Young and energetic Cozen O'Connor is still expanding, but will it retain its much-cherished culture?
AFTER a jam-packed 2015, 2016 was a quieter, calmer period at Cozen O'Connor. The preceding year saw the saw the launch of a State Attorneys General Practice in DC, the relocation of six of the firm's 24 offices and the acquisition of Chicago firm Meckler Bulger Tilson, making Cozen one of the fastest growing Am Law firms of 2015. While things may have slowed over 2016, growth's hardly come to a standstill: Cozen swiped 15 intellectual property lawyers from IP boutique Feldman Gale and continued to bulk out its New York, Miami, Minneapolis and Washington, DC offices with hires into a string of departments.
The Philadelphia-headquartered firm was launched barely 50 years ago as an insurance and commercial litigation boutique but today it covers a wide array of practice areas, earning Chambers USA rankings in everything from corporate/M&A to labor & employment, construction, insurance and litigation. And though the firm's now moved beyond its original focus on the last two, founding fathers Stephen Cozen and Patrick O'Connor still roam the halls to this day.
Upon arrival, first-years are assigned to one of Cozen's transactional practices – such as corporate, real estate, energy or IP – or the so-called litigation pool. Litigators enter the pool for up to 18 months, taking a dip in different sub-groups like commercial litigation, global insurance or subrogation. All practice areas have an assignment coordinator who “keeps track of how we're doing and divvies out work, but you're more than welcome to walk around the office to find something.”
“I can't overstate the value.”
The litigation pool garnered almost universal praise from our sources. “One of Cozen's best assets is that it has a strong plaintiff and defense side and the pool allows you to practice in both. I now primarily do defence work but I can't overstate the value of doing plaintiff work when I was first learning, as I'm able to understand the pressures on and thought processes of the plaintiff side,” reported one litigator. Another revealed: “It was great for internal marketing. I was able to make connections not only in my office but in offices and departments across the country.” For their first six months litigators receive an evaluation email after each assignment: “You can get a ton of feedback in your first six months, more than I ever got in law school.”
“Involved in the nitty gritty.”
While immersed in the pool “I've gotten to work on every stage of litigation,” one source outlined. “The majority of what I do is either research, drafting motions or responding to discovery requests, but I also attend conferences and conduct doc review.” Another spoke of “spending a good amount of time in depositions – they were not afraid to send me out there, which was great as I could come back and talk to them about my experience. They're more than amenable to go over it with me. If I'm writing a brief and propose some ideas, the partners are willing to put my contribution out there.” Those working within smaller groups “manage the cases from start to finish. I do most of the work by myself. If I have any questions or it's strategy-related I can go to my supervisor and ask what they think.” We even heard of juniors becoming “really involved in the nitty gritty communications with the client and opposing counsel.”
Training & Development
Orientation takes places in Philadelphia, with first-years flown in from across the country. Over a three day period newbies “familiarize themselves with the firm and its resources. We also received a session on how to use our support staff.” Juniors congregate at various offices in the network every couple of years to attend the all-firm retreat or associate symposium. When we spoke to our sources, plans were underway for the 2017 symposium; the itinerary included “sessions on managing staff, how to bring in business and how to network.”
Monthly departmental training sessions drill juniors on the need to know skills within their practice area. Litigators can attend COTA [Cozen O'Connor's Trial Academy] and CODEP [Cozen O'Connor Deposition Program] where “people watch you taking a practice deposition and give you feedback on how to improve. More of the CODEP style training would be useful.”
Hours & Compensation
Billable targets differ by practice area: corporate aims for 1,600, real estate 1,650 and litigation 1,800. Although these are relatively low for Big Law and “don't sound too bad, there are months or weeks when it can be crazy.” When times are good juniors can expect to put in around ten-hour days at the office. “It's a ghost town here by 7pm,” one Philly junior told us. But while the office inhabitants may have migrated to their couches and dinner tables, many are “plugging back into” work during the evening.
Cozen associate salaries are below market rate and have proved something of a contentious topic in the past. Before Cravath instituted the new New York scale ($180,000 for first-years) and caused a mass scramble in the market to match, Cozen had already increased its associate salaries, but since then Cozen raised its salaries further – this time to $150,000 for first years in Philadelphia and $160,000 New York and DC. Associates felt the firm's decisions on salaries have been prudent: “It's only going to hurt us if Cozen foolishly overspends on salaries and then we find ourselves without a bonus.” Another reasoned: “If we were offered a $10k raise but had to bill 100 hours more, I'd say 'don't raise my salary'.”
Growth in the DC base over the past few years has created a “culture in flux,” after this office “brought in some great attorneys from higher intensity law firms.” These additions came with ups – “high profile clients” – and downs – “I'm working as hard as friends at bigger firms who are earning much more. Before I arrived I was told that although I wouldn't make market, I would leave at a decent hour. I don't think the new partners were made aware of this. The culture in DC used to be great, and it might still be, but people are wondering what's the deal?” Despite the uncertainty, our DC sources agreed “there are very few assholes here. I genuinely enjoy the company of most people – they're approachable and informal.”
“We like practicing law but we also like doing other things too.”
Cozen's reputation for striking a healthy work/life balance still holds strong in its other offices. “People know you have a life outside the firm. We like practicing law but we also like doing other things too.” All this results in “more of a laid back culture.” Sources were quick to emphasize that “we're competitive in the market but not internally with each other.”
“I appreciate the level of respect I'm afforded,” said one source. “People understand I'm young and have a lot of learning to do but no-one is condescending. They acknowledge my intelligence and have faith in my ability, which makes it a comfortable place to work.” Interviewees told us this respectful attitude is driven into them from day one: “They communicated the need to be polite to everyone, from Brooke in the cafeteria to the guys in the mail-room. We're nothing without them – that's how it is here and why associates are also treated with respect. Cozen is the sum of its parts.”
Melinda deLisle joined the firm in May 2016 as the new director of pro bono engagement. Described as “fabulous” by interviewees, deLisle has facilitated “an absolute increase” in the amount of pro bono opportunities associates come across. “She's met with lots of us to ask what areas we're interested in helping out with, like immigration or LGBT rights,” sources told us. “Whatever you're interested in she'll find something for you,” whether it's battling for prisoners' civil rights that gets your heart racing, aiding immigrants in securing asylum status, advising non-profits or working on the Innocence Project. Up to 75 hours count as billable, and you can ask for approval to go above that.
Pro bono hours
- For all US attorneys: 16,442
- Average per US attorney: 30
Although many sources reckoned the firm wasn't “super diverse,” it fares relatively well compared to others in BigLaw. Over half of Cozen's associates are female, as are a quarter of its partners. It falls short on racial diversity however; four-fifths of associates are white, while at the partner level it's over 90%. That said, “when consideringinclusiveness I think Cozen's second to none,” one associate stressed. Another source added: “It's very supportive. That doesn't mean there isn't any work to do but I think diversity is a priority.” Diverse attorneys are invited a day early to the biennial firmwide retreat for networking events and panel discussions. A mentoring program pairs up diverse attorneys with members of the diversity committee.
Offices & Strategy
At the time of our calls junior associates were based in Chicago, LA, Houston, LA, New York, Philadelphia (where most juniors end up), Seattle and Washington, DC. The firm has a further 14 offices in the US. Although “Philly is the largest office I don't feel it's overbearing,” one West Coast source told us. “Vince [McGuinness – managing partner] and others come out here pretty often.” McGuinness and CEO Michael Heller travel to each office to meet with associates for a state of the firm address. Juniors can submit anonymous questions in advance to discuss anything from diversity issues to compensation concerns.
Managing partner Vince McGuinness tells us: "We stayed on course with our strategic objectives in terms of growing certain target areas; those are South Florida, California, New York and Washington, DC. " Go to the Bonus Features to read the full interview with McGuinness and see how firm's meeting other core strategic objectives.
Recruitment tips and advice
Sources were adamant there is such a thing as “a distinct Cozen personality.” Most importantly, they reckoned their colleagues are “people who love what they do, but it's not their everything. If you want to be at a workhouse firm where you live and breathe everything you do more power to you, but here we don't want a culture that's insane.”
One interview told us: “It's funny being on the other side of the recruiting table. You could tell when someone came through whether they had the intangible characteristics and would or wouldn't fit in.” When we pressed our sources to try and pin down these intangible traits we were told Cozen attorneys “are generally affable, down to earth people who have respect for others.” Others interpreted the Cozen character as “a self starter but not overly aggressive” and someone who “wants a work life balance. They have a slightly more laid back demeanour. A lot of people seem just like me – confident, laid-back and well accomplished.” Though it's worth being in mind what we heard last year from hiring partner Matt Siegel – the firm looks for “someone who is proud of their accomplishments but not cocky.”
At interviews “being enthusiastic should go without saying but some people I met felt like they were just here to tick us off a list. Those who seem genuinely interested and enthusiastic and ask questions are refreshing.” Another felt that “people who are thoughtful and are not quick to judge or interject stand out. I appreciate having those folks around.”
Interview with managing partner Vince McGuiness
Chambers Associate: Cozen has taken on a number of lateral hires over the past year, including the acquisition of a fifteen-strong group from Miami-based IP boutique Feldman Gale. Can you tell us a little bit about that acquisition?
Vince McGuinness: There are certain core areas we have targeted for growth. One of them is IP and particularly IP litigation as we have certain areas of expertise in the IP litigation field around the Hatch-Waxman Act, biosimilars and patent litigation. This particular opportunity was intriguing to us as Feldman Gale had a significant number of IP litigators as opposed to patent prosecutors and it coupled with our strategy to grow in South Florida. We were very keen to close it as it met two of our strategic objectives.
CA: Were the other laterals hires you made over the year also into areas you'd targeted for growth?
VM: We've done a lot of individual hiring over the year. Labor and employment is a target area for us; there have been new hires in New York, South Florida, Seattle and Texas and we expect to add a few more in other offices. Most recently we hired a group of four lawyers into our Miami office who are both immigration and EB-5 specialists in the field of labor and employment.
Other growth areas we continue to hire into include real estate in Florida, Philadelphia, New York and Washington, DC. In our government investigations and white collar crime area we've added a sizable group in DC, along with individuals in Philadelphia and New York. Those are the target areas we've grown in 2015 and 2016.
CA: Which of your practices have been particularly hot over the last year?
VM: Interestingly the ones I've just mentioned as growth areas have all been quite busy. Our government and investigation state attorney general practice, which we brought over in early 2016, is significantly busy and continues to grow. It's a very unique practice group which we brought over from Dickstein Shapiro.
Our litigation practices, whether commercial, IP or complex insurance are all very busy and our corporate and real estate practices have had a very healthy year. I'm hoping that when we receive the final year end numbers for 2016, we'll see a nice, steady growth and energy in our groups.
CA: Are there any highlights of the year you want to mention?
VM: We stayed on course with our strategic objectives in terms of growing certain target areas; those are South Florida, California, New York and Washington, DC. We continue to invest in our associates in both professional development and recruitment. We also hired a full time pro bono director, Melinda deLisle because we wanted to focus and concentrate our pro bono initiatives firmwide and make certain we have the right processes and opportunities in the firm to be able to handle pro bono matters.
CA: Has the hire of Melinda deLisle had an impact on the kind or amount of pro bono work Cozen's now handling?
VM: Yes in terms of the organization of our pro bono efforts. We have a lot of lawyers with pro bono interests but we have over twenty offices. Attorneys interested in veteran affairs, for example, might be spread across San Diego, New York and Washington, DC and Melinda was able to connect those groups on a national basis. Secondly, she serves as an incredible resource for lawyers who want to do pro bono and aren't sure how to go about it. She's been able to team up our experienced trial lawyers with early lawyers; it serves a dual purpose of helping those in need and provides a training and mentoring mechanism for our younger lawyers. Lastly, many of our clients have an interest in doing pro bono work themselves but don't have the infrastructure we have so they turn to us. We partner with many of our clients to handle pro bono projects and we've seen a healthy uptick in this type of participation.
CA: The associates we spoke to consider yourself and CEO Michael Heller to be approachable and noted that you maintain a visible presence around the firm. What do you do to ensure you're engaging with your associates?
VM: I started here out of law school – I've been here a very long time! I've been very fortunate and blessed to have a great experience in my career at this law firm. Personally I want to know that our young associates here are having a similarly positive and rewarding experience and Michael feels the same way. Michael recently initiated a new program; he goes out on a regular basis for lunch with associates, just one-on-one, and has regular group meetings with them. I think our associates recognize that we invest in them. We organize and go out of our way to attend events. This spring we have an all associates retreat. We hold an all-attorney retreat every other year and our next one will be in 2018, so we thought this year would be a useful opportunity to gather all our associates together to be able to connect with each other on a part social, part training basis. All this takes a lot of work for both Michael and I, but we both like doing it and I think the associates appreciate our sincerity.
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: $376,000,000
- Partners (US): 403
- Associates (US): 147
- Summer Salary 2017
- 1Ls: $2,200-$2800/week, varies by office
- 2Ls: $2,400-$3077/week, varies by office
- 1Ls hired? Yes
- Split summers offered? Case by case
- Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
- Summers 2017: 17 (2Ls)
- Offers/acceptances 2016: 13 offers, 12 acceptances
Main areas of work
Business/corporate, commercial litigation, government and regulatory, insurance coverage, institutional response, intellectual property, labor and employment, real estate, private client services, subrogation and recovery, transporation and trade.
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: 12
• Number of 2nd year associates: 13
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $125,000-$160,000 (varies by office)
• 2nd year: Non lock step, merit-based compensation
• Clerking policy: Yes
Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2017:
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.