James Healy-Pratt: Amlin

US claims keep Amlin’s legal team of three on its toes, but it still manages to be one of the few listed Lloyd’s insurers and a market leader. Joanne Harris reports

Amlin general counsel James Healy-Pratt is a moderniser in a changing insurance market. It is five years since he joined the FTSE250 company and Lloyd’s insurer. The company listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1998 and shortly afterwards decided it needed an in-house lawyer to deal with aviation law, one of its key areas.

Barrister Healy-Pratt was the perfect candidate. He had completed a two-week internship at Heathrow-based aviation consultancy and claims manager Airclaims while at bar school, where he discovered an interest in aerospace. Prior to Amlin, he spent eight years as the senior legal adviser at the British Aviation Insurance Group. The experience came in handy when he joined Amlin, but his role soon broadened to encompass the company’s other areas of business – the marine, property and casualty sectors.

Now, in 2005, Amlin is one of the few listed companies at Lloyd’s and is one of the market’s biggest players. It is continuing to grow and recently announced that it is in discussions with fellow Lloyd’s member Chaucer concerning a possible takeover.

The expansion means that Healy-Pratt has been examining which law firms he instructs. In June 2004 he announced the firms for Amlin’s first-ever formal panel for corporate work. Linklaters and Norton Rose get the bulk of the company’s work, sharing roles for capital markets, commercial, corporate and regulatory transactions. Linklaters is advising Amlin on the Chaucer bid, with Norton Rose acting for Chaucer.

“It needed organising,” says Healy-Pratt of his decision to set up a panel. “The first thing was to work out where work could be outsourced and where it could be done in-house. Also, I think having a panel increases productivity. They need to be aware that it’s a competitive market out there. As a result of the panel, we actively monitor what we send out.”

Healy-Pratt has a small legal team of three, including himself and a recently-hired solicitor from Berrymans Lace Mawer. Amlin also has a secondee working in the legal department for periods of about six months to boost the team. Healy-Pratt annual corporate budget, in a quiet year, is around £1m; however, the claims handling spend is vast, reaching more than £50m globally.

Much of Amlin’s work takes place in the US, which Healy-Pratt describes as “the forum of choice for compensation”. The reason for this is simple. An average damages award for wrongful death in the US is around $4m (£2.3m), while in the UK it is more like $1.5m (£840,000).

Healy-Pratt says the US is a challenging market for insurers and it is crucial to understand and appreciate the US justice system.

“In many ways the American legal system acts as a casino for claimants,” he says. Speaking of wrongful death cases in which Amlin has been involved, he adds: “Juries have a tendency to sympathise with the family of the deceased. It’s always a challenge to describe to a jury composed of lay people difficult technical and legal concepts.”

Amlin has to adjust its strategy for dealing with a case depending on the law of the state in which it is to be tried. For example, Healy-Pratt is more likely to go to a state court if a case is to be heard in Alaska, but he will pick a federal court in Pennsylvania, as they are more friendly to the defendants.

“Each of the 50 states has a micro legal climate,” he explains. “We’ll look at the merits of the case. Is it worth fighting? Is it worth settling? That means we have to have very close control over the lawyers who act on our clients’ and our behalf.”

Around the world, Amlin currently has a list of 434 law firms that handle claims work. In the UK, it mainly instructs Barlow Lyde & Gilbert (BLG), Beaumont & Son, Clyde & Co, Gates & Partners and Ince & Co on aviation work, and Clydes, Holman Fenwick & Willan and Ince for marine.

Healy-Pratt estimates that, globally, insurers are spending around £400m on lawyers’ fees. Since September 2001, claims arising from the World Trade Centre terrorist attacks have earned lawyers upwards of $40m (£22.5m). Amlin, as a major aviation insurer, has a part to play, and Healy-Pratt has been monitoring progress.

“My role is to review from Amlin’s perspective the strategy being employed on behalf of these policyholders and to review the reserves. It involves crystal ball-gazing. It’s a skill that comes with practice, although I would still very much like to have the mind of Derren Brown.”

But Healy-Pratt’s work is not limited to Amlin. He is also an active figure in the wider insurance market. New roles include being the chair of the recently established London Market Association Lawyers’ Forum, which has been set up for general counsel and in-house lawyers for insurers and managing agents. He is also the deputy chair of the Aviation Insurance Clauses Group, which will bring together a range of people involved in aviation insurance contracts to draft new clauses for consideration by underwriters.

Healy-Pratt was also involved with the London Market Association in the recent peaceful end to an inquiry into the aviation insurance sector by the EU. BLG and White & Case‘s Brussels office were the lawyers instructed.

“Amlin, as a major player in the London market, does contribute to the work of the trade association – we contribute on every level,” says Healy-Pratt.

James Healy-Pratt
General counsel

Organisation Amlin
Sector Insurance/reinsurance
Premium capacity £850m
Legal spend £1m (corporate), £50m+ (claims)
Employees 520
Legal capability Three, plus one secondee
General counsel James Healy-Pratt
Reporting to Chief executive Charles Philipps
Main law firms DMH Stallard (IT and IP), Fox Williams (employment), Ince & Co (commercial, competition), Linklaters, Norton Rose (capital markets, corporate and regulatory)