Photo provided by Jenner & Block.
Editor's Note: Linda Kornfeld was at Jenner & Block at the time of the publishing of this article in April 2013. On May 20, 2013, the firm Kasowitz Benson Torres & Friedman announced that Kornfeld was joining the firm. On Oct. 2, 2017, Blank Rome LLP announced that it had acquired Kornfeld.
Jenner & Block partner Linda Kornfeld has a lot in common with today’s law school graduates. She graduated from George Washington University School of Law at the height of an economic recession, in the early 1990s. Her first position as a securities litigator fell through a day after she took the bar exam when the firm called to say the economy was forcing it to pay incoming associates to find other work.
“I called the other firm where I clerked during my second law school summer to get advice regarding what to do, and one of the two head coverage partners, Kirk Pasich, who was in search of a first-year coverage lawyer, hired me on the spot,” says Kornfeld, who is based in Los Angeles. “Twenty-two years later, and I’m still loving that field of practice.”
In that 22-year period, Kornfeld not only learned to love the insurance coverage litigation practice but also made a name for herself by amassing massive recoveries in the hundreds of millions of dollars for individual, institutional and corporate insurance policyholders, including utilities, movie studios, nonprofits, telecoms and real estate developers. She is currently helping Penn State University obtain insurance liability coverage for all expenses relating to the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse claims. In addition, she is representing businesses that suffered multi-million dollar losses after Hurricane Sandy with their insurance coverage disputes.
Lawdragon: You have established a really distinguished reputation as one of the country's top insurance coverage litigators. What makes it unique from other types of litigation?
Linda Kornfeld: Unlike most forms of corporate litigation, insurance recovery litigation helps corporate legal departments become profit centers as we help them maximize their insurance assets. Also, as world events happen, such as Superstorm Sandy, major bank failures, sex abuse scandals, and the like, insurance coverage issues follow. In many instances, no two coverage cases are the same. As a result, I regularly get to create new arguments to support coverage under policy language that has not previously been judicially interpreted. I love that, as an insurance recovery lawyer, I have so much opportunity to think creatively, create new law and help my clients recover millions in insurance assets.
LD: With natural and man-made disasters dominating the headlines these days, would you say these are high times for professionals like you?
LK: The Japan earthquake, the Thai floods, Hurricanes Irene and Lee, Superstorm Sandy, tornadoes and other disasters have dominated the headlines for the past two years. Unfortunately, with disasters comes substantial financial loss. And, given the interconnected nature of our global economy, regardless of where the disaster takes place, businesses around the world can lose business/profits. I have been quite busy in the last two years helping companies recover those losses. With each disaster comes a new coverage issue that often leads to insurer efforts to modify policy language to narrow the available insurance protection for the next disaster. As a result, I have been busy helping my clients during the policy procurement process to modify policy language to increase the chances that insurance will pay in the future.
LD: What's keeping you busy these days?
LK: The short answer: a lot. My partner Jerry Oshinsky and I are coverage counsel for Pennsylvania State University in the abuse claims regarding Jerry Sandusky. What does that mean? Penn State’s primary insurer for over 50 years, Pennsylvania Manufacturing Association, sued the University in response to its request for financial assistance in responding to the claims against Penn State regarding Sandusky’s conduct. We filed a countersuit breach of contract and bad faith and are representing Penn State in that litigation. We also are helping the University in its efforts to obtain, one, general liability insurer contributions to settlements with the individuals who have made claims regarding Sandusky, and two, directors and officers liability coverage to pay for the criminal and regulatory proceedings against certain former Penn State executives.
On the natural disaster front, I am addressing complicated issues regarding the availability of flood coverage for clients that suffered multi-million dollar losses in the Thai floods and Superstorm Sandy.
Earlier this year, we obtained a substantial trial court victory for the largest health care provider in Santa Barbara. Specifically, the court ruled on summary judgment that basic language in a Travelers’ directors and officers liability policy sold to healthcare providers nationwide is ambiguous. This meant that the insurer incorrectly denied coverage for bet-the-hospital antitrust litigation against our client. Two weeks before trial, we negotiated a confidential settlement, pursuant to which my client recovered all of its claimed damages, and almost all of the fees paid to pursue coverage.
LD: What do you consider is the key to your success in this field?
LK: Creative and analytical thinking. On a regular basis as an insurance recovery litigator I address fact patterns and policy language that I have not previously considered. This means that in order to convince the insurer or insurers to perform under their policies, I must apply one of my strongest skills, creative thinking, to come up with unique policy interpretation approaches that lead to successful recoveries for my clients. My ability to create unique and successful coverage arguments has been the key to my success.
LD: Let's talk about law school. What made you want to become a lawyer and what is your reason for going to George Washington?
LK: With respect to my interest in becoming a lawyer, I don’t know that I necessarily applied to law school because of an interest in practicing law. Instead, I was intrigued by the analytical process in which lawyers engage, and wanted the training to, in essence, “think like a lawyer.” I thought that the training to analyze issues in a lawyerly manner would help me in whatever business endeavors I ultimately pursued. However, once I got to law school I absolutely loved it and decided early on that litigation was my path. Washington, D.C., from my perspective, is one of the most beautiful cities. Having lived in Southern California most of my life before law school, I thought law school provided the chance to move east and diversify my geographic experience. At George Washington, I took full advantage of being at school in D.C. – I interned at the SEC, participated in election activities and walked my dog daily by the Supreme Court and Capital.
LD: What was your favorite class?
LK: I absolutely loved Contracts. Before law school, I had non expectation of how much I would enjoy taking apart contract language, creatively interpreting it and applying that interpretation to a certain set of facts to obtain a favorable result. It was my highest grade in law school, and every day I find myself applying the skills that I first learned my first year in Contracts, as I interpret insurance policies on behalf of my clients.
LD: What is the scariest or most exciting thing you've ever had to do while practicing law?
LK: The scariest and most exciting was my first opening statement before a jury and my first appellate argument. Both resulted in success. The scary part ended as soon as I stood up to argue, the most exciting part started at the very same moment.
LD: What's the most important advice orlesson you've ever gotten than contributed to your success?
LK: Three things. First, to most effectively advance your client’s interests it is important to have life balance – find something outside the law that provides a true escape from the law. I have done that successfully over the years with horses. Second, direct from Jerry Oshinsky, do not lose your case in the conference room. As lawyers we can spend a lifetime questioning from all sides the merits of an approach. So many lawyers can get so caught up in the “what ifs” that they lose the ability to do what’s necessary to get to the right result. Jerry’s advice has taught me to not over think issues when my gut knows the right approach.
Third, it is clearly true that one attracts more bees with honey than with vinegar. I was told early in my career that relationships are the key to accomplishing important goals. When representing my clients, I strive to establish strong working relationships with all relevant parties. Throughout my career that approach has, without a doubt, benefitted my clients’ interests and made the practice of law significantly more enjoyable.
LD: What interests you outside of law?
LK: The short answer: horses. I have been an equestrian since elementary school, and have a particular love for jumping horses. Apart from providing a complete escape from the daily stresses of practicing law, because of the intense focus that is required, I think that it is an amazing sport. Teaming up with a horse to successfully complete a course of fences is seriously exhilarating.