Insurance & reinsurance: area of practice (barristers)

Insurance barristers advise insurers and policyholders on claims and advocate in court or arbitration, says Jonathan Hough QC of 4 New Square.

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Lawyers practising in this field advise about policies of all kinds and act in litigation and arbitration when disputes arise.

Insurance is a central part of modern life and commerce. It comes in many forms, from policies covering cars and homes to large-scale insurance covering businesses against damage to their ships, aircraft or factories or against their liabilities to others. Reinsurance is arranged by insurers to spread the risk they cover. Lawyers practising in this field advise about policies of all kinds and act in litigation and arbitration when disputes arise. Such a dispute may concern whether an insurance claim is covered or may be a business dispute between commercial parties, such as insurers, reinsurers and insurance agents.

What does insurance and reinsurance law involve?

In a typical case, a barrister might be instructed to look at the circumstances of an insurance claim and advise the insurer or policyholder on whether the claim is covered (and for how much). The policyholder may be a private individual or business of any size. Insurers also vary in size and type from large multi-nationals to syndicates in the Lloyd’s market.

After an initial advice, the barrister would then act for the client in any court case or arbitration that followed. Such a case could take between one and three years (sometimes longer if appeals are involved). The barrister would be involved at every stage, from preparing the written statements of case to advising on expert evidence and appearing at hearings. Cases in this field are usually heard in the High Court (often in the Commercial Court). Increasingly, disputes are resolved by arbitration, which is a private procedure similar to a court hearing and presided over by senior lawyers and former judges.

A barrister working in this field would have about 20–30 cases in progress at any one time. About 20–30 per cent of his or her time would be spent in court or arbitration, but this time can be intensive because hearings can last weeks or months.

As in most commercial areas, barristers practising in insurance usually work hard. Long working days are common (especially just before and during hearings). There is a fair amount of client marketing, and there are good opportunities for international work.

Cases students should know in insurance and reinsurance law

Work in this field is very diverse and engaging, because the barrister needs to engage with the background facts in detail to advise and represent the client. From personal experience, recent work has involved understanding how a huge piece of mining equipment came to fall apart; how an alleged banking fraud worked; the regulatory system governing pension providers; and whether a restaurant owner was responsible for a fire.

Cases are often document-heavy, and require very close examination of documents. It is not an area of work for anyone put off by the sight of boxes of files.

Over recent years, there have been a number of important Acts of Parliament affecting this field of law, including an Act governing consumer insurance in 2012 and a general Insurance Act of 2015. Other statutes have been passed affecting third-party rights under insurance policies and damages for late payment of claims. In the last year, the Supreme Court has looked at fraudulent claims (in Versloot Dredging v. HDI Gerling ), at aggregation of claims (in AIG v. Woodman ) and at compulsory motor insurance ( Moreno v. MIB ).

Does insurance work suffer during a recession?

Work in this field is not adversely impacted by downturns in the economy. In fact, recessions often have the effect of increasing the level of contested insurance claims. Legal aid reform does not affect this practice area.

What do pupils do in insurance and reinsurance law?

The workload for pupils varies from chambers to chambers, but in my experience would normally involve a nine-hour day. A pupil will be expected to read papers and draft sample advices or pleadings; to prepare research notes; and to attend conferences and hearings with his/her pupil supervisor or others. Pupils are unlikely to take on their own cases in this field while in pupillage, although most chambers working in this field give pupils opportunities for their own work in other fields.

Types of law practised by insurance and reinsurance barristers

  • Contract law
  • Tort
  • Equity
  • A grounding in conflicts of laws is useful
  • Useful traits for information law barristers

  • Intellectual rigour
  • A capacity to assimilate and analyse complex information
  • High-quality written work (for advice and pleadings)
  • Common sense
  • Clear and precise advocacy. The best barristers in the field are impressive cross-examiners
  • JONATHAN HOUGH QC is a barrister at 4 NEW SQUARE. He studied classics at the University of Oxford, graduating in 1995. He was called to the Bar in 1997 and took silk in 2014.

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