Harry Roth is one of Philadelphia's most successful trial lawyers, whose leadership has helped catapult his firm - Cohen Placitella Roth PC, based in Center City -- into the top tier of civil-trial firms in the Mid-Atlantic region. Indeed, in the last decade the practice of the 53-year-old Roth and his partners, Stewart Cohen and Christopher Placitella, has taken off. Increasingly their trial victories for clients have been varied, in some cases groundbreaking. All along, Roth - practical and creative, loyal and completely committed to his clients, peers say - has helped define the firm's culture of progressive growth, at a time when many plaintiffs' law firms have remained on the defensive. Today Roth's firm has 16 lawyers, double from a decade ago; another eight are of counsel. In many respects, too, the youthful Roth is entering his professional prime.
Growing up in Merion, Pa., Roth worked in the family business founded by grandfather, first called The Barney Roth Company, and later Philadelphia Lighting Maintenance. (The business, after nearly 70 years, only recently closed.) For the young Roth the work was hardly glamorous: He stocked inventory and swept floors. "Being willing to do everything was the only way to learn the business, and it demonstrated nothing was beneath you." Indeed, in later years, Roth says, he lived by that: "Some people walk into an enterprise thinking they are entitled to something, but the fact is you always have to prove your worth, your place, every day." Encouraged in part by his family, though, he went straight to law school. He returned to work summers, first at Fox Rothschild, and later at the plaintiffs' firm led by the legendary trial lawyer Arthur Raynes. As a legal intern Roth recalls being handed the small matter of an injured woman who'd been harassed for not paying a utility bill; his job was to defend her. "It mattered to no one except her," he says, "and I made it my cause. The role of problem-solver and defender of everyday people "grabbed me. That one little dispute changed the direction of my career." He would spend 14 years at the Raynes McCarty firm, developing both his case-preparation and trial skills, and working with the city's best trial lawyers. "Arthur was a great teacher, for a lot of us," Roth says. "He gave me a ton of opportunities. That's all a young lawyer can ask for."
Over the years many in Philly's legal community assumed Roth would join his brother-in-law, Stewart Cohen, also practicing trial law, whose practice with Arnold Kessler was well established. But Roth held off, in part because he simply felt he wasn't ready. Recalling his youth, Roth says, "I wanted to be as productive as I could be, and not be anyone's prince." As Kessler began to wind down his practice, Roth and Cohen teamed up, building on a record that goes back to the early 1970s. Over the next two decades, Cohen and Roth built one of the most successful civil-trial practices in the state. They took on hundreds of personal-injury cases, sometimes involving jury verdicts, often leading to 7-figure awards for their clients. In the last decade, as the forces of tort reform have pushed to limit damage claims, Cohen and Roth began taking on an array of complex litigation, including some shareholder rights claims. It was "always in the spirit of trial work, of seeking just compensation for our clients." In one celebrated case the firm was lead counsel on a suit against the board directors of the Chiquita Banana Corporation; the board was reportedly aware of some of the company's illegal activities outside the US; the firm represented Pennsylvania-based union pension funds that held shares in the company. With the addition of Placitella, a New Jersey-based veteran of major tobacco and environmental class-action cases, the firm maintains a multi-state presence and has a docket of complex tort cases, including those representing secondary victims of mesothelioma. One rival says Roth's firm has been "among the most creative in thriving in the current environment. They make the most of their opportunities." Roth himself remains one of the key decision-makers at the firm, which continues to represent clients who are seriously or catastrophically injured from someone else's negligence. Another recent key addition: Joel S. Rosen, formerly the longtime Chief of the Major Trials Unit in the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office. Rosen and Roth have collaborated on cases that have led to multi-million awards for clients, in several states and jurisdictions.
Away from the office Roth is a cyclist and supporter of many community causes. Roth and his wife live in Center City. They have three sons, ages 17, 21 and 24.