Against a backdrop of changing client demands, political uncertainty and new legislation, Jonathan Swift caught up with BLM senior partner Matthew Harrington and director of policy and government affairs Alistair Kinley to discuss how the law firm is evolving to meet client demands
Can you tell me about Global Insurance Law Connect?
Harrington: “It was first conceived three years ago and was driven by clients who told us that they were interested in working with firms which could offer them more global solutions. Even though we had good relationships with our key partners in the UK and Ireland, in Europe and beyond it was more of a challenge.
“So we set up working groups internally – initially looking at the European market – to find some like-minded firms. And, to cut a long story short, we launched the network in September last year with seven firms.
“The difference between our network and the ‘best friends’ networks that other firms offer is that in order to be a member of GILC, we do a rigorous due diligence exercise; and one of the key qualifying criteria is that any member’s insurance team must be a leading and well-respected specialist team in their jurisdiction. We are up to 13 now, having added a firm in China, and are in discussions with a number of firms, including one in Australia.
“The feedback has been very positive. What clients are buying into is the fact that if they have an issue in one of the countries, the network can source them proper insurance specialists who know the local markets and can offer expertise across the network’s 14 specialist groups. That is getting some traction.”
Although you are first and foremost an insurance specialist, can you explain what steps you have taken to diversify?
Harrington: “In the latter part of 2017 an opportunity came up to bring in a different discipline in the shape of a commercial advisory team, looking at everything from intellectual property, real estate, private wealth to employment law, bringing on board a team of 33 lawyers. That kicked off in October 2017 - just over a year ago - and we are now up to a team of 50.
“We are extending the services we offer to all our clients, whether existing or new. This is also getting some interest from our general insurance clients as well, where there is a need for certainties from lawyers above and beyond litigation and pre-litigation services. In that sense, it complements what we already do. But it does not alter the fact that the core of what we do and what we will continue to do is insurance.”
Are there any other markets you are seeking to grow - or complementary services you might add?
Harrington: “We have made a real push to grow our London market business and have made a number of senior hires there, and they have given us a great base to launch a new campaign in and around that space.”
Kinley: “Another area that has also taken off is the growth of managing general agents, as they have come to the fore as a distribution channel. And we have made a conscious decision to partner up with the trade association there [the Managing General Agents’ Association] and provide them with insights, publications and other support, which has been a productive relationship.”
Harrington: “The Civil Liability Bill will probably cause some disruption among our clients as they grapple with the new regime. One impact is that it will increase the number of litigants in person who our clients have to deal with, which will be operationally challenging for them and we see opportunities there to assist them with those challenges.”
Kinley: “There is a good synergy among the gig and shared economies with our new colleagues on the advisory side too. Not only in terms of employment status, but vicarious liability and other risks that have not yet been fully scoped out legally.”
Harrington: “And, of course, with Brexit there is a likelihood of a new regulatory regime and that is going also to create some opportunities, not only in regard to what we do on the insurance side, but also in that commercial and advisory sector.”
Speaking of Brexit, what do you see as the main challenges?
Kinley: “There are two parts here: the structural one where you need to set up an entity so you can continue to do business across the UK and the European Union; and then there is the more gritty piece around issuing UK policies to people who are likely to travel around Europe, and what happens if they get into some trouble and how you service those needs after 29 March 2019. It is not clear to me how that is going to pan out. We have seen the government publish a number of notices around what will happen in the event of a no-deal Brexit, but we are still waiting for the finer details.
And can you expand on the impact of the Civil Liability Bill?
Kinley: “It is passing through the Commons and the Lords and it is what it is. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent then the discount rate setting in part 21 of the Bill process will swing in. There was more political controversy around part 1 in terms of the definition of whiplash and setting what the damages tariff looks like.
“The thing for me, the big unknown as Matthew indicated, is what the support for litigants in person is going to look like from April 2020. The government will be expecting to build new platforms and test them robustly for six months before they go live. But not to have anything in the public domain to date is administratively pretty poor.
“We all know how long it took to build the regular claims portal and this is a similar undertaking. And so there is a risk that if people get injured and don’t have anywhere to go, they will gravitate to claims management companies looking for new markets. So there are some quite significant risks that the government needs to address, where it needs to show rather than tell.”
Could that date move?
Kinley: “That is a possibility, given what needs to happen before April 2020. And obviously if the government gets into serious trouble and has a wobble, then the legislation could still drop off its agenda. So the date could move, and it has been moved a few times. But April 2020 remains realistic as long as they get things moving soon.”
Back to the detail of the Civil Liability Bill, is anything still not set in stone?
Kinley: “The government might move on excluding children claims from the Bill. It has already excluded people not driving in cars, whether that is pedestrians, horse riders, motorcyclists and it might exclude children completely.
“Another thing it might review is what it thinks of the small claims limit for employers’ liability and public liability cases on the basis most of the personal injury claims are in motor and it got a rough ride from the opposition on work-related injury claims. So those are the two things it might shift on.”
Finally, over six months after the introduction of General Data Protection Regulation are we any clearer about the implications for legal redress?
Kinley: “One of the things that we haven’t seen is the possibility of significant collective actions for people whose data has been subject to a breach. There is provision in the regulation for a group mechanism to recover compensation, but I don’t think it is fully understood how this might impact companies that have reported breaches.
“On one level we might be over-worrying about it. But given the self-reporting nature of these breaches, and the fact that there will be claimant law firms and CMCs looking for new markets means this might become an attractive area.”
Post Claims Club
At the next Post Claims Club meeting on Wednesday 21 November, the new CEO of the Motor Insurers’ Bureau Dominic Clayden will update on recent developments, including the decision to mutualise terrorism risks for third-party motor claims from 1 January 2019, the consequences of the Vnuk motor ruling and how the MIB is preparing for Brexit.
We will also explore whether 2018 will be a subsidence event year, with a number of experts including Colin Horswell, technical home claims controller at LV; Kevin Terry, major loss adjuster, surveyor & engineer at Sedgwick; and Kevin Williams, head of subsidence at Sedgwick.
To sign up go to www.postclaimsclub.co.uk