After a year when the coronavirus pandemic changed much about the practice of law, Ken Frenchman ’99 joined several long-time colleagues in making a big change of their own: starting their own firm.
On January 5, Frenchman, Robin Cohen, Adam Ziffer, and Keith McKenna, along with 20 other attorneys and staff members, launched Cohen Ziffer Frenchman & McKenna. The four name partners most recently worked together at McKool Smith, where Cohen led the insurance recovery group. The new firm will have the same practice focus, representing policyholders in claims disputes with insurers. Frenchman will serve as managing partner.
“We have a tremendous amount of chemistry with each other,” says Frenchman about the team. “I do think we have different styles, particularly in how we practice the law…but we see eye to eye on the important things. And also, we like each other, and what we’re trying to build is more of a family than is possible in larger firms.”
Among the group’s victories was a $400 million recovery case for the New Jersey Transit Corporation for losses caused by the 2012 Superstorm Sandy. On the day the new firm opened its doors, Frenchman was arguing in an appeal in the case before the Supreme Court of New Jersey, after having the original trial court grant of summary judgment affirmed by the appellate division of the New Jersey Superior Court.
“To me, rather than being on our heels, I like to be the aggressor, and I like to be trying to get that recovery, and it’s always fit very well with my personality,” Frenchman says. “…There’s a little bit of that me against the world mentality, which I find a lot of fun.” Besides the excitement of trial, what he enjoys most about his practice is the diversity of subject matter, Frenchman says, pointing to cases involving product liability, pharmaceuticals, environmental liability, securities, and weather patterns of hurricanes, among other things.
NYU Law prepared him to be a confident litigator and helped give him hands-on experience in a range of practice areas, he says. “I chose NYU Law because I knew that the professors there all had long histories of direct legal practice, and I wanted to learn not just from academics, but from practitioners,” says Frenchman. He cites a clinical course with Professor Kim Taylor-Thompson and a clinic that allowed him to work in the civil division of the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York as among the most influential aspects of his legal education.
After law school, Frenchman joined the litigation department of a small New York firm that merged with Dickstein Shapiro. Through this merger, Frenchman met all three of his future name partners at Cohen Ziffer. After leaving Dickstein Shapiro, they worked for six years at Kasowitz, Benson & Torres before joining McKool Smith.
“These were places with really good litigation platforms, with aggressive litigation,” says Frenchman. “So those were good places for us to expand and develop our practice. But we’ve gotten to the point where we no longer felt like we needed any sort of platform, and that clients were coming to us for our reputation and our expertise. So why not be a little entrepreneurial and build out a specialized law firm on our own?”
In their new firm, Frenchman says, he and his partners will continue to represent many previous clients, while also tackling new COVID-related work, as companies seek to recover under business interruption policies. He expects no shortage of business. “But what’s most exciting to me about starting our own firm,” he says, “is just to set the culture how we want it, to bring in the type of people that we like working with…[and to build] something that we can all be proud of.”
Posted January 21, 2021