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From ISIS threats in Mosul to poorly cows in Yorkshire: it’s all in a day’s work in insurance law

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Clyde & Co NQ Susannah Russell gives her perspective on the “many different facets” of high-value insurance cases

No case is like any other in insurance law, says Susannah Russell, a newly qualified associate at Clyde & Co. “Each claim will have an entirely different subject matter or issue to grapple with under the umbrella of insurance law, and you get engrossed in all the claims involved.”

At any point in time, insurance lawyers can be dealing with anything from fire and water damage to produce issues on farms — so no surprise that you “become a mini specialist in different fields,” Susannah says. In her first seat as a trainee in product and property liability, Susannah, who graduated from Durham University, worked on a “very niche” case to do with a potential outbreak of botulism in a herd of 150 cows, which subsequently had to be put down. She explains:

“It was interesting from a trainee’s perspective, to be that first point of contact with the insured. We travelled to Yorkshire, sat in a truck in hi-vis jackets and took pictures of the site.”

Susannah’s second seat on the political risk, liability and insurance team took her work from Yorkshire to Iraq. There, an oil pipe construction site had to be evacuated due to ISIS activity in the city of Mosul. Though insured under a political risk policy, expensive pieces of equipment were left behind. Working with an expert “on ISIS and their destructive past,” Susannah helped to gather evidence to work out the total loss incurred in order to calculate the insurance payout.

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But what do trainees actually do on higher value insurance cases? “It depends on the team, and how much responsibility you’ve been afforded,” explains Susannah. Your most important job as a trainee is typically to “help build the case”, by “pointing to the evidence, highlighting the key issues to the associate and partner on your team and producing the initial draft documents required, whether that be court filings or correspondence with the other side.”

To be a good insurance lawyer, “time management and organisational skills are key.” On one occasion during her training, Susannah had to produce a witness statement and prepare the corresponding evidence in less than two weeks, to support a springboard injunction. “That was mad,” she remembers. “We then went into court in the morning, and the court overran past 6pm, which never happens. We settled on the steps of the court but negotiations went on all day.”

But beware — insurance cases involve “very complex and intricate work.” Having a sharp eye for detail is “paramount,” especially when reviewing documents and liaising with your opposition. “You really need to address the issues in detail. The issues may relate to coverage, liability or the recovery aspects of a claim. Wherever the dispute lies you can be assured you will need to pay close attention to the intricacies of the legal arguments and the underlying claim,” she says.

Grappling with “niche questions of insurance law” is part of the game. Susannah recalls “a few late-ish nights” with an associate and partner, combing through insurance clauses, and analysing policy wording. To the relief of their client, they eventually found an exclusion clause that partly applied to the claim. So if you’re up for the challenge, there is light at the end of the tunnel. “It’s rewarding once you come through,” says Susannah.

Her advice for Clyde & Co applicants? Bear in mind that “the firm is different in terms of its structure,” Susannah says; it’s sector-focused. She explains:

“We will expand into areas where that sector is at a high point. We’ve expanded to the Middle East because of oil and gas, and we’ve expanded into America because of cyber insurance. We’re at the forefront of sector-driven development.”

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Ahead of your interview, Susannah advises candidates to “investigate” the sectors you have a genuine interest in. And if you haven’t already, consider how technology is impacting the insurance market. Alongside fintech, regtech and lawtech, insurtech is booming right now as recent leaps made in artificial intelligence and machine learning enable useful information to be extracted from large data sets of the type often found in insurance work. Meanwhile, insurance companies are among the frontrunners in embracing Internet of Things technology, with all its potential for gathering insightful data that can in turn be used to reduce risk.

According to Clyde & Co’s recent report on insurtech, 94% of insurers expect digital transformation to have the greatest impact of any factor on their business streams in the next five years. For Susannah, and junior lawyers like her, this spells opportunity:

“These innovations will change the face of the industry and, specifically, their relationships with customers and the manner in which the market operates,” she says. “For the legal sphere that brings opportunity in terms of our involvement in regulatory advice and prospective disputes. We will have to maintain our understanding of market practices, which necessitates an understanding of the developments therein. Exciting times ahead.”

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