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Real Estate: FNF Takes Some Heat on the Commonwealth-Lawyers Acquisition

Posted By Cliff Tuttle | January 15, 2009

Posted by Cliff Tuttle

And so it came to pass that Fidelity National Financial held an AT&T Conference Call so that the whole world could ask questions of its top management about their acquisition of Lawyers Title Insurance and Commonwealth Insurance from LandAmerica. The host for a panel of corporate officers was FNF Treasurer Dan Murphy.

Murphy started the call by reciting how the merger had lead to the overnight transformation of Lawyers and Commonwealth from the point of collapse to becoming financially strong.

Then, the first caller, Robert Goodman from Albuquerque, smote FNF mightily by relating that some of his business colleagues had lost sizable amounts of money with LandAmerica 1031 and although he had been a customer of Commonwealth, he had a “real fundamental problem that that thing had ever happened” and that it was “just left there.” He realized that FNF was not legally responsible, he said, but he saw it as a matter of ethics.

Good point. Very good point. The reason LandAmerica 1031 was “just left there” was that FNF refused to acquire its parent, LandAmerica, in November. This segued into the very slick bankruptcy deal whereby FNF acquired Lawyers and Commonwealth without the stain of LandAmerica 1031.

Al Stinson, CEO of FNF, responded that he could surely understand how the caller might feel that way, but the problem of LandAmerica 1031 was LandAmerica’s problem, not FNF’s, which LandAmerica must solve “as they work their way through the debtor-in-possession process.”

Then a few questions later, another Commonwealth customer, Petrina Markowitz, related that Fidelity people had fired everyone in the Commonwealth Title Garden City office, leaving her, she alleged, stuck in mid-transaction. “I am livid with you!” she exclaimed.

FNF management reacted cooly to this crisis. No one on the panel expressed concern for this customer’s problem or pledged to look into it. Henceforth, they declared, no questions on individual problems would be addressed. Please restrict your questions to “the big picture.”

Humph! Not handled well.

So, if public relations was the objective of this exercise, the outcome was at best mixed. At least, the calls were not screened. The Lawyers and Commonwealth agents, employees and customers who asked questions seemed to be edgy and poorly informed. This performance showed that FNF has a great deal of work to do. It also provided plenty of marketing ideas — for Stewart Title, First American Title and the rest of the non-FNF half of the title insurance world, that is.

The FNF team might want to consult a just-published book called “Jeffrey Gitomer’s Little Teal Book of Trust.”

If you would like to hear the FNF call-in session for yourself, replays are currently running until January 20 at a telephone near you. In the US, call (800) 475-6701. Internationally call (320) 365-3844. When you are prompted, use the access code 98143.



CLIFF TUTTLE has been a Pennsylvania lawyer for over 45 years and (inter alia) is a real estate litigator and legal writer. The posts in this blog are intended to provide general information about legal topics of interest to lawyers and consumers with a Pittsburgh and Western Pennsylvania focus. However, this information does not constitute legal advice and there is no lawyer-client relationship created when you read this blog. You are encouraged to leave comments but be aware that posted comments can be read by others. If you wish to contact me in privacy, please use the Contact Form located immediately below this message. I will reply promptly and in strict confidence.

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