By Ian Goodman, Cantrell Strenski & Mehringer LLP
This is the first of the Indianapolis Bar Association’s Insurance Coverage Section’s attorney spotlight pieces. From time to time, we’ll write about insurance coverage practitioners. This month’s piece is a question-and-answer-style between Ian Goodman, a member of the Insurance Coverage Section Executive Committee and an attorney at Cantrell Strenski & Mehringer, and Anna Mallon, a partner at Cantrell Strenski & Mehringer.
IG: Describe your career path.
AM: During law school, I clerked at McHale Cook & Welch, and then McHale Cook & Welch merged with Bingham Sommers Welsh and Spillman to form Bingham McHale. I started as a first-year associate at Bingham McHale in 2002. At first, my practice was 50 percent in the matrimonial group and 50 percent in the insurance practice group. Within a year of practicing, I gravitated towards the insurance work that I was doing more than the matrimonial work. Dennis Cantrell was the chair of the insurance practice group, and I asked him if he had a need to have me in his group full-time, and he said yes. My practice at Bingham was mostly insurance coverage and insurance bad faith work.
In 2009, when I’d been practicing a little over six years, some of the members of the insurance practice group left Bingham McHale and formed Cantrell Strenski & Mehringer (CSM). I joined CSM and made partner in 2012. Today, my practice is a mix of coverage files and defense files.
IG: With the benefit of hindsight, how’s the move from Bingham to CSM worked out for you?
AM: For me, the change in firms wasn’t much of a transition because I was still working with the same people and working on the same types of cases. But, I like the idea of a boutique firm handling the kind of work we do – insurance litigation. It gives us more flexibility as far as taking on different types of work in the insurance area and expanding to other areas, as well. For me, it has always been about liking who you work with every day whether that is in a big or small large firm.
IG: You mentioned that you have some of your own files, and I know that you have not some, but several of your own files. How did that occur?
AM: I owe a lot of that to the partners that I worked with through the years. Both Dennis Cantrell and Jim Strenski have transitioned files to me. Also, Barb Jones (former partner of CSM) was an excellent coverage attorney and had her own practice. As she started nearing retirement, I started helping her out more on some of her files and got to know her clients. Barb was instrumental in helping me build the relationship. Cindy Locke (former attorney at CSM) also made connections for me. Once the connection is made, you have to do good work. I think clients understand that a transition may occur, but to keep the relationship you have to do high-quality work.
Another way to build the practice is to present at seminars and write articles and show your expertise in the area. For example, I recently presented at a conference in the area of insurance law. Right after speaking I was approached by a representative of an insurance carrier and asked if I would like to be on the carrier’s panel for their coverage work and potentially defense too. You can go back and forth on whether the bang is worth the buck, but I think that is a direct example of the time and work involved in presenting at a seminar paying off.
IG: Talk about how you’ve seen the role of women in the law evolve.
AM: At the highest level of law firms, I still don’t think females are nearly as represented as males, and there are a host of reasons for that. I still often feel that I am one (if not the only) woman in the room at global mediations and hearings. More women are going to law school so the profession needs to look at ways to retain and promote women in the profession and in law firms particularly. Our firm has recently heard from several clients about the importance of diversity in terms of the lawyers working on their files. And diversity means more than just gender. Law firms will need to staff their cases with diverse talents to maintain and attract new clients. Also, I think women are looking to help other women in their careers. So, when a woman takes a leadership role in a company, they may be on the lookout for a female lawyer to represent them. Quality work is still the number one criteria, but I think there’s a push to make the attorney panel more diverse.
IG: How have you seen the law in your practice area change during your career?
AM: I don’t think insurance bad faith law has changed much. The Erie v. Hickman case is still the seminal case with the heightened clear and convincing standard. But, when I first started practicing, it seemed plaintiffs’ lawyers, in breach of contract cases, always included a claim for bad faith. Now, there’s less of that, and it seems a little more thought is put into whether the facts give rise to a bad faith claim. It’s also probably because bad faith in Indiana is very difficult to prove. Otherwise, I’ve seen plaintiffs’ lawyers get more creative with their claims against carriers. We see negligence and fraud claims and claims under the Unfair Claims Practices Act and the Crime Victims Relief Act. So, even where there isn’t a bad faith claim, we’re seeing more than a claim for breach of contract. I think insurance coverage law is always changing. New provisions and endorsements are being interpreted by courts every day so it is an area of law that is constantly evolving, making it an interesting area to practice.
Anna Mallon is a partner at Cantrell Strenski & Mehringer, LLP. Anna concentrates her practice in the areas of insurance coverage, insurance bad faith, third-party defense of insureds, and personal injury defense.