Stewart Bernstiel Adds Cozen Lawyers, Changes Firm Name

, The Legal Intelligencer

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Blue Bell, Pa.-based insurance defense firm Stewart Bernstiel & Rebar has changed its name to Stewart Bernstiel Rebar & Smith with the addition of Michael J. Smith as a shareholder from Cozen O'Connor.

Joining Smith at the firm is Bryan Petrilla, who comes to Stewart Bernstiel as a partner.

According to Stewart Bernstiel managing partner Cathleen Kelly Rebar, Smith, as a shareholder and name partner, has an equity interest in the firm, while Petrilla, as a partner, does not.

Both Smith and Petrilla were members at Cozen O'Connor.

The move comes on the heels of the announcement that San Francisco-based Gordon & Rees is planning to open a Philadelphia office with eight partners from Cozen O'Connor's insurance and commercial litigation teams.

Stewart Bernstiel principal William F. Stewart said Smith brings a significant book of business and a national reputation in complex insurance litigation to the firm, noting that there "was really no question" whether Smith would be made a name partner.

"We didn't go looking to expand," Stewart said. "There are just very few people who share our values the way Mike did. He has a tremendous work ethic and is really respected not just in the region but throughout the country as a premier insurance coverage litigator."

Smith said he's known and worked with Stewart, firm principal Cynthia Bernstiel and several other members of the firm for years, so in a lot of ways joining Stewart Bernstiel felt like "coming home."

"A lot of the people I've come to consider as being part of the same team are already here," Smith said, adding that he was drawn to the firm's "highly-specialized expertise" in insurance coverage defense.

Stewart said Smith's and Petrilla's practice fits nicely with both his own practice, which centers on complex coverage litigation, and Rebar's practice, which focuses largely on professional liability defense.

Smith said he and Petrilla also have experience in insurance bad-faith defense, which has become an increasingly prominent portion of their practices recently.

"One of the things that I think is becoming more and more of a focus for my clients is extra-contractual/bad-faith exposure," Smith said, explaining that the exposure in those cases "can be astronomical."

"That's where you really get some huge verdicts," he said.

Smith said that in addition to the many relationships he already had at Stewart Bernstiel, he was also attracted to the firm's attentiveness to its clients' strategic goals on a case-by-case basis, noting that it's important for litigators to know when to, for example, resolve a case through mediation or settlement rather than take it to trial and vice versa.

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