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SEPTEMBER 19, 2007

Scott Gilbert, Chairman, Gilbert Randolph

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Former Covington and Dickstein partner Scott Gilbert bolted big firm life six years ago to hang out his own shingle and pursue his dream of motorcycles, blue jeans, and pro bono work. In his New York Avenue offices this morning, he told us the move has allowed him and his partners to live out their “do well, have fun, and put back” mantra.

Office décor is closer to Hard Rock Café than downtown law firm. Parked in the reception area are a Ducati MH900E and a Harley Davidson V Rod. Scott rides a motorcycle most days from his Potomac home.

Scott left Dickstein Shapiro in 2001, bringing with him fellow partners David Killalea, Rachel Kronowitz, Bette Orr, Mark Packman and Richard Shore. He also brought in John Heintz of Howrey and Jerome Randolph of Keating, Muething and Klekam. After years of big firm life, Scott, a preeminent insurance recovery practitioner, saw an opportunity to create a smaller firm that could play by different rules.

Those rules? Jimi Hendrix pictures in the office and no dress code, for starters. And, the firm embraces fixed and contingency fee arrangements in addition to regular hourly billing rates. This combined with no minimum hourly requirement for its lawyers allows the firm to avoid traditional big firm leverage where profitability depends on each partner’s being supported by some number of associates.

Scott points out a 2003 picture of the Grateful Dead. It was taken shortly after a concert in California where Scott managed to get invited on stage to sing “Casey Jones.”

Unlike mega-firms that hold annual or bi-annual partner meetings, Gilbert Randolph’s partners meet monthly so everyone knows what is going on at all times. “I am aware of, if not involved in, most matters at the firm,” says Scott, who divides his time equally among managing, rainmaking, and working on cases. Today, Gilbert Randolph has 35 lawyers and has no plans to grow beyond 50. The firm is able to recruit against the heavyweights because it offers something quite different while matching or exceeding market compensation. Two years ago the firm started recruiting on law school campuses and put in a summer associate program. Now it regularly visits UVA, Georgetown, and Chicago, among other schools.

The firm specializes in insurance recovery, which is where Scott made his name, and which he tells us is an accident. As a summer associate at Covington, he was assigned to write a memo about an insurance issue for one of the firm’s clients. He took the assignment back to the University of Chicago and worked on it for another week, before submitting it (along with a bill). Then, as a first-year associate, Scott was invited to work on another insurance recovery case for a client that, almost 30 years later, he still represents. All this led to Scott’s being the primary negotiator and author of the Wellington Agreement, a mass asbestos settlement that set a standard for how many insurance recovery deals are done.

The guitars from the Grateful Dead jam session are enshrined in the firm’s offices. The avid guitar player, motorcyclist and racecar driver is about to take on a case in his personal life—he’s getting married later this year.

Gilbert Randolph has had its ups and downs. In 2003, the firm did so well that Scott chartered a jumbo jet and flew all lawyers, staff and families to Puerto Rico for a five-day, all-expenses-paid trip. On the other hand, ‘06 was bumpy thanks to a conflict-of-interest dispute concerning former asbestos client Congoleum Corp., which led to a $9M settlement and the departure of former name partner John Heintz. The key, Scott says, is to learn from adverse experiences so that you are stronger. And the firm did that, avoiding the loss of clients and continuing to grow its business and hire new talent. Indeed, this past summer, the firm settled an insurance coverage dispute for long-time client ACandS, recovering $449 million.

In the “put back” department, Scott says 8-10% percent of his lawyers’ time is spent on pro bono work and he’d like that ultimately to grow to 25%. Beneficiaries include the Washington Legal Aid Society and various services for the homeless and battered women.

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