1. What is Insurance Law?
Insurance polices are contracts designed to reduce and manage the risk of certain harmful occurrences. The insured pays a premium to an insurance company in exchange for a promise that the insurance company will covered damaged in case the risk comes to pass. Insurance lawyers generally work in one of four areas of the law:
Insurance policies are contracts between insurance providers and the insured (policy holder). Coverage issues arise when the policy holder and the insurance provider disagree whether a policy covers a certain event. This area of insurance law focuses on two important legal skills. First, coverage attorneys must have a firm understanding of contract interpretation since most litigation focuses on the extent of coverage provided by the contract. Second, a lawyer must have a talent for gathering facts. Determining whether an event is covered by a policy requires knowing all the facts surrounding the event. Coverage issues generally involve highly complex facts that require an attorney to have specialized knowledge or training in areas such as medicine, engineering, or construction.
When a policy holder is sued by a third party insurance companies are often contractually obligated to provided the insured with legel representation. These attorneys are either employed by the insurance company or are independent contractors. Lawyers in this area specialize in tort law and perform 5-6 jury trials per year.
In House Counsel
Insurance companies employ a large number of in-house attorneys who specialize in a variety of areas including drafting, legal compliance, and insurance fraud investigation.
Attorneys who draft insurance products must be skilled in understanding the degree of risk the insurance policy creates for the insurance policy and must be able to foresee and prevent future coverage disputes with policy holders.
The insurance industry is heavily regulated at the state level. Legal compliance attorneys must have a firm grasp on insurance laws and regulations and recognize potential violations by his/her company. They also advise their companies on the impact of proposed insurance legislation.
Insurance fraud departments investigate policy holders they believe to be falsely collecting insurance benefits. These attorneys often work closely with state and federal authorities in criminal investigations.
Large companies often hire attorneys to advise them about what insurance they should purchase and how much insurance coverage is needed to adequately address future risks.
2. Where is it practiced?
Large Law Firms
Many large law firms have insurance departments that help defend insurance companies in coverage issues. Given the expense of hiring large firms, insurance companies generally turn to these firms if there is a danger the plaintiff policy holder would recover a large amount.
Many insurance companies employ a large number of lawyers dedicated to litigating claims brought against policy holders. Large insurance companies frequently have an entire firm working for them. For example Philip M. Andersen & Associates’ only client is State Farm.
In the event an in-house counsel lacks the resources or skills to litigate a case, the insurance company will retain third party firms to represent it. These firms usually focus on areas that require specialized skills.
Insurance is a heavily regulate industry on the state level. For example, California has a Department of Insurance that licenses insurance companies, assures a company’s compliance with insurance law, and investigates insurance fraud by policy holders. Government insurance lawyers also play a role in crafting insurance legislation that protects consumers.
3. What Courses and Academic Experiences would be helpful?
The classes you should take depend on the area of insurance law you hope to eventually practice. Coverage attorneys should focus more on classes that focus on drafting, interpretation, adminstrative law and alternative dispute resolution. Insurance defense attorneys should look into classes that will develop their oral advocacy abilities. Law students interested in a particular kind of insurance, such as health insurance, should take classes devoted to health law.
The following are some courses to consider if you are interested in a career in insurance law.
- Insurance Law
- Statutory Analysis
- Administrative Law
- Pre-trial Litigation Techniques
- California Civil Procedure
Insurance Defense Courses
4. What timeline should I be following?
There is no set timeline for taking the courses listed in the prior section and there is no particular sequence in which the courses should be taken. However, you should take Insurance Law early in your second year as this will help you land an internship with a firm during the summer before your third year. Statutory analysis would also give you experience that would help you excel during your summer internship.
If you are interested in Insurance Defense you should consider enrolling in oral advocacy classes during your second year. Taking advanced tort classes would also attract employers and has the added benefit of preparing you for some of the subjects you will see on the bar exam.
Insurance defense firms are looking for law students with and interest in public speaking. Develop your public speaking skills by participating in mock trials and FLY. You should look for jobs at some of the larger insurance companies such as Allstate and Farmer’s Insurance. These firms have, in the past are hired and trained new grads.
Coverage issues and insurance contract issues are generally handled by large firms. Students interested in this area of the law should research large firms in their area and determine which ones have a large or growing insurance practice. As with anyone interested in working for a big firm, law students interested in insurance coverage should interview for summer internship positions during OCIs.
Large companies generally will not hire new attorneys for in-house counsel positions for cost considerations. Instead most in-house counsel started out working in large firms.
5. What resources are there for people interested in insurance law?
- Insurance Legal Jobs is a career website devoted to Insurance Law.
- MegaLaw.com has a page with links to recent insurance law opinions,state insurance department websites, and federal insurance laws.
- The California Department of Insurance is the primary insurance regulatory body for the state.
- The Tort Trial & Insurance Practice (TIPS) Section on the ABA’s website offers articles on recent developments in insurance defense law.
- The Insurance Coverage Litigation Section on the ABA’s website offers artilces on recent developments in insurance coverage law.
- The Connecticut Insurance Law Journal provides insightful articles on a broad range of insurance law issues.
Many professional organizations are available on Linkedin:
- American Bar Association Tort Trial & Insurance Practice Section
- Insurance Legal/Compliance Professionals
- Long Term Care (LTC) Insurance
- Life Insurance Group
- Title Insurance Law
- The Legal Description
6. Which faculty members at SCU have worked in Insurance Law?
- Stephen Prater (Insurance Law)
- Nathaniel Sterling (Legislation)
- E. Gary Spitko (Alternative Dispute Resolution)
- The Honorable Peter Kirwan (Mediation: Theory and Practice)