Fueled by a new round of work on oil spill settlement cases, Shockoe Bottom-based BrownGreer is hiring 800 people in 18 temporary offices in five states.
That’s all ramping up as the case involving BP and the Gulf Coast spill returns to the national headlines this week as the latest settlement — estimated to be between $7 billion and $8 billion — is being worked out in federal court.
Lawyers for 100,000 plaintiffs with unresolved claims of lost income, property damage and medical issues resulting from the spill are negotiating the second such settlement paid for by the British oil giant.
BrownGreer founding partner Orran Brown said the firm has to be ready for the flood of claims.
“There’s independent fisherman, huge seafood processing companies, waiters, hotels, photographers, lawyers, dentists,” Brown said. “Every type of occupation you can think of.”
Cases like these are BrownGreer’s bread and butter.
The 10-year-old firm has 600 employees in Richmond, made up of a mix of attorneys and claims reviewers who analyze claims on large settlement cases from oil spills to pharmaceuticals to Chinese drywall.
The firm has software developers that design and build programs so victims can submit claims online. Those claims are then vetted for eligibility, and when applicable, awarded money.
This is BrownGreer’s second go-round with BP.
The case, which is a result of the massive offshore spill of BP’s Deepwater Horizon oil rig in April 2010, paid almost $7 billion in claims in a first round of settlements.
BrownGreer began working the case in June 2010 when it was overseen by Ken Feinberg, a feisty attorney famous for handling claims for the victims of Sept. 11.
The latest settlement is another huge pot of money being paid by BP that will go to Gulf residents and businesses harmed by the oil spill.
To dish out those funds, BrownGreer is opening 18 claims centers in Louisiana, Florida, Alabama, Texas and Mississippi and adding hundreds of jobs.
The firm also leased 20,000 square feet in downtown New Orleans and will hire 400 people for that office.
Back when the BP work first started, BrownGreer leased 20,000 square feet in Innsbrook and began running two shifts of claims reviewers from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. five days a week.
“It’s a lot of work,” said Brown, who founded the firm with partner Lynn Greer. “But it’s good for us, and it’s good for Richmond.”
The firm at one point last year had 1,100 employees working the case.
In addition to attorneys, the employees it hires are claims reviewers who have some form of financial background. There are also managers to supervise those workers.
The bonanza is temporary, though.
BP settlements will be distributed through April 2014. That gives BrownGreer and the hundreds of employees on the case a couple of years of steady work.
“That’s the problem with our business. It’s a cycle,” Brown said. “We ramp up then wrap up and then ramp down.”
Things should be a bit smoother on the BP case this time around, Brown said.
The first settlement was rushed out two years ago while the oil was still spilling in the Gulf.
“It was chaotic in the beginning. It was a mushrooming problem with mushrooming emotions,” Brown said. “It’s much more streamlined and orderly now.”
Thousands of sad stories will have to sorted out.
“Like in every [settlement claims] program, there are always some tragic stories of people who are suffering and their livelihood has been impaired,” Brown said.
But there are also those who try to work the system.
People go to great lengths to make fake claims, including fabricating income statements, tax forms and paychecks, Brown said.
“Every program has fraud. We have a very extensive internal system to ferret that out,” he said.
Though rapid and temporary, BrownGreer’s case-by-case growth is also usually quiet.
It is typically prevented from saying much about its work.
Brown said, for example, that he’s prohibited from commenting on how much revenue the firm has brought in from the BP case.
“A lot of people don’t know we’re here and that we do this,” he said. “We have been kind of under the radar.”