I wanted to keep things simple when I set up my niche family law firm in 2008. Until then I had been a partner in a medium-sized commercial practice. I figured that I would approach its insurers, who would know me. That worked well in helping to set up my new offering.
I am fortunate that, eight years on, my firm has had no claims. Nevertheless, a year or two after opening our doors, the suggested premium was being hiked. It became apparent that a PII provider which might cater for, say, a 25-partner practice, might not really want a smaller operation on their books – even one that was bijou and beautifully formed. So I shopped around.
We are a specialist team. Our work type is 100% divorce and family law. This stands us in good stead with our insurers. There are some firms that claim to be dedicated specialists in a particular field, yet dabble in wholly unrelated ones. Perhaps I lack imagination or am too risk-averse, but the idea of dealing with (for example) the odd compromise agreement would dilute our offering and keep me awake at night.
As for property and conveyancing, I have the highest regard for good property lawyers and have good links with several. We even refer the drafting of our ‘simple’ matrimonial transfers of equity to them. This does not mean we lose work. Rather, they refer any family law matters to us.
I have always been careful to avoid sending vast numbers of proposal forms out. I understand that insurers dislike seeing multiple copies which come their way through brokers that might be approached. Subsequently, I chose to go through a large, rather anonymous broker for several years. That was until, for no apparent reason, it doubled our premium. Another family lawyer gave me the name of her very experienced broker. He halved the quote from my existing provider and I have been with him ever since.
I think it is a mistake only to talk to your insurer or broker on renewal, or worse, on notification of a claim. I invited my broker to visit our offices and explained over coffee how my team worked. For both broker and insured, it is not just about putting a face to a name. It is also very useful to understand each other. One can always learn more from a good broker about improving one’s systems and introducing better risk management.
My firm tends to deal with more complicated family law disputes, often with higher-net-worth-clients and larger asset pots. I have never been in favour of simply insuring the bare minimum level of liability. I have found that increasing that limit upon renewal is surprisingly cheap.
In the run-up to renewal, I try to read what I can to learn about the state of the market. Some insurers offer free seminars which can be very worthwhile, as long as there is no hard-selling. My own broker sent me a useful publication on succession planning, an issue that a small firm should constantly have in mind.
The word this year is that there are no significant new players. State of the market is one thing. When it comes to considering your proposal form, it is simply all about risk and how well you manage it.
Tony Roe is principal of Tony Roe Divorce & Family Law Solicitors, Theale, Reading. He is a member of the Law Society’s Family Section and Small Firms Division committees