By Gina Passarella
Of the Legal Staff
Cozen O’Connor is in the process of implementing the final stages of moving the law firm from first- to second-generation leadership.
Come January 2013, current president and executive partner Michael Heller will become president and chief executive officer of Cozen O’Connor. Thomas A. “Tad” Decker, the current CEO, ceded the title of president to Heller last year and will now relinquish his role as CEO. Decker will take on a vice chairman position and remain actively involved in the firm’s strategic growth initiatives. He will also become actively involved in Cozen O’Connor Public Strategies, an ancillary business of the firm. The role of executive partner held by Heller will no longer exist.
Decker had been hired back to Cozen O’Connor from the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Board in 2007 to take over certain leadership roles from founders Stephen A. Cozen and Patrick J. O’Connor. Both name partners still sit on an advisory board at the firm to help come up with solutions to problems the firm is facing. Also on that board are vice chairmen John J. Cunningham III and F. Warren Jacoby, former Wolf Block leader Mark Alderman and former Blank Rome leader David Girard-diCarlo, who is retiring from the practice of law this year.
Heller said that rather than sharing the firm’s leadership responsibilities, he will have full responsibility for the firm’s strategic growth. Heller said he would work with managing partner Vincent R. McGuinness Jr. and chief operating officer Dave Ellman to carry out the firm’s latest strategic plan, which is in its final stages of drafting.
“History has shown that it is a very difficult transition from a first-generation firm to a second-generation firm,” Heller said. “We got lucky because Tad really was the perfect person to lead that transition for a lot of reasons.”
Heller said Decker has been generous in partnering with Heller over the past several years in managing the firm and allowing Heller to take a leadership role in Cozen O’Connor’s lateral acquisition program.
Heller himself was the first lateral corporate partner Cozen O’Connor ever hired when he joined the firm in 1995 from Wolf Block. He subsequently helped Cozen O’Connor hire more than 65 Wolf Block attorneys upon that firm’s dissolution in March 2009. There have been a number of other lateral acquisitions in the last few years, including in New York and Texas and in the intellectual property and labor and employment practice areas.
Heller said the plan moving forward is to continue that growth both geographically and in terms of the practice diversity he said the firm has achieved over the last three years.
While Cozen O’Connor has done well at growing its litigation and reinsurance practices across the country, Heller said the firm needs to keep expanding its business practices west of the mid-Atlantic region. He said the firm would continue to look at Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Houston and Miami for that growth.
Heller said Cozen O’Connor’s unique practice mix, which has a strong history in subrogation and insurance work, is not something he wants to move away from. He said that unique mix has a lot to do with why the firm continued to grow profitably in the toughest economic climate of his generation.
Moving forward, Heller said his focus in terms of practice area growth will be on labor and employment, IP, real estate, commercial litigation, energy and utilities and the diversification of its insurance practice to continue the firm’s recent emphasis on reinsurance and bad-faith work. Cozen O’Connor is also looking to expand its subrogation practice in Canada. The firm already has a Toronto office.
Heller will officially take over as CEO on January 1. Cozen is still chairman of the firm. O’Connor is a vice chairman.