What Insurance Lawyers Do
There are various types of insurance lawyers, and the duties each one performs varies based on his or her particular niche.
Claims attorneys, for example, are the ones who step in and plead a case when there is a dispute. Those who defend an individual in court at the request of his insurance company are referred to as insurance defense attorneys. This type of request would typically come in if the insured individual is accused of causing harm and the insurance company will be required to pay out on a claim if the insured is found liable.
Coverage attorneys, on the other hand, help insurance companies decide if a claim is covered by a policy. Most of the time, their work involves research and writing reports, but there are also some who specialize in litigation regarding whether a claim should be covered or not.
A third group works in a business capacity and makes sure insurance companies are complying with all legal regulations. Insurance lawyers may work for large firms, small firms, or be employed directly by the insurance company.
Who would enjoy a career in Insurance Law?
Like all attorneys, those who do best in the field are committed to lifelong learning. They have excellent interpersonal skills, negotiate well, and don’t mind research. Getting into this particular niche also requires understanding how insurance works, and a great amount of dedication to detail.
Who mightn't like the career?
The field of insurance law doesn’t generally provide the lofty salaries other branches of law do, with the exception of skilled attorneys who fight against insurance companies on behalf of individuals. There may also be ethical dilemmas for those who work in litigation roles, as their job is to focus on minute details in how a policy was written, and this can sometimes require a professional to back an insurance company to the detriment of an individual.
Admittance into an accredited university upon completion of entry exams is the first step in entering law. Quality institutions have rigorous requirements and competition for positions is fierce. A law degree is required in order to practice at any level above the rank of intern or summer associate in the US and Canada. In the UK and Australia, offerings such as the Graduate Diploma of Law (GDL) or the Graduate Diploma in Legal Practice (GDLP), respectively, are available, which allow people with virtually any undergraduate degree to move into law. Each jurisdiction has further requirements, including a bar exam and licensure process.
Those who are aware they’d like to enter into a law career should plan early and apply for a summer associate or internship position while still in school, as the experience will help secure a long-term position after graduation.
- Harvard Law School’s “Questions You Should Be Prepared to Answer”
- 10 tips for a strong legal internship interview
- Interviewing for a Job at an Insurance Defense Firm
Moving into Insurance Law from another career
It can be difficult to transition into insurance law and law more broadly, simply because one must pass legal exams and participate in additional coursework. At the same time, some big firms appreciate diversity and take pride in amassing a staff with unique non-legal backgrounds, as these individuals are better prepared to understand the needs of each sector that is being represented by the firm. Those with a background in insurance brokerage or working in the insurance industry that are willing to become a qualified lawyer are in a better position to make the transition into insurance law.
Graduate / Associate
Role: Incoming lawyers are referred to as associates. Students who are interning may have the distinction of being called a “summer clerk” or “summer associate,” and those fresh from university will be called “first-year associates,” and so on. Lawyers typically hold the title of associate for somewhere between seven and ten years, depending on the firm. During this time, their job is to support the firm’s partners, generally by handling research and reviewing contracts. It’s worth noting that some firms have an “up or out” policy, meaning that if a lawyer is not on the tenure track and does not become a partner within the allotted time, they are asked to leave the firm.
Role: Generally speaking, the title of senior associate is offered to a lawyer around five years into practice, though each firm will have its own guidelines. During this phase, the senior associate is expected to behave as if he or she is a junior partner. Ownership of projects is expected and the individual should be an expert in the area he or she covers. Tasks of greater importance may be assigned to senior associates by the firm’s partners and senior associates will generally have junior associates they can delegate some of their work to. It’s while working as a senior associate that a lawyer demonstrates to the firm that he or she is an indispensable part of the firm and is already behaving as if a partner.
Role: Associates who have proven themselves and are managing some of their own clients as well as bringing in new clients are typically offered partnerships. The exception to this is firms that have “of counsel” positions, which is a promotion from associate for those not on the partner career track. When a lawyer is offered a partnership role, it’s generally an equity partnership in which the lawyer “buys in” to the practice and then earns a percentage of the profits. As part owner, he also gets a say in the firm’s business decisions. Some firms may offer non-equity partnerships and let their seasoned lawyers take a salary instead of being part owner.
It’s fairly rare for insurance lawyers to travel unless they’re part of a large firm, have a good reputation and are attracting clients from a distance, or represent large companies. Some travel may be required for insurance lawyers if their clients or hearings are based outside of the location of their workplace.
Entry Level: According to data from PayScale, those beginning their careers have salaries of approximately USD $104,000 in the United States, £58,000 in the United Kingdom, CAD$97,000 in Canada, and AU$78,000 in Australia.
Mid-Career: USD$121,077, £70,800, CAD$110,580, AU$113,943.
Experienced: USD$159,040, £74,340, CAD$121,250, AU$145,816.
Naturally, bonuses and profit sharing are a major part of a partner’s income. With additional payments, an experienced attorney can earn more than USD$307,000, £120,000, CAD$156,000, or AU$206,000.
Why Insurance Lawyers move on
Like many other specialties in law, the burnout rate for insurance law is somewhat high for those trying to make it up the ladder in a larger law firm, particularly in the first couple of years. The ongoing stress and emotional weight of the position can also cause people to seek less-demanding careers. For further reading, see “Why You Should (and Should Not) Quit the Practice of Law.”
For those looking for a more sales and relationships-based role, Insurance Broking may be an attractive option for insurance lawyers looking for their next move. Further in-house options also exist, particularly at insurance companies, in addition to other legal specialisations such as dispute resolution which have a claims or litigation component to the role.