Rest insured, we’ve got your back…

The practice of law surrounding insurance is majorly important both to individuals and the commercial sector. It primarily includes the regulation of the business of insurance, regulation of the content of insurance policies and claim handling.

What does insurance law involve?

You can trace the roots of insurance law beyond the 12th and 13th century. The growth of industry came hand in hand with the rise of the maritime industry and trade, and it’s for this reason that London is the centre of the insurance market.  This area of law has so far been less affected by the financial crisis than anticipated.

Insurance law work can be directly linked to external events and phenomena, for example claims put forward as a result of war, piracy, terrorism attacks or financial crises. Cases will stem from a whole manner of matters – both contentious and non-contentious – and also cover international cases.

An insurance lawyer will discern whether or not their clients are liable for damages for claims or eligible for in relation to the warranties stipulated in the relevant contracts. They will collect evidence from a range of sources in order to build a sound picture of what has happened and advise their client or employer accordingly.  They will also negotiate and draft insurance policies, cover regulatory aspects such as Duty of Disclosure (the policyholder’s duty to provide pre-contract information) and investigate damages for late payments, or for personal injury claims.

Within an insurance company they can also deal with reinsurance disputes (when a company buys insurance from another or multiple insurance). 

In the case of individuals, they may work on behalf of the policyholder in an insurance claim dispute.

The type of clients you might encounter as an insurance lawyer working in England or Wales are:

  • Individuals
  • The commercial sector
  • Insurance buyers
  • London market end international insurance and reinsurance companies
  • Lloyd’s syndicates
  • Brokers
  • Intermediaries
  • Captives
  • Specialist insurance and reinsurance providers.

What makes a good insurance lawyer?

A real investigative edge is needed in order to put together a picture of what exactly happened in claims. Depending on the case you could be called to interview a number of people from different backgrounds and professions, making strong communication skills and adaptability key.

Empathy and a knack for handling sensitive situations is required, particularly when it comes to areas such as personal injury claims. Cases can be very complex, and an ability to understand a client’s situation whilst staying true to the facts and commanding reason is essential.

Strong knowledge and understanding of contract law is necessary – policy drafting and assessing potential breaches of warranty is integral to this area of law. Those working in the commercial sector in particular will need to possess an in-depth understanding of financial risk in these markets.

Martin Membery is a partner in Insurance law at Sidley Austin. If you’re wondering what he does on a day-to-day basis, wonder no more, as he runs us through a day in his working life…

What’s the first thing you do when you get into the office?

Enjoy a large cappuccino whilst planning the day ahead and clearing emails that have come in overnight from Asia and the US.

How do you handle and organise / prioritise your workload?

I rely heavily on an action list that is updated throughout the day.  Many of the transactions on which we work have pressing deadlines, and juggling competing priorities to ensure we deliver within agreed timescales is a key part of my role.

What sort of daily responsibilities does a partner have in insurance law?  How does it differ from an associate role?

This varies enormously according to the type of insurance practice for which a partner is responsible.  The one thing that all insurance lawyers have in common is that a significant proportion of their clients will be active in the insurance sector in the sense of being an insurer, reinsurer or insurance broker.  That aside, there are many different types of practice of insurance law.  Perhaps the most obvious distinction is between the contentious insurance lawyers who handle claims and coverage disputes on the one hand and the transactional and regulatory insurance lawyers on the other.

As a transactional and regulatory insurance partner, my daily responsibilities (leaving aside wider firm management and administrative responsibilities) consist of leading teams advising clients on complex projects of the sort outlined in the following section, on which I have a very hands-on role.  I also undertake practice development to ensure that we are maintaining our profile with clients and contacts within the market.  For the types of clients for which we act, this necessitates regular travel to meet clients and attend industry events in insurance centres in the US, continental Europe and Asia, as well as closer to home in the UK and London insurance markets.

Perhaps the principal difference between the role of partner and associates on client matters, particularly given the size and complexity of the projects with which we are involved, is that the partners will typically lead negotiations and provide strategic input, with associates doing more of the drafting of agreements.  In relation to business development, associates are encouraged from an early stage of their career to become involved in practice development and they work closely with the partners in this respect.

Can you give us an idea of the sort of projects you manage from day to day?  Which aspect of insurance law is dealt with most frequently by Sidley Austin?

Our insurance transactional and regulatory team is involved in a very wide range of transactions, including the establishment of new insurance businesses, joint ventures, mergers and acquisitions, distribution agreements, regulatory matters, and structuring insurance/reinsurance policies, including pension buy-ins and the transfer of longevity risk.  Our clients tend to think of us first and foremost as industry specialists rather than by reference to narrow legal disciplines.  We are known as being very well suited to projects which require innovative thinking and structuring novel solutions for our clients.

What sort of clients do you generally deal with on a day-to-day basis?

Our clients include many of the world’s largest insurance and reinsurance companies, insurance brokers, investment banking firms, private equity firms and hedge funds.

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