David Attisani is a partner in Choate Hall & Stewart’s re/insurance group and the first ever Boston attorney ranked nationally by Chambers USA in insurance and reinsurance. He was one of Law 360’s “10 Most Admired Insurance Attorneys in America” (2010), and is one of only 12 leading reinsurance lawyers in The Legal 500’s “Elite” category (2016–2017). David graduated from Williams College and Harvard Law School, and studied English literature at Oxford University. He served as a law clerk in the SDNY and as district attorney in Boston, Massachusetts, where he tried 19 cases to verdict.
What first motivated you to become a lawyer?
I always enjoyed writing and thinking about the impetus for decisions, including the analytical and emotional reasons people decide. Litigation, in particular, appeared to provide an opportunity for analytical writing, and also thinking about the way judges and arbitrators approach difficult problems. I’ve tried to approach triers of fact as humans first, and as proponents of correct legal outcomes second. After several years of practice, I was also happily surprised at the excellent client relationships I was able to develop – many of my clients over the years have become good friends. Those relationships have been a thoroughly unanticipated benefit.
You work with numerous multinational companies in your practice. To what extent has the field of reinsurance become an inherently global practice area?
Reinsurance has always been “global” from the vantage point of a US professional, due to the heavy involvement of significant markets located in London, Bermuda, Europe and elsewhere. Globalisation took another turn as companies built and expanded multinational teams based on subject area expertise. It is not unusual for me to work, for example, on a single matter with clients located on two or three different continents. I’ve done work in Istanbul, London, Bermuda, Barbados, Sydney, Paris, San Juan and other cities. My clients in all of those locations have taught me a great deal, and I continue to seek out opportunities for business travel to other robust markets.
In what ways has your role as an expert in arbitration and litigation impacted your private practice?
I have only served as an expert on a few occasions, but each became a remarkable learning opportunity for me. In the most banal terms, it’s always an excellent idea to “sit on the other side of the table” now and again, and to see a dispute from a different vantage point. I also believe that I learned to assist triers of fact, while simultaneously supporting my own convictions in each case. In other words, a thoughtful expert should not only advance the cause of the party that engaged him or her, but also aid the search for a legally and commercially sensible outcome. I hope that I’ve done so, and I certainly look to engage other experts who serve both masters.
You often work on high-profile cases in the media spotlight. Does this pose particular challenges?
Not really. Consistent with most sophisticated clients’ wishes, my practice is to decline public comment on any matter in which I am involved. Over the years, I have served as lead counsel in: 9/11; Hurricanes Wilma, Katrina and Harvey; Superstorm Sandy; the Big Dig tunnel collapse; NFL CTE claims; clergy abuse and Boy Scouts of America; an Obamacare dispute; the Las Vegas shootings; opioids; the Grenfell Tower fire; the California Wildfires; and other high-profile matters. I never comment publicly and, like every other matter we handle, my team and I endeavour to give our clients the best and most creative advice available in the market, regardless of any public interest in the outcome.
In what ways have the needs of clients changed over your career?
In my experience, clients are eminently rational (I’ve been fortunate in this regard), and their needs reflect their pragmatism. Hallmarks of my practice also reflect those cumulative imperatives: drafts of a written product that are file-ready; multiple alternative solutions that come with a firm recommendation; creative ideas; and a thorough understanding of the corporate ethos and the individual predilections of client team members. There is no doubt that clients face greater time pressure and deeper institutional challenges than they did when I started practising at Choate in 1992, but my approach to their fundamental needs remains very much the same.
To what extent are personal relationships with clients an important part of your practice?
Individual client relationships have materially informed my practice and my personal life for more than two decades now. Although my job is to provide guidance and support to clients, it would be a mistake to assume that I haven’t learned a great deal from my clients over the years. I try to take the best from each of them and incorporate it into my work and my dealings with the market at large. I have been blessed with an unbelievably talented and supportive constellation of clients over the years, some of whom have worked with me for upwards of 25 years. It is most rewarding when a client tells me that they know I have their back, and that they “feel better” knowing that I’m on board. I had that experience (most recently) a few months ago, and it means a lot to me.
What challenges will the reinsurance field encounter in the next five years?
Over the next five years, our industry will face a number of diverse challenges, including corporate consolidation, the apparent proliferation of natural disasters, “man-made” losses (shooting sprees, fraud, etc), and mounting economic pressures that sometimes affect corporate staffing and institutional patience. On the other hand, we’ve all become a little more flexible and creative over the years, and I believe that the best people in our industry will continue to thrive and to fashion solutions that enhance the re/insurance bargain – ie, an institutional promise to confer value by standing behind wordings. At the same time, wordings have no meaning if they are distended beyond recognition to pay for losses incurred beyond their borders. Adherence to these coverage fundamentals, together with sensible underwriting and humane but efficient management, will be needed to produce favourable results going forward.
You have enjoyed a very successful career to date. What would you like to achieve that you have not yet accomplished?
I hope that in addition to doing top-quality work and achieving excellent results within the parameters of any particular matter, I am leaving behind in each case a methodology for approaching and handling disputes that will be useful to my clients and colleagues going forward. I’ve always devoted considerable effort to refining my approach, on an iterative basis over the years, to every significant lawyering task – problem solving, brief and letter writing, client advice, oral argument, client relationships – in an effort to identify a “best protocol” in each instance. I would like to continue on that path for as long as I’m adding value. In addition, I would like to think that I’ve grown more open to creative ideas and that I’m becoming a better listener – in any event, these are working goals.