Steve Cozen Profile: The Inside Man

Whether he’s suing big corporations in disaster cases or Saudi Arabia over 9/11, Steve Cozen has built his career siding with the underdog. Now, with his hands in both casino deals, has the ultimate outsider become the quintessential insider?

And pretty soon Cozen’s firm had first crack at every juicy property-related calamity in the land — the sweetest fires, the most majestic collapses, the major disasters of the 20th and now the 21st centuries. Three Mile Island. The Hyatt Regency skywalk collapse. The MGM Grand fire. The San Juan Dupont fire. The One Meridian Plaza fire. 9/11. Even Enron. When Enron melted down and the banks got burned—a disaster of a different nature — JPMorgan Chase sued the insurance companies that had insured the deals, one of which was Chubb, a client of Cozen’s. So Cozen ended up in the middle of the Enron litigation, too. It was beauty itself. There no longer had to be smoke or twisted steel for Cozen to swoop in and clean up the rubble. “If it’s a catastrophe, we were there,” Cozen tells me. And lest I misunderstand: “We didn’t cause it, but we were there.”



BUT OF COURSE, Cozen didn’t just want to be a master of disaster — the head of a well-regarded insurance firm. Insurance work is low-prestige. He wanted to run a full-service corporate firm: higher fees, more respect. “We always felt limited only by the scope of our vision,” Cozen says.

In January 1995, he took advantage of a toxic cloud of morale at Wolf Block to lure 10 of that firm’s best attorneys to 1900 Market Street. They were corporate lawyers, mostly, and they found a very different culture when they arrived at Cozen — one that was set up not like a traditional legal partnership, but more like a business, with a CEO and clear decision-makers. “We wanted transparency, we wanted meritocracy,” Cozen says. Cozen’s base salaries were low, but aggressive lawyers were offered a piece of the upside. “If people came in, we’d say, what are you makin’?” says Pat O’Connor. “A hundred? Okay, you’ll make 80. But if you’re good, you’ll make 150. And they came.” And if they didn’t come of their own accord, Cozen went after them. One day in the mid-’90s, he met Mark Aronchick at a legal function somewhere and the two men got to talking. Aronchick and others had just formed a new mid-size firm, Hangley Aronchick. “He said, ‘That’s great! It’s a lot of fun having your own firm,’” Aronchick recalls. “‘But you should really be thinking about joining us.’ I said, ‘Oh, I think we’re gonna do great, we know what we’re doing.’ And then he said, ‘Nah.’”