Jonathan Sacher co-heads the insurance practice at Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner. He specialises in reinsurance and insurance dispute resolution. Jonathan is a member of the Chartered Institute of Arbitrators and the LCIA. He is on the management committee of ARIAS UK; co-chair of the international committee of ARIAS US; and a former chair of the British Insurance Law Association. He was selected as one of the top five insurance lawyers in Europe by Who’s Who Legal.
WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO A CAREER IN LAW?
I did not really have any choice in the matter. I fancied myself as an author, and when I realised that authors very seldom get published I decided to use writing in another way, ie, the law.
WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT WORKING ON THE COVERAGE SIDE OF INSURANCE MATTERS?
I was a newly qualified lawyer dealing with travel insurance claims when I received a call from an international insurer asking if I knew anything about reinsurance. They told me it involved policy interpretation; exciting, interesting work; and international travel. I enjoy the challenging questions of law I have to understand and the forensic analysis of the wordings I need to interpret.
WHAT QUALITIES MAKE FOR AN EFFECTIVE INSURANCE AND REINSURANCE LAWYER?
I always adopt a “results-orientated” approach to my work. I think that has helped the clients to see me as being constructive – from the moment I am instructed, I look to find a solution rather than go through the motions of conducting a case through the various stages.
WHAT EFFECT HAS INCREASED REGULATION OF THE SECTOR HAD ON CONTRACT CERTAINTY AND THE NATURE OF DISPUTES ARISING?
When I started in this area it was not dissimilar to the Wild West. There were many unregulated companies from all over the world, operating through agents or branches in London that were also unregulated. They were underwriting risks that ensured they received premium, but often were not around to pay claims. Regulation has had a very material effect on the kind of work we are involved with, and the parties we have to deal with. Very seldom these days do we find that we are seeking to recover monies in exotic islands of the world, or to chase respectable-sounding companies that are often nothing more than a shell. Regulation has also ensured that contract documents are regularly available, whereas, historically that was not always the case. However, it has not avoided the flaws of human nature and human error, which still creep into many contracts in the market we have to review.
AS CO-HEAD OF THE FIRM’S INSURANCE TEAM, WHAT ARE YOUR PRIORITIES FOR ITS DEVELOPMENT OVER THE NEXT FIVE YEARS?
I think that we have a hardening market. There are likely to be problems referred to lawyers that result from the soft market over the past decade or so. Many contracts have watered-down exclusions and contain governing insurance and reinsurance law that is not as well developed as English law, so there are likely to be problems the market has to address that flow from that. I expect claims managers to be tougher in their approach to claims, bearing in mind that in the harder market, insurers will hold more cards that the insureds or reinsureds.
HOW HAS THE LEGAL MARKET FOR INSURANCE WORK EVOLVED SINCE YOU FIRST BEGAN PRACTISING?
When I started there was very little reinsurance law around, perhaps a few cases. In the mid-1990s, at the peak of activity, there were some 56 reported reinsurance cases in one year. We went from virtually no law to very settled law by, say, 2000 – such that in the past few years there have been at most one or two reinsurance reported cases per year. The more settled law has enabled the market to better understand how the courts interpret their contractual relationships, and means there are fewer disputes going to trial. Also, since the 1996 Arbitration Act, many of the disputes that were previously resolved by the courts are now heard by arbitration tribunals, so there is less precedent. The new Insurance Act will also have a material effect on the development of the law, provided some of those cases get to court and are not all resolved by arbitration.
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR MOST MEMORABLE INSURANCE AND REINSURANCE CASE TO DATE?
I acted for the Corporation of Lloyd’s in a very large series of issues that faced one of the syndicates. The amounts in dispute were substantial, and we were able to resolve the issues to the great satisfaction of the syndicate and the Corporation after a series of actions and disputes in various parts of the world. The large team involved at my firm were very effective in reviewing materials made available through search powers and court intervention, and the outcome was extremely positive for our clients.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUNGER LAWYERS LOOKING TO ESTABLISH A CAREER IN THE INSURANCE SPACE?
I think there are still opportunities to help to evolve the law following the Insurance Act. In reinsurance it is likely to be the new problems created by alternative markets that will create the new law that young lawyers will need to apply as the market evolves. I think there are still excellent and exciting opportunities.