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Insurance and reinsurance law expert

Insurance & reinsurance: area of practice (barristers)

Insurance barristers deal with cases of great financial significance, says Leigh-Ann Mulcahy QC of 4 New Square.
The best aspects of this area of practice are the cross-over between law and the commercial world and the opportunity to be involved with ground-breaking cases.

Insurance and reinsurance (which is insurance purchased by insurers from other insurers to spread their risk) is an area of law that is usually about advising and litigating over whether particular losses or claims are covered by insurance and reinsurance contracts. A related area concerns the professional liability of insurance brokers arising out of advice as to what insurance to purchase or the making of claims on policies.

The cross-over between law and the commercial world

A typical case would involve reviewing the relevant policy documentation and papers, advising on coverage and, if the matter cannot be resolved by agreement, acting for that party in proceedings, which are frequently heard in a private arbitration rather than by the courts.
If litigated, cases are usually dealt with by the High Court and often by the Commercial Court. A case usually lasts between one and three years but can go on longer if it gives rise to appeals. Typical clients are corporate insureds or commercial insurers.

The best aspects of this area of practice are the cross-over between law and the commercial world and the opportunity to be involved with ground-breaking cases that are financially important enough to go all the way to the Supreme Court. The worst aspect is probably the amount of documentation that always needs to be gone over with a fine-tooth comb.

A barrister practising in this area would probably have approximately 20 cases on the go at any one time, and more if practising exclusively in this area. The balance of time is probably 80 per cent paperwork to 20 per cent court work.

Issues to be aware of in insurance law

Topical issues include the implications of the Insurance Act 2015 and the Third Party (Rights against Insurers) Act 2010 (statutes that are both due to come into force shortly) as well as part 5 of the Enterprise Act 2016, which penalises insurers for late payment of insurance claims.
The insurance implications of claims on liability policies for asbestos-related diseases also continue to be worked out by the courts following the Supreme Court judgments in Durham v. BAI and International Energy Group Ltd v. Zurich with issues over allocation and reinsurance recoveries remaining to be addressed.

How recession-proof is insurance law?

This is an area that tends to increase in volume during recession.

What sort of work are pupils given by chambers?

Pupils are likely to be involved with reviewing papers, researching points of law and preparing notes or drafts of skeleton arguments but are unlikely to be taking on their own cases in this field (as opposed to other fields of work) at this early stage. It is not an area that tends to require working through the night, making it possible for pupils to plan and have a social life (albeit with a need for flexibility if assistance out of usual working hours is required).

The types of law practised by insurance barristers

  • Contract.
  • Property.
  • Equity.

LEIGH-ANN MULCAHY QC is a barrister at 4 NEW SQUARE. She graduated with a degree in law from Cambridge University in 1991 and a master of laws degree from York University, Toronto, Canada in 1993. She was called to the Bar of England and Wales in 1993 (and the Bar of the Republic of Ireland in 1999) and took silk in 2009. She is first counsel to the Welsh government and also sits as a deputy High Court judge.