Healthy Growth Pattern Medical Malpractice Specialists Morrison, Mahoney & Miller Chart a Course

The Springfield office of the Boston law firm Morrison, Mahoney & Miller, LLP has charted strong growth in the past several years, due largely to continued success in the broad field of health care defense.


John Bagley doesn’t particularly like the phrase ‘satellite office,’ at least when applied to the facilities that comprise his firm.

That’s because, while the Boston-based company does, indeed, have a number of smaller offices in locations ranging from Springfield to New York to London, Bagley, a partner with the local operation, prefers to look upon them not as satellites, but as separate law firms — with the resources of a large, highly respect parent organization.

“Each office has a great deal of autonomy,” said Bagley, who came to the firm five years ago from the Springfield firm Egan, Flanagan and Cohen, “And they’re staffed by local talent; most of the lawyers in this office were born and raised in this area. We have a small-firm feel — but we also have that 500-pound gorilla in Boston that we can fall back on.”

At present, the Springfield office is the fastest-growing facility in the Morrison, Mahoney & Miller family, said Bagley, noting that it has added several lawyers in the past few years and, as a result, expanded its offices on the 25th floor of Tower Square. It has achieved such success, said Bagley, through continued growth of its medical malpractice work, one of the company’s primary specialty areas, and additional growth in the broad area of employment law.

He said that by focusing almost exclusively on defense work, at least in the medical malpractice arena, the company avoids the conflicts of interest that are common in malpractice work, while creating a specific niche in which to operate. Meanwhile, because it is a part of a much larger company, the Springfield office can provide cost-effective services due to the economies of scale that can be realized.

The firm has also earned a solid reputation for working with self-insured hospitals and health care systems, a growing trend in the industry, said Dennis Anti, another partner in the Springfield office who, like Bagley, focuses on health care defense. The firm represents Baystate Health System, Fallon Health Center, Boston Medical Center, and other self-insured entities, and has used this experience to grow its client list.

Mark Harty, managing partner of firm, told The Healthcare News that growth at the company’s eight offices, especially Springfield, has come from hiring locally based lawyers who know the market, its business community, its judges, and, in the case of the medical malpractice area, the key players in that sector and the specific challenges they are facing.

“That’s been the success formula in all our offices, and especially Springfield,” he said, while describing Western Mass. as a potentially strong growth area. “Our Springfield office has been doing very well, and that’s with the headwind of a soft economy.”

Corporate-wide, the firm keeps a fairly low profile, said Harty, and quietly goes its business — and its clients’ business. “We’ve won 12 consecutive jury trials since Jan. 1,” he said. “There are many firms that haven’t tried 12 jury trials in 12 years. I think that’s one of the reasons we’ve seen steady growth, especially in Springfield — we’ve shown people we have the ability to take a case all the way to verdict, and a successful verdict.”

The Healthcare News looks this month at how Morrison, Mahoney & Miller has achieved rapid and profound growth in the Springfield market, and, in so doing, we’ll provide some insight into the specialty area of health care defense.

Stating Their Case

Morrison, Mahoney & Miller was founded in Boston in 1948 by three young lawyers whose names now grace the letterhead. Since its creation, the hallmark of the firm’s practice has been work within the insurance industry. In many circles, it is regarded as the premier insurance defense firm in the Northeast.

Over the years, the firm has expanded its focus, and now represents a broad range of industry groups in professional liability cases, including accountants and security professionals, corporate directors and officers, design professionals, real estate brokers, agents, inspectors, and attorneys.

Harty was the 16th lawyer at the firm when he joined it in 1978, and there are now close to 150. This exponential growth has come through growth in several practice areas, as well as territorial expansion. In addition to corporate headquarters in Boston, the company has offices in Fall River, Hartford, London, New York, Providence, Springfield, and Worcester.

In all of those offices, and especially Springfield, medical malpractice work is the cornerstone of the firm’s business plan, and it’s an area that has seen significant changes in recent years.

Bagley told The Healthcare News that, contrary to popular belief, there has not been a marked increase in the number of medical malpractice cases in recent years. There have, however, been a number of large jury awards in such cases, and this has had a ripple effect throughout the medical community — and in the health care defense area of law.

“The filings have been stable, and the percentage of juries finding for doctors — about 80{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} — has remained the same, but the jury awards are higher,” he said, adding that there are a number of reasons for the latter. “Unquestionably, I think there’s a higher level of sophistication among juries now in terms of money and value, and with the exposure to large verdicts in the national media, I think the average jury is thinking in larger numbers now than they used to.

“Some people have the impression that we have a runaway jury system, or what some call a lottery mentality among juries,” he continued. “We haven’t found that to be the case, but, that said, the cost of malpractice insurance is high, and almost unavoidably so, and the amounts that doctors are being asked to pay is having a crippling effect on health care delivery.”

Indeed, the high cost of insurance is forcing some specialists to leave the state, retire early, or restructure their practice. Many ob/gyns, for example, have stopped delivering babies in the wake of skyrocketing increases in premiums, focusing on the gynecological side of their practice.

In the legal community, meanwhile, the huge seven- and eight-figure awards bring more pressure to those handling cases, but also more emphasis on smart representation and spending clients’ money wisely.

This is where experience comes into play, said Anti, noting that Morrison, Mahoney & Miller has developed a solid reputation for representing not only insurance companies — who pay the legal bills when their clients have malpractice claims brought against them — but also other entities, including self-insured hospitals and health care systems.

Instead of buying insurance, self-insured facilities like Baystate Health System put together a pool of money and pay successful claims from that fund, Anti explained, adding that such clients take a different approach than those represented by insurance companies.

“These hospitals and systems actually become mini-insurance companies,” he explained, adding that coverage usually extends well beyond medical malpractice and into such areas as workers’ compensation and slip-and-fall incidents. “And with a self-insured hospital, it’s their money; they have a direct interest in every dollar paid out.

“Every dollar they spend from an expense standpoint, any dollar they spend from an indemnity standpoint — it’s their dollar,” he continued. “So we’ve found that they work more closely with us, because they have more money to protect and their exposure is greater.”

A growing number of health care systems are taking the self-insurance route, he said, and the firm’s broad level of experience in that area leaves it well-positioned to achieve continued growth, both in Western Mass. and across the Northeast.

Bagley said the growth of the Springfield office’s health care defense specialty area has been the result of team-building and a solid track record in the field. Bagley brought years of experience in the medical malpractice arena with him from Egan Flanagan, and Anti did the same, coming over from another Springfield firm, Keyes & Donnellan.

The Springfield office also has two RN JDs — registered nurses with law degrees — as associates. “They bring to a case not only the legal expertise, but also the medical background, which is invaluable.”

Convincing Arguments

While health care defense has been the specialty with the most profound growth, there have been many other areas where business has picked up in recent years, said Bagley, noting that the Springfield firm has gone from two lawyers to 14 in the last 15 years.

He told The Healthcare News that the firm’s strategy for the past several years has been to maintain and expand its medical malpractice work while growing other specialties. In both cases, the philosophy is to take advantage of what Bagley called “a small-firm flavor with a regional firm’s clout.”

The corporation also wants to take full advantage of its vast experience, inside and outside the courtroom.

“We have lawyers here who don’t just talk about trying cases … they’ve actually tried cases,” he said. “And it’s like any other profession — it’s one thing to go to school to learn how to build a bridge, but until you’ve built one, you don’t know how. The more bridges you’ve built, the more proficient you are, and that applies to surgeons and to lawyers as well.”

One area that has witnessed continued growth has been the broad realm of employment law. Like other firms in the area, Morrison, Mahoney & Miller has seen an increase in the amount of work with discrimination cases, wrongful termination, and non-compete agreements.

The company has also been doing a considerable amount of work in the area of advising clients on litigation avoidance.

“We’ve seen a lot of growth in this area, and I think it’s a result of our track record in the courtroom,” he said, noting that the firm has conducted a number of seminars on the subject. “We have this belief that the lawyer who’s in the best position to offer advice on how to avoid litigation is probably a lawyer that’s handled litigation and understands litigation.”

Bagley said another key to Morrison, Mahoney & Miller’s success is its ability to produce cost-effective results for clients. The firm doesn’t charge the highest hourly rates possible, he explained, and it explores options such as alternative dispute resolution (ADR) to keep the cost of resolving a matter low.

“At the end of the day, you don’t need clients losing out because the amount of the legal fees exceeded the amount at stake in the litigation,” he said. “A lot of business clients are fearful of litigation and the cost of litigation, to the extent that they won’t even pick up the phone and call us. Instead, they’ll try to work it out on their own, which is usually disastrous.

“I think we surprise some of these people,” he continued, “by showing them that it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg to achieve a successful result.”
Looking forward, Bagley said the future of the Springfield branch looks very bright. The office has a number of experienced lawyers, he explained, but none who are approaching retirement age.

“By age, we’re still what most would call a young firm,” he said. “Most of our lawyers are under 50, which means they’re at their peak for litigation lawyers; we’re experienced, but we don’t have people wondering about whether it’s time to retire.”

Closing Arguments

Echoing Bagley’s sentiments about the term ‘satellite office,’ Harty stressed that Morrison, Mahoney & Miller’s Springfield facility is “not a mailbox drop for a Boston firm.”

It is not an independent law firm, he explained, but a largely autonomous business with aggressive growth plans and strategic initiatives to realize those goals.
And thanks to a solid base in health care defense work, it should have a very healthy future.