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Message From the Executive Committee

June 1, 2013

By Christopher E. Dougherty, Esquire, Member of the Executive Committee

 

            "Where we stand is not as important as the direction in which we are moving. "

                                    -- Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

 

Recently, our firm experienced an unexpected change. Due to unanticipated health concerns, Phil Toran -- the architect of our Professional Liability Department -- resigned from Marshall Dennehey.

Phil created our firm's Professional Liability Department. He had been its undeniable catalyst over the past two decades. Phil led us to new lines of work and to international clientele. To say that Phil's departure is a loss to the firm and to the Professional Liability Department is a classic understatement. Nonetheless, to our professional liability clients -- and to this firm -- I humbly yet eagerly accept the challenges of the positions I inherit from Phil: Director of the Professional Liability Department and member of the firm’s Executive Committee.

I am quite fortunate to have been the beneficiary of Phil's close tutelage for over twelve years. As Phil's Assistant Director, he exposed me to every facet of departmental operations. He acquainted me with every aspect of the Professional Liability Department’s unique client relations.

Phil was passionate about client service, and he advanced our firm's Mission Statement every day. I inherited Phil’s commitment in this regard, and I will go on record to our clients that our firm’s Mission Statement will be my guidepost for the type of service we will provide to you.

  • We at Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin maintain a steadfast commitment to providing our clients with a consistently high level of defense representation and service.
  • Our firm is committed to providing our clients with professional, responsive and courteous treatment from all of our staff members.
  • The firm remains competitive in the constantly changing market for defense legal services by creating and implementing innovative and effective methods of providing cost-effective, quality representation and services for our clients.
  • We will continue to meet and strive to exceed the expectations of our valued clients.

 

I want to share with you some of the initiatives we are implementing. They demonstrate our commitment to exceed your expectations for many years to come.

We have a robust Training and Professional Development Directorate chaired by Larry Schempp, Esquire. Larry goes to great lengths to ensure that our attorneys receive needed professional development tailored to their experience levels. Professional training begins with a two-day seminar at which our attorneys learn the essentials of the insurance industry, the elements of the tripartite relationship, the requirement to know and understand clients' guidelines, and the basics of firm operations.

Additionally, last year alone, we conducted 116 continuing legal education (CLE) sessions firmwide. We expect to surpass that figure this year. We recently gathered all of our Florida associates for a two-day training evolution. Substantive presentations were provided to our associates about valuing cases for settlement and how to prepare for and present an effective opening statement. We also provided an Ethics CLE regarding the fundamental responsibilities owed to our clients. Later in 2013, we will conduct a similar conference for our attorneys in Western Pennsylvania, and another later in the year for the attorneys in Central and Northeastern Pennsylvania.

Additionally, as we did last year, we will conduct four professional liability-specific CLE sessions for our professional liability attorneys – one session per quarter. Terry Lefco presented the first CLE session, shared via video teleconferencing to five other offices, which dealt with the use of expert witnesses in professional liability cases. John Hare, our Appellate Department chair, will present another CLE concerning how to preserve appellate issues during trial. Our workers' compensation department attorneys attend a discipline-specific CLE every month.

We acutely recognize that the opportunities for actual trials diminish each year. Parties use mediations, arbitrations and other alternative dispute resolution mechanisms more frequently. We are very grateful to our business partners who share our concern for the paucity of real training opportunities for our younger attorneys. They realize that this is an industry-wide challenge. Many have been very receptive to our requests (in the right cases) for younger attorneys to second chair a trial and to permit those attorneys to handle certain segments of the trial. We will continue to make these requests in the appropriate cases, and we are open to rate reductions for these actual trial experiences.

We are constantly exploring other opportunities for "real-world" litigation experiences. We have partnered with Widener University and its Veterans Law Clinic. Eight of our attorneys will be working on a pro bono basis this year defending veterans in the pursuit of VA claims and appeals.

To further demonstrate our commitment to providing our clients with a consistently high level of defense and service, we spent approximately $2 million last year installing a new time and billing system. With 60% of our clients now using electronic billing systems, our new system will give us greater flexibility and timeliness in furnishing our invoices to you in the form that you want them. Additionally, we have identified for each client a singular representative in the Billing and Accounting Department responsible for your billing needs. Your questions about uploading invoices and being responsive to electronic billing issues will be managed more effectively.

To ensure that costs are maintained and minimized, our IT Department is implementing various initiatives to take advantage of free or low-cost video teleconferencing technology. This would include Skype, FaceTime, WebEx and other means by which our attorneys can meet with insurers and clients without incurring travel costs. We are equipping two more of our offices with video teleconference capability, which will make "meetings" with clients, witnesses and insurers less expensive.

We will earnestly continue to conduct internal audits of all attorneys' files annually. This year, we hired another auditor. Our team now consists of three retired shareholders and three former claims managers who will criss-cross our firm reviewing files to ensure that your client guidelines are met by our attorneys. Moreover, we will continue to employ our internal roundtable program wherein cases with complexity or high exposure are analyzed among senior attorneys. We want to ensure that no stone is unturned in the preparation of a roundtabled case as it proceeds toward trial.

Our firm is distinct because it seeks out opportunities for its personnel -- attorneys and staff alike. I am a grateful beneficiary of this firm trademark. While our firm adjusts to inexorable change, and while I transition into my new responsibilities, I will be guided by our firm's mission statement which, when followed, will inure to the benefit of our clients and advance our prized positive firm culture.

I, also, am honored to follow the course so capably charted by my predecessor, Phil Toran – to whom I publicly wish: fair winds and following seas.

Defense Digest, Vol. 19, No. 2, June 2013

Affiliated Attorney

Christopher E. Dougherty
Chairman of the Board of Directors; Director, Professional Liability Department
(215) 575-2733
cedougherty@mdwcg.com

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