By Arin Greenwood.
Jobs in the insurance industry can be interesting, not to mention remunerative, varied, personally rewarding—and perhaps even available.
Before you start thinking this is a good reason to be upset with the career development office, realize this: Insurance-related law jobs can be really interesting, not to mention remunerative, varied, personally rewarding—and perhaps even available.
“There is certainly an abundance of positions available,” says Regan. “Insurance is implicated in everything.”
Insurance, which is at its essence just a form of risk management, is implicated in everything from financial reform, to keeping business leaders safe from personal liability, to getting the money for an injured person’s medical treatment. According to a Forrester Research report, the insurance industry represents 3.2 percent of GDP—and in June, the Bureau of Economic Analysis credited insurance as a leading contributor to GDP growth.
There are no set paths for how to have a rewarding career as a lawyer working in the big world of insurance. As these six insurance-industry lawyers show, there are all kinds of ways to find a great career in the risky business.
Marketing Insurance Products
Michael Babikian, who received his JD from the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law and his LL.M. in taxation started at Transamerica in 2003. His first job at Transamerica, a company that provides insurance, investment, and retirement products and services, was as an advanced marketing consultant.
“I was a consultant to financial consultants,” says Babikian. “I started in a fairly technical role. I can tell you when I came in for the interview, I had never heard about the position; I didn’t know what it meant.” (In fact, an advanced marketing consultant is someone who does complex estate planning—usually working with the people who sell financial services products, rather than the consumers of financial services products.)
In the last nine years, Babikian has held various other positions within Transamerica, before becoming senior vice president and chief marketing officer in 2009. In addition to being responsible for all marketing functions for his division, he heads up life insurance product design, development, and management. His hybrid role enables Babikian to direct his marketing focus on innovation—both in terms of the design and development of new insurance and other financial services products.
Babikian says he enjoys the technical, creative, and analytical sides to his practice—and he has enjoyed working with the smart, creative, analytical people who are drawn to the insurance world. He also likes the “big picture” parts of his job.
“Insurance is a really interesting field to practice in,” says Babikian. “The common thread that has run throughout my career is ultimately being able to protect families. Especially with the turmoil and chaos that’s out in the marketplace, American families need that level of protection. So that is a very rewarding part of the business.”
Working with the Insurance Regulators
John Bauer, who received his JD from the , is chief counsel for regulatory affairs for the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC)—a nonprofit in , that advises and coordinates activities among state insurance regulators and drafts model insurance laws.
Bauer examines the impact of federal legislation on state insurance regulation, is on call to regulators in the state and territorial insurance departments, and submits amicus briefs. His work is a mix of legal and policy issues affecting insurance regulation and can involve the most talked-about issues of the day: greater regulatory uniformity and the implementation of Dodd-Frank (the 2010 financial regulation bill that has a big effect on the insurance industry and on insurance regulation) among them.
Bauer first began working for the NAIC as associate counsel, after completing a federal clerkship. “That was where I really started my career in insurance regulation,” he says. “I didn’t know much about the NAIC—knew even less about insurance regulation.” Bauer says he was offered that first job because of his research-intensive clerkship experience.
After four-odd years at the NAIC, Bauer worked on the industry side of the insurance industry for five and a half years, working for a little over two years as global compliance counsel for GE Insurance Solutions, then almost three years as senior vice president and senior legal counsel for Swiss Re (Swiss Re is a global reinsurer, providing insurance to insurance companies). At the end of 2008, Bauer returned to the NAIC, this time in his current job, just in time for some big and interesting regulatory changes at the state and federal levels.
“Whenever I refer to myself as an insurance regulatory lawyer, I get some blank stares,” says Bauer. “But the thing is that I really enjoy what I do. I like the details. I like the policy issues. Just as important, I really like the people I work with—both the people at the NAIC and the state regulators across the country. That really feeds into the enthusiasm I have for the work I do.”
Suing the Insurers
For two years while in law school, Heather Atnip—who graduated from —interned for the insurance company Liberty Mutual, concentrating on insurance defense. After graduation, Atnip worked for a large plaintiffs’ firm. After two and a half years, another attorney asked Atnip to join a partnership with him.
“So we formed a new firm,” she says. “We have four lawyers. We have also extended our practice, representing not only personal injury but also medical providers—hospitals and surgical facilities and things of that nature—directly against the insurance companies when their bills don’t get paid.”
Atnip says she didn’t go to law school expecting to find herself a partner at a plaintiffs’ firm just a few years after graduating. “I actually thought I wanted to just focus on contracts and not litigate in court,” she says. “But once I went into the defense side, I was able to get contractual work reading the clauses and the provisions—technical stuff—but also the in-court experience was huge. I realized how much fun it is to communicate with a jury and tell your client’s story, and once I got a bite of that, I couldn’t stop.”
There are other upsides to this piece of the insurance-practice pie: Atnip enjoys her practice’s entrepreneurial opportunities; that success is determined entirely on good verdicts. (A starting salary at a plaintiffs’ firm is likely to be on the low side—perhaps $40k to $45k—plus a percentage of any successful case that the attorney brings into the firm.)
“My favorite part would be at the end of the day, on a good day, your client is going to have medical care for the rest of their life,” says Atnip. “That your efforts have been able to provide a caretaker for them, someone always to be at their side.”
Defending the Insurers, Big Time
Robert Tomilson graduated from Washington University School of Law and joined ’s , office as an associate in the corporate litigation group.
Tomilson realized early on that to achieve the goals he had set for himself as a lawyer, he would need to devote himself to an industry practice—he chose the reinsurance industry (reinsurance is insurance for insurers). After four years at , he joined Chadbourne & Parke’s reinsurance practice, then moved to CIGNA Reinsurance, where he joined as senior counsel.
“Within a short number of years out of law school,” says Tomilson, “I was lead counsel for an operating unit of a Fortune 150 company with more than $3 billion in reserves.”
After four years with CIGNA, Tomilson moved back to private practice as a member at Cozen O’Connor in , where he represents insurers and reinsurers in a highly varied practice that includes establishing self-funded insurance captives, arbitrating in , and representing clients before the Department of Insurance.
“Insurance, or the transfer of risk, is part of every business transaction and nearly every dispute. As a result, work in the insurance industry can be a very rewarding career for a young lawyer, whether you are interested in litigation or in closing deals,” says Tomilson.
Timothy Harris, who graduated from Georgetown University Law Center, manages Prudential’s more than 100 lawyers who work in the company’s U.S. Businesses division—the division that deals with individual insurance business, group insurance businesses, retirement businesses, individual annuities, asset management, and residential real estate.
Harris started at a big firm in , where for four and a half years his practice focused on the financial services industry. Looking to reduce his 100-hour weeks, Harris moved to Prudential in 1987.
“It’s been fun ever since,” he says. “I have been at Prudential for 23 years as of about a week ago.”
In those 23 years, Harris has had lots of different roles: He has worked in investment management, institutional investment, mutual funds, retirement planning; he was chief risk officer, chief compliance officer, and chief legal officer for the annuity business. Harris became chief investment counsel in 2005, overseeing about 60 lawyers in the investment management business—and in 2008, Harris took his current job as deputy general counsel.
“I’ve always felt like I was learning and growing,” Harris says. “As Prudential has changed over the years, there were new things to do, new things that had to get done, and plenty of opportunities to stay excited and interested.”
Protector of the Ds and the Os
Priya Cherian Huskins, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School and an expert in directors and officers liability risk, is a partner at Woodruff Sawyer & Company in San Francisco—an insurance brokerage.
“I wear several hats,” Huskins says. “One is the hat I wear when I am speaking directly to clients about their scope of risk and how to mitigate it. Another role I have is being part of a team that makes sure our D&O insurance policies are precise and provide the maximum amount of coverage possible. I also chair Woodruff Sawyer’s CorpEx Claims Committee, which monitors all our most difficult D&O liability claims.”
Huskins came to this practice after spending time as a corporate securities lawyer—after a federal clerkship on the Court of Appeals, she spent six years at a firm working on a wide range of corporate transactions.
“I did not go to law school with the intention of going into insurance,” she says.
But what Huskins has found is that her insurance practice combines the things she did in fact go to law school intending to do.
“I enjoy corporate transactions. I like to be a trusted advisor and counselor. My job allows me to sit at the intersection of corporate transaction, litigation, claims, and insurance—and the best part of my job is I get to give practical risk management advice to directors and officers of companies and help create an environment where they feel comfortable taking risk in ways that maximize returns for their shareholders,” she says. “I love my job.”
Vol. 40 No. 2
Arin Greenwood is a writer and author of the novel Tropical Depression, published by Back Porch Books in 2011.