Interview with James Morris, Managing Partner – Indemnity Legal
Managing Partner - Indemnity Legal
1. Where are you now and what is your role?
I’m the managing partner of a boutique law firm. We support brokers, and act for commercial policyholders against their insurers, when insurance coverage disputes arise. We have two offices; I’m based in Sheffield and we also have a London office where I spend some of my time. We started the firm in February 2020 and we have grown to a team of four partners and three associates, plus a paralegal and a number of support staff.
2. How is it different to being in a bigger firm?
There are two things that stand out.
First, in a smaller firm, there is an “all hands on deck” approach to many of the things that might be dealt with by dedicated departments in larger firms. My role encompasses fee earning, HR, BD, finance, compliance, setting a marketing strategy and meeting with new clients. I enjoy all of those things (perhaps some more than others!), but with all of those responsibilities, there are certainly some things I miss from my time at RPC – the brilliant secretaries and expert document production team being two!
The second is that, in a smaller firm, we can be pretty nimble as we continue to develop the business and make change – we might have an idea on one day, and be in a position to execute it the next. The importance of a genuine commitment to innovation is something I learned at RPC, and have carried with me since, but it’s not always the case at larger firms. Feeling shackled to a clunky way of doing things, or not feeling empowered to make positive change, is a common gripe we hear from lawyers looking to leave larger firms. Not falling into that trap as we grow is something that always plays on my mind.
3. What does a typical day look like for you?
There’s no typical day and that’s one of the things that I love about what we do. However, as a new dad, that unpredictability and the pushes/pulls on my time can make life a bit challenging so I try my best to make sure I have some immovable commitments to my family in my diary and that work is built around those.
For example, I typically start work at about 9:30am (which I guess can be later than some lawyers). l look after my little girl, Beatrix, between 7am and 9.30am, which lets her mum catch up on some much needed sleep!
Today I spent the morning helping a large insurance broker deal with an urgent D&O coverage issue for one of its clients. This afternoon, I have a couple of meetings with partners at “insurer friendly” law firms like RPC to tell them about our business and how we can help when conflicts of interest arise (a large proportion of the cases we deal with are referred to us by other lawyers). Later on, I have to review a witness statement for a £10m + coverage dispute relating to mis-sold investments.
I try to finish work at 6.30pm for Beatrix’s bath time (at eight months, a very splashy affair), irrespective of what else might be going on, followed by a bit more work in the evening if I need to.
4. How have you found balancing being a father and a managing partner?
I found it really challenging in the beginning. Building a business takes a huge amount of time and commitment, and I wanted to make Indemnity Legal as successful as it could be. At the same time, though, I wanted to be a good dad, support my wife, and be there for the important things. In the early days, I didn’t get that balance right and felt like I wasn’t giving my best to either commitment.
At around the three month mark, I started talking to other mums and dads about how they struck the right balance, and received some brilliant advice. As a result, I chopped up my day into “work time” and “family time”, and tried to commit to avoiding one pinching time from the other. That’s made the world of difference, both to Indemnity Legal, my family and my own mental health.
Since then, I’ve been much more open with my colleagues, clients and referrers about how things are going, and what I can/can’t do and when. I’ve never had an experience where that openness has had a negative reaction, which has been really great.
5. What do you love most about your job?
I love working in the insurance market, it's why I do what I do and a lot of that goes back to my time at RPC.
I trained under some brilliant lawyers, people like Simon Laird, Simon Goldring, James Wickes, Ben Goodier and Will Sefton. The thing that stitches all of them together is their passion for insurance, the insurance market and the people in it and I’ve carried that fire with me ever since leaving RPC. Whilst I might now act for policyholders, I still consider myself to be a part of the market, and I love helping to solve problems within it.
6. What has been your most rewarding achievement?
We don’t tend to act for individuals anymore, but when we started the firm one of my first cases involved a man who had been in a catastrophic accident at work which had left him bedbound and severely disabled. He had a critical illness insurance policy which was meant to provide him with large sum of money if he couldn’t work again due to an accident.
Unfortunately, that didn't happen and the insurer sought to argue that our client might get better one day, on which basis he was not entitled to a payment. The client came to us to help him, and we managed to recover a significant sum that he used to spend on round the clock care, medical equipment and other things to make his life a little easier. That was a case I was particularly proud of.
7. Throughout your career – what are your highlights?
My highlight would be going to AIG on secondment during my time at RPC. A lot of what I've done since goes back to the opportunity RPC gave me to spend time with a leading insurer. Being able to see first-hand how claims are dealt with “at the coal face”, how contentious issues are dealt with internally (and the processes involved) and the sorts of issues that really matter to an insurer was invaluable.
I've taken a huge amount from that experience and put it in to my current business – it can help me get to the heart of a problem, or find a solution, more quickly. It was a unique opportunity that I would encourage any lawyer to take if they have the chance.
8. Where do you see your industry heading – what are the key issues or changes you see on the horizon over the next three to five years?
I think in 2022 and beyond we are going to see a significant increase in coverage disputes, with policyholders and brokers needing more guidance than ever to navigate them. The underwriting market is hard at the moment, and a hard underwriting market creates hard claims market. Our experience, and that of the brokers we support, is that insurers often now take a much closer look at claims than they did when market conditions were softer, and sometimes run arguments against an insured that, historically, we wouldn't have expected to be run (sometimes rightly, sometimes wrongly). Similarly, many business’ balance sheets are now more reliant upon insurance payments, or faster insurance payments, than they might have been pre-pandemic. Those market conditions will necessarily create more insurance disputes.
On specific lines, I suspect there will be an uptick in Directors' and Officers' Insurance claims (and, consequently, disputes) fuelled in part by many businesses going under because of the ongoing pandemic, and liquidator investigations into how those businesses were managed before they failed. I also think we'll see an uptick in infidelity and fraud claims on crime insurances in 2022 – home working over the past 18 months or so, and the diluted supervision/strain on supervisory systems and controls that brought with it will undoubtedly have led to increased instances of fraud. Those issues take some time to be uncovered, and I think many will be so in the coming year and put to insurers as claims.
9. What are you passionate about outside of work?
Since Beatrix was born, my free time is pretty consumed by being a dad. Before we had Beatrix, I was a really keen cook – though I’ve now developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of the quality of ready-meals from various supermarkets (Charlie Bigham is my top tip!).
10. What were the most valuable lessons you learnt while at RPC that has helped you in your current role?
How important delivering genuinely brilliant client service is. A lot of firms say that they are “client centric” or committed to great service, but don't always deliver it (or really understand what it means). It’s a catchy phrase on a mission statement.
Putting the client at the heart of everything you do, whether directly or indirectly, and doing it really well is something that RPC genuinely believed in and I’ve taken that with me throughout my career.
11. What is your favourite RPC memory?
The Christmas Party trainee videos. We were lucky to have Rupert Wyles in our intake who knew how to record music. We set up a little recording studio in one of the meeting rooms on the 4th or 5th floor. We all had to sing our parts and we filmed a music video, which was shown to the whole firm at the Christmas Party. It was brilliant, and those trainees I’m still in touch with still talk about how much fun it was.
12. What does the future hold for you – if we spoke again in a year, what would you like to have achieved?
Indemnity Legal will continue to grow to help as many brokers and policyholders as we can over the next year and beyond. We have just moved into larger premises, not too far from Tower Bridge House, so we have plenty of room to grow our team – watch this space!