by Brian Hemsworth | January 10, 2018 2:12 pm
Ian Corzine, of West Corzine, LLP is not your stereotypical insurance litigator, nor is he your stereotypical attorney.
For those following him on social media, you’d think he’s a friend of an adventurer like Richard Branson. He’s often found skiing or hiking or traveling or spending time with his kids. But don’t let that fool you. Ian Corzine is a partner at a firm that is fast becoming a powerhouse in the insurance and business litigation world.
He’s an active networker and leads a ProVisors group in Calabasas. When he’s not doing that, he finds time to be an author on legal issues. Despite his busy schedule, we recently caught up with Ian long enough to find out what makes him tick, and what has made their firm successful with its growing list of clients.
SCP: Tell us a little about your background, your upbringing, and how you became a lawyer.
Corzine: I grew up in a small town—now a bigger one—called Pleasanton, Calif. It was kind a like a “Stand by Me” type childhood. Mostly outdoors, playing basketball until sunset, building forts and having dirt clod wars, having mini-Olympics for local kids in our neighborhoods. We never found a dead body, though.
I always say I have “dual citizenship” for Northern and Southern California. My parents moved in my junior year of high school to Thousand Oaks to start their dream: a retail furniture store called Thomasville Home Furnishings. It was tough making the transition, but the adversity gave me my love of performance—which I have translated to the courtroom (and sometimes, ProVisors meetings). My parents’ business grew and grew. Eventually, they had stores in Encino, Northridge, Agoura and Santa Barbara. I earned my living during high school and college summers working as a maintenance man—fixing stuff that broke, doing construction work, and even vacuuming in the early morning, for hours on end, in dark commercial spaces. I would listen endlessly to Zeppelin CD’s. That’s when I learned that manual labor was not for me.
I did well in high school and attended U.C. Davis undergrad with my NorCal friends. I majored in Rhetoric & Communications, which I loved. Public speaking was what I really came to enjoy.
I also liked politics. My sister jokes that I was the only big brother in the world with photos of Ronald Reagan and LL Cool J on my wall. So, during undergrad, I started interning at Governor Pete Wilson’s Office. I eventually made my way up the ranks, and the Governor created a special job classification for me. I got paid about $40,000 a year to be Executive Assistant to the Chief of Staff Bob White. I thought I was rich!
After a year or two toiling as staff, I mentioned to the Governor that I wanted to be where he was. He said, “You need to go to law school.” He recommended McGeorge School of Law in Sacramento, which is where I ended up going.
During law school, I really loved courtroom instruction. Eventually, I worked my way into a program of the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California (Sacramento) in which non-attorneys were hired from law school to act as Special Assistant U.S. Attorneys. They prosecuted low-grade federal crimes, like DUIs on military bases, theft of government property worth less than $1,000, and various Vehicle Code violations. During my time doing criminal trials, I met federal judge U.S. Magistrate Peter A. Nowinski. Over time, he agreed to hire me as a Federal Judicial Law Clerk, which was quite an honor. I was the only one in the Eastern District. Then I made $46,000 a year!
After my year term as a Judicial Law Clerk, I went back to the U.S. Attorneys Office. I wanted to be a full-fledged Assistant U.S. Attorney—or maybe someday, The U.S. Attorney. The office said I needed civil experience. So I looked into moving to the best place for that—Los Angeles!
SCP: How did you get into the insurance area of practice as an attorney?
Corzine: In L.A., I went to work for a mid-sized law firm called, Monteleone & McCrory. M&M practiced primarily construction civil law. However, often there was an interplay with insurance law, because Commercial General Liability (“CGL”) policies of contractors often covered various construction defects, which were at the heart of various disputes. Nobody at the firm liked insurance law work, except one partner. I wanted to make my way up the ladder. By this time, I had a family and was losing interest in having a U.S. Attorney badge. So, I worked my butt off to learn that area of the law, and soon became the “go to” associate for insurance law. I enjoyed it because I found I was always representing a client (i.e., the contractor or business) that had a good case. The insurance company was always trying to get out of paying a claim.
Well, after a few years passed, it was getting to the point where I was being considered for partnership. I did not want to spend my life working in downtown L.A. The commute was killing me. I met my current partner, Gene West, at a mediation. We were representing opposing sides. He liked what he saw and offered me a position. I started in 2002 and became his partner in 2007. The rest is history.
SCP: What are some of the trends you are seeing this area of law?
Corzine: There’s a lot going on. Here’s some of what we are currently seeing:
SCP: West Corzine is growing and the firm just moved into new offices. Is this a result of the market growing, or that you’re getting known as one of the leading law firms practicing in insurance litigation?
Corzine: Our firm is growing for two reasons. First, it’s because of the market for our services (i.e., large loss claims handling and “bad faith” litigation for insurance companies who fail to pay claims when they should). Second, our notoriety in the industry is getting us the big cases with multi-millions of dollars in the balance.
SCP: Tell us a little about your client base. Are they local, distant, large businesses, small, or individuals?
Corzine: The majority of our client base is small to medium-sized businesses, across the country (we even have a case now venued in Toronto) with cases valued at between $300,000 and $20 million.
SCP: What did the great recession of 2008/2009 do to your practice areas? Is litigation up since then? What are some of the hottest or most active areas right now?
Corzine: It increased business. The insurance industry is one of the true recession-resistant businesses. When people have no money, they look to other sources. Often times those sources are large insurance funds. They need West Corzine to represent them and access those funds.
I think the hottest area for me is D&O (Directors and Officers). These insurance policies are omnipresent with most businesses. They have fairly broad coverage. Negligent misrepresentation—in my experience, most business deal includes at least one “negligent misrepresentation.”
SCP: You’re an active guy, an adventure guy, and family man. How do you balance work and life?
Corzine: I guess I strive for context. I do a meditative practice as well as frequent exercise. This helps remind me that no matter what the clients’ trauma—it is not mine—I am just an adviser. They need to see that I am calm, results driven, but have boundaries. I find that if you take control in the situation, you can manage expectations so that the client does not manage you!
SCP: What are some of your non-work activities. What are your favorites?
Corzine: Maybe you should ask, “What are the things you don’t like to do?” I hate to rake leaves! My primary passion is spending time with my daughters, Maddy (14) and Charley (4). We love the outdoors—snowboarding, skiing, mountain biking, hiking, fly-fishing, scuba diving, paddle boarding, and kayaking. We have a bunch of outdoor toys.
SCP: You and your firm have received a lot of attention, awards, and accolades. What do those mean to the firm, and what words of advice would you give to new attorneys just coming out of law school?
Corzine: We are certainly proud of the awards, but they do not drive us. Our goal is do right by our families, our faith, our community, and our business, and let the chips fall where they may.
For new attorneys—being a lawyer is awesome! In what other profession do you bill by the 1/10 of an hour for thinking? You will do well financially as an attorney, but the flip side is that you have to really work hard. If you want to get to a place where others work for you, then major in business and get an MBA. Find a business niche no one is in, make a killing, and sell it.
I was taught by other stellar business professionals that you need to work into your business charitable time and contributions. It takes your passion to the next level, seeing how you can help people. Tom Means, one of those who taught me that, and I were some of the founders of Hope’s Haven. One of the best experiences of my life was taking an idea for a charity, discussing it in our living rooms, and turning it into multi-hundred thousand dollar donations for families with life-threatening diseases and ailments. •
Hope’s Haven Children’s Charity is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization in Ventura County that is dedicated to enriching the quality of lives of children facing life threatening illnesses and serious injuries. They work directly with County hospitals, clinics and social workers to provide financial and emotional support for families during treatment. One of their long-term programs is to deliver iPads to all of the pediatric hospital beds within Ventura County. This allows children to communicate, interact, be encouraged and entertained while undergoing medical care. Hope’s Haven is able to lighten the load during the most challenging times when children and their families need it most. www.hopes-haven.org.
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