WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO PURSUE A LEGAL CAREER?
I’ve always wanted to help other people, and I’m particularly attracted to courtroom work and jury trials. I’ve done a lot of pro bono courtroom work over my career representing indigent defendants, including five death penalty cases, and I’m pleased to report that all five of these clients will live out their natural lives. I love speaking to judges and juries and thinking on my feet. The entire advocacy process is inherently fascinating to me.
HOW HAS THE MARKET CHANGED SINCE YOU FIRST STARTED PRACTISING?
When I first started the vast majority of the market for all law firms was local or regional. Our clients were typically medium-sized to large companies with headquarters and offices either just in Chicago or in the nearby mid-western region. All that has changed, with almost every sizeable company now having a global presence. This meant that our law firm had to increase in size from under 100 to now over 500 lawyers in Chicago; New York; Los Angeles; Washington, DC; and London, with a capacity to serve the global needs of our clients.
WHAT IS IT ABOUT INSURANCE LITIGATION THAT YOU ENJOY THE MOST?
Insurance litigation is simply contract litigation in the risk transfer industry. I’ve always enjoyed working with the law of contracts, and the insurance/risk transfer industry is not nearly as arcane and complicated as most people think. To me, it’s one of the world’s most basic and important industries. Without insurance, capitalism would have a hard time working. Just one unanticipated loss could wipe out an otherwise thriving company. Investment would in turn be far too risky for almost everyone. It’s an exciting and fascinating line of work. I particularly enjoy jury trials of insurance cases. It’s simply not true that jurors are incapable of understanding insurance claims. They all have insurance of their own of one form or another, and I figure it’s my job to present my client’s case as clearly and simply as possible. If I fail, it’s my fault – not the jury’s. With this in mind, I don’t often fail.
WHAT RECENT DEVELOPMENTS IN THE US INSURANCE MARKET SHOULD READERS KNOW ABOUT?
Both the US and global insurance markets are trying to come to grips with the aggregation risk posed by large-scale cyber/malware criminal-threat actors. Keep your eyes on how this all works out. I also think that there will inevitably be litigation involving insurance-linked securities. Investors almost certainly don’t understand them and lack the sophistication of reinsurance and catastrophe bond underwriters.
HOW DOES JENNER & BLOCK DISTINGUISH ITSELF FROM THE COMPETITION?
We represent policyholders in coverage disputes with their insurers. Clients seek our advice and representation in difficult matters requiring thorough knowledge and understanding of insurance law, history, custom and practice combined with sophisticated strategic thinking, execution and advocacy. We are well known to insurers as unrelenting advocates with a formidable track record of trial, arbitral and mediated successes. We embrace trials before judges and juries, rather than fear them.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNGER PRACTITIONERS HOPING TO ONE DAY BE IN YOUR POSITION?
Insurance policies are contracts. Unless you read them carefully, you will never know the most important facts of your case.
Write and publish on insurance topics as often as possible. Appear on insurance programmes as often as opportunities present themselves. Keep current with recent insurance and reinsurance cases from various legal reporters and publications. Join the insurance committees of local, national and international bar associations, and attend their meetings as often as possible. Get out there and make a name for yourself!
WHERE, IN YOUR OPINION, DOES THE FUTURE OF THE PRACTICE AREA LIE?
It’s very difficult to “crystal ball” what’s coming next, but there always have been and always will be insurance coverage disputes. The larger the liability or property loss, the more certain it is that there will be a coverage dispute. This is particularly true for business interruption claims, which are inherently based upon some measure of judgement and are accordingly subject to challenge.
I also believe that London insurance and reinsurance arbitrations will continue to be a very important part of this practice.
LOOKING BACK OVER YOUR CAREER, WHAT IS THE MOST MEMORABLE CASE YOU HAVE BEEN A PART OF?
The case I’m working on now, pursuing coverage in litigation for a loss in excess of US$100 million from damage caused by the NotPetya malware virus in 2017, will no doubt be the most memorable case I’ve been part of. I can’t discuss much of it here, but the facts and legal issues involved are as interesting and intellectually challenging as any I’ve ever seen either in my cases or anyone else’s.
John Mathias Jr draws emphatic praise from domestic and international sources thanks to his stellar expertise on coverage litigation.
John Mathias is the chair of Jenner & Block's internationally prominent insurance and reinsurance claims and counselling group, which has a broad-based practice representing policyholders in insurance coverage litigation and insurers in select reinsurance disputes. He is a veteran trial lawyer with over 35 years of commercial litigation, arbitration and jury trial experience. He has represented CSX Transportation, HSBC, Southern California Edison, General Electric, Genworth, General Dynamics, Tennessee Gas Pipeline Company, Union Pacific Railroad, American Electric Power Company, Fiserv, Canada Life Assurance Company, London Reinsurance Group, Sunbeam, Peoples Energy, GKN North America, CIGNA, Guardian Industries, Berlin Steel and many others in substantial insurance and reinsurance disputes.
He is co-author of the treatises Insurance Coverage Disputes (Law Journal Press 1996) and Director & Officers Liability: Prevention, Insurance and Indemnification (Law Journal Press 2000). He has served as co-chair of the insurance coverage litigation committee of the American Bar Association's section of litigation, and he has served on the governing council of the section of litigation. He has lectured and written frequently on developments in insurance coverage law. He is a graduate of Harvard Law School and Dartmouth College.
Jenner & Block is a full-service law firm with offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, London and Washington, DC.