference room, they're taken aback by the views.” When they're not admiring the outside world, associates can admire each other: “All the offices have glass walls, which takes the open-door policy to the next level.” Crystal clear walls weren't the only feature of the new digs to be deemed conducive to a friendlier atmosphere: “In the old office, we were spread across three enormous floors, but here we're on eight floors, so we can be organized by practice group. It makes us more efficient and collaborative. The new office has fostered a team feeling.”
"We can be organized by practice group."
The cherry on the cake? “Excellent shrimp and grits in the cafeteria.” It's not only always sunny in Philadelphia though: we heard from DC rookies, also enjoying a “modern” new crib, that like Philly they “have cupboards that are also white boards; it's like writing on the walls, kind of crazy.” At the time of our calls 14 of our interviewee list were in Philadelphia, five in DC, three in each of Seattle and New York, one in Houston, and one in Cherry Hill, NJ.
A team of Cozen attorneys visits 16 university campuses for OCIs each year, while also accepting direct resumes. Hiring partner Matt Siegel says he looks for “an entrepreneurial spirit. It's a cliché but it does make someone stand out. Also someone who is proud of their accomplishments but not cocky.” What kind of questions are asked in order to test candidates? “If we see something on their resume about prior mock trial experience, we'll ask them to briefly describe the case. If someone has included an interest outside of law at the bottom of their resume, we'll ask about that to open things up a little bit.”
And finally, how important is a link to Philadelphia? The vast majority of participants based in the HQ had either grown up in the region or attended law school there. “If there's no obvious connection, we always ask about it,” says Matt Siegel. “It's an important question to us.”
Strategy & Future
“The four practice areas we targeted – and continue to target – for growth are real estate, IP, labor and employment, and regulatory and government affairs. Litigation practices have been steady, and energy has experienced some growth, but nothing huge,” comes the year's roundup from managing partner Vince McGuinness.
He confirms that the firm's previous strategy of “slow and steady growth” still holds true, but adds more excitingly: "Although I said that last year and then we brought in two large groups.” He concludes that on balance “we want thoughtful and steady growth in key areas, but we're also going to be opportunistic, for example by growing in California and achieving full coverage of that area.”
Interview with managing partner Vince McGuinness
Chambers Associate: What highlights from the past year would you want to flag up to student readers interested in your firm?
Vince McGuinness: The first thing I'd like to mention is that we continued to successfully pursue our strategy of growth. We acquired a large group of lawyers in Chicago and San Francisco, to grow our labor and employment and complex litigation practices respectively. Furthermore, a State Attorneys General group joined us from Dickstein Shapiro in DC.
Another big development was the relocation of six of our offices to new locations, including the home office in Philadelphia, as well as Chicago and San Francisco. So from a facilities perspective, we've also grown, developed and improved.
CA: What are the hot practice areas right now? Which are growing or shrinking?
VM: The four practice areas we targeted – and continue to target – for growth are real estate, IP, labor and employment, and regulatory and government affairs. Litigation practices have been steady, and energy has experienced some growth, but nothing huge.
CA: Given that our readers wouldn’t be joining your firm for another couple of years, what’s the general strategy going forward, and what do you hope the firm will look like in a couple of years? And in the longer term?
VM: I think a strategy of conservative, slow and steady growth will continue to be our way. Although I said that last year and then we brought in two large groups! We want thoughtful and steady growth in key areas, but we're also going to be opportunistic, for example by growing in California and achieving full coverage of that area.
In the Midwest we did what we had envisaged and got some critical mass, so in the short term we'd like to take the next step and diversify those practices so we have more strength in Chicago in business litigation, real estate, and IP.
Following on from that, we'll replicate what we've done in the Midwest in Miami as well as the West Coast, probably expanding in LA. In Miami we've already brought in some litigation and employment, and commercial lawyers. We're growing both laterally and organically, and we're looking for good opportunities all the time.
CA: Why did you introduce hours targets?
VM: The targets arose partly from speaking with the associate committee, and hearing that associates wanted more certainty with regards to the firm's expectations. We always kept an hourly goal but it was less formalized. We asked lawyers for their input in setting different numbers for different groups. Occasionally we adjust that depending on a lawyer's own goals, but it's always realistic, fair and achievable. Setting realistic targets is good for budgeting too.
CA: With regard to your two-tier partnership structure, are there different tracks for becoming a member and becoming a shareholder?
VM: It's not formalized other than being dependent on the number of years you've worked here. Eligibility for the first level of membership kicks in at six years. Four years after that you can self-nominate to become a shareholder.
We are looking at origination, production, community service, and firm citizenship. We look at the individual to make sure she or he is a well-rounded lawyer, so we don't have a specific metric one must meet to be elected. There's a shareholder nominating committee that meets every year and makes recommendations for promotion.
CA: Is there anything in particular that you yourself do to ensure the culture of Cozen is uniform across offices?
VM: It's a great question. Every law firm says they have a wonderful culture, but to keep a culture in place is not easy. The firm was founded on a series of tenets (having an entrepreneurial spirit, philanthropy, innovation, creativity and excellence) and it proved imperative that those were maintained to ensure Cozen's growth form a small firm in the 1970s to what it is today. First-generation lawyers are still actively practising at Cozen, and that's a big factor.
One of the other things we do is relocate certain lawyers to different offices, so they bring the firm's esprit de coeur to other offices. We sent four lawyers from Philadelphia to San Diego, then sent the same four to Dallas, then Seattle. We have a London attorney who has previously been in three of our other offices. We sent an insurance litigator from Philadelphia to Miami, another leader from Charlotte to Miami, and a few months ago some young associates moved from Philadelphia to Seattle. We've done that a whole lot and found it really works.
We're also big in embracing technology, it allows us to connect better than we could in the past. We hold shareholder conference calls at least once a month, and we encouraged department meetings and attorney retreats. Many firms have shied away from things like retreats because of the expense, but we feel that lawyers bonding and developing relationships really helps. Retention is important for law firms, and if you don't have a welcoming culture you'll struggle with that.
CA: I know you raised first and second-year salaries recently. Are third-years currently being paid less than first-years and will that even out with bonuses?
VM: They will be evened out yes, we're going through the compensation process now. It will be adjusted and third-years will be credited retroactively. That's how we remedy it, we don't make adjustments all the way up the line because we're a meritocracy, not a lockstep. We didn't want to increase everyone's salary without doing performance reviews first.
CA: Would you say the firm honed in on its professional development program since you were made managing partner? Why did you feel that was important and what practical changes did you make?
VM: Yes, I am a big fan of professional development, in part because I came up the ranks without these programs or a formalized structure. It just wasn't something that existed. I always felt it was really important though. When I came on board it was a pet project of mine, one I knew would benefit attorneys at every level. We have a top director of legal talent with a team, and every year we do something different.
One of our key programs takes place every summer for three to five days at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. It covers trial advocacy, negotiation and deposition training, involving young lawyers from all round as well as more senior ones as teachers, or posing as judges. The feedback is always great.
Subrogation: Cozen's insurance specialty
The name couldn't be less sexy. But Cozen O'Connor cornered the market on this niche area of insurance law in the early 1970s, making it one of the keystones of the firm's success.
Put simply, subrogation is the term for when an insurance company sues to recoup some or all of the expenses it incurs in making a pay-out. The party it is suing is one which could reasonably held responsible for the loss of capital in the first place, for example the manufacturers of faulty equipment implicated in a warehouse fire, or the architects of an unsound building that collapses.
Cozen counts a number of major insurers among its clients, including Liberty Mutual, ACE American and National Indemnity Company. But one of its most most headline-grabbing recent trials has involved defending Tishman Construction against a claim that threatened nine-figure damages if successful. The initial claim was a property damage case brought by Consolidated Edison, owners of a substation beneath the World Trade Center that provided power to most of Lower Manhattan. The case was dismissed, but in 2011 Consolidated Edison's insurers Aegis issued an appeal, which like the first case alleged that Tishman was responsible for structural defects and a lack of fireproofing in the World Trade Center.
After years of wrangling, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals laid the case to rest in late 2013, with a firm judgment that: “It is simply incompatible with common sense and experience to hold that defendants were required to design and construct a building that would survive the events of September 11, 2001.”
One Liberty Place,
1650 Market Street,
- Head Office: Philadelphia, PA
- Number of domestic offices: 22
- Number of international offices: 2
- Worldwide revenue: $341,500,000
- Partners (US): 402
- Associates (US): 128
- Summer Salary 2016
- 1Ls: $2,200-$2800/week, varies by office
- 2Ls: $2,400-$3000/week, varies by office
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2016: 14 (2Ls)
- Offers/acceptances 2015: 11 offers,10 acceptances
Main areas of work Business/corporate, commercial litigation, government and regulatory, insurance coverage, intellectual property, labor and employment, real estate, private client services, subrogation and recovery.
Firm profile Established in 1970, Cozen O’Connor delivers legal services on an integrated and global basis. As a first-generation law firm, we have not forgotten our entrepreneurial roots and continue to provide top-notch client service at unparalleled value as we have grown to one of the top law firms in the country. Our Business and Litigation Practice serves clients in the most effective and efficient manner, with professionals across disciplines working collaboratively to resolve any matter.
• Number of 1st year associates: 14
• Number of 2nd year associates: 13
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $125,000-$155,000 (varies by office)
• 2nd year: Non lock step, merit-based compensation
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Georgetown, Harvard, NYU, Penn, Penn State, Seattle University, Temple, UVA, University of Washington, Villanova, GW, Northwestern
Summer associate profile:
Cozen O’Connor seeks summer associates who embody the best characteristics of our attorneys. We strive to find candidates who have distinguished themselves from their peers in academics, legal writing ability and oral advocacy skills. Our summer associates have diverse backgrounds including, but not limited to, prior work experience, military service and a demonstrated commitment to serving their communities through volunteerism.
Summer program components:
At Cozen O’Connor, we pride ourselves in providing our summer associates with a realistic experience of the responsibilities and high level of performance expected of the firm’s associates. They take part in an extensive firm orientation and weekly training programs, such as a trial skills workshop where they have the opportunity to prepare and present a mock opening statement and take a mock deposition. Our writing mentors work closely with the summer associates to strengthen their legal writing skills and our associate mentors provide them with advice and guidance. Summer associates work on active cases and are relied upon to produce excellent work product. They are invited to practice group meetings and to attend hearings, depositions, or client meetings with their supervising attorneys. Summer associates receive assignments that allow them to become intimately familiar with the firm’s various practice groups and their cases and clients and are encouraged to participate in pro bono matters.