There's always a moment of excitement when you decided to start selling a new line of business.
Of course, that excitement is quickly followed by a level of concern surrounding your knowledge of the product and your ability to find clients.
That's a fairly normal process to go through, however, what if this time you didn't have to?
On this episode, RPS Area President Adrienne Woodhull breaks down the most important things to know about Lawyers Professional Liability coverage.
Joey Giangola: Adrienne Woodhall. How are you doing today?
Adrienne Woodhall: I'm doing good. How about you, Joey?
Joey Giangola: I'm doing all right. Hey, so I got to know what is quarantine life been for you? I mean, is there something... Everybody that I've talked to, they have some sort of moment of, "Oh, this is what it is," or, "Oh, I was good at this," or there's always something that's kind of popped back up that they've rediscovered, or kind of found out about themselves. Is there any sort of interesting moments you've had with yourself in quarantine?
Adrienne Woodhall: Well, my quarantine life's been somewhat simple for the simple fact that I do have young children, but my husband has taken on homeschooling. I realized I'm not good at teaching, so that was good. The main thing recently that I've realized, which I find interesting, is the fact that in the past I've always hated my commute, and I didn't realize how important was for my wellbeing to have that 45 minutes to an hour to myself on the way home from work.
Joey Giangola: There is something about being alone with your thoughts that people underestimate. Is that not correct?
Adrienne Woodhall: Yes. Absolutely. And I didn't really realize that until... So I'm in New Jersey. We've been quarantined almost two months, and I really have left my house little to none. I was fortunate enough to be able to stay in my house. So recently, maybe about three weeks ago, it kind of occurred to me. My family would see a different side of me that they don't normally see. When they've pointed it out, I kind of took a step back and realized that it's because I'm not commuting. So I don't have that little bit of downtime to let me collect my thoughts so that when I walk in the door, I'm here 100% with my family. I leave my room and I continue to think about my work no matter where I go.
Joey Giangola: Have you thought about implementing an in-home commute, maybe? Just kind of take a couple laps around the house before? You just say, Hey, "Mom's on her way home. I'll be there in a minute."
Adrienne Woodhall: Yeah. I've thought about that. I've also thought about just taking a walk now that the weather is breaking a little bit in New Jersey. The only downside to that is that my seven year old absolutely loves me being home and will insist on doing it with me.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, kids, they tend to get in the way like that sometimes.
Adrienne Woodhall: Yeah. Yeah, I love her to death and it's been great being home with them and being able to spend so much more time with them. In the same respect, I realize how much I need a little bit of time to myself.
Joey Giangola: Fair enough. I think that's a fair statement for almost any parent. But Adrienne, what is going on in terms of insurance? What's happening? There's a lot of exciting new things coming your way and just kind of want to see what's going on.
Adrienne Woodhall: So we've partnered up with the new attorney shield, managing general underwriting team. We are launching this fully on our eCommerce platform. Right now it's in nine states, but I'm super excited. The way that this launched, it launched officially last month. I feel that it couldn't have been a better time to launch a platform like this. Our target is small law firms. Having that online solution for our agents just gives them one more reason to be able to call them up, especially when we're all quarantined into our houses.
Joey Giangola: Talk to me a little bit about lawyers. I mean, it's interesting coverage. I've talked to agents over the years, some that they don't want nothing to do... I don't have any lawyers as prospects, or as clients. Others, I do a ton of lawyers. What do you think in terms of an agent's outlook for this coverage? How should they be approaching it? One, if they're a veteran of the game in terms of offering this professional coverage to lawyers, and then two, maybe it's something that they've always kind of looked at from afar and thought, "Maybe I should do that." I mean, how do you think that kind of fits?
Adrienne Woodhall: Well, with this type of coverage, if you're not familiar with professional liability, it can be a little bit scary. My office and my branches have handled lawyers professional since about 1985, so we've been doing it for a very long period of time. One of the common misnomers is that, especially with small law firms, is that it's not necessary, they don't make mistakes. Not realizing that one missed calendar, or one missed date, can essentially have them close their law firm depending on the mistake. That's the most common thing that I've seen with the smaller law firms is they just don't feel they need the coverage unless someone's making them have the coverage. But at the end of the day, everybody makes mistakes. We're all human. So the littlest mistake from a lawyer's point of view, missed a statute of limitations without the proper controls and stuff like that in place is something that easily comes up and will be covered under lawyers professional liability.
Joey Giangola: And what do you thinking just in terms of an agent looking to sell the policy, there's a pretty big difference in terms of coverage to coverage across the commercial space. They like to call things different names, or to have different things. We can make up things in terms of this is our own special whatever. What do you think? If you're going down your personal sort of checklist of what you're covering for an agent's perspective, what are those things that you would want them to be asking and making sure that their clients know about this coverage and/or is included when they're selling a policy?
Adrienne Woodhall: Right. So in some cases, the basis of the policy are very similar between carriers, and it's really the added coverages that carriers will allow that kind of really make a difference when it comes to lawyers professional. You always want to look at the definition of professional services, because it is more than just a lawyer. They're covering you for... On our policy, we'll be covering pro bono work, or if you're acting as a title agent or a notary public, looking at the definition of professional services, how they define it can make a real big difference because you might be doing some of those little things. As a lawyer, you might be handling a lot of real estate transactions, and you might be acting as a title agent because you have to in that certain state. So looking at the definition of professional services makes a really big deal to make sure that what you're doing in your law firm, that it is covered.
In addition to that, making sure that you have the proper prior acts, so that you're covered if you're moving law firm to law firm. Do they cover predecessor firms? Do they cover the variations of what we define an insured? For the most part, policy wordings are the same, but they do slightly vary. Obviously, looking at exclusions. If you're doing something specific, a lot of exclusions will come into play, which recently, I'll use this as an example, with notary publics, most states across the country, prior to the situation we're in now, you had to physically be present in front of somebody else. So there's been a lot of talk about law firms. You want to make sure that that coverage is there during this time if a lot of states have allowed you to not be personally active in front of the client when you're notarizing something, doing a signature. Some states prior to this had already started changing those rules, and now we've seen that really change with this crisis that we've been involved with.
Outside of the regular policy wording, there's some key coverages that really are important. One of them being there's policies that claims expenses outside of the limits and claims expenses within the limits, which basically you have an option if you were to have a claim, if those claims are going to be outside of your per claim limit, and it's almost an added coverage instead of the claims expenses being within your limits, which will obviously lower your limits for the amount of damages that might need to be paid out on a specific claim.
Some other coverages that we look at is first dollar defense, which basically means that you're only paying your deductible if there's damages paid on a claim. So those are two coverages that we do offer on our program.
Joey Giangola: That's interesting. Yeah, I mean, those are the little ones that you always got to pay attention to that, on paper, that don't kind of stand out as much as maybe they necessarily should. I was kind of curious, you had mentioned whether it might be covered for pro bono work. Now, how would it work on, let's say if a lawyer decided to waive a fee and do a pro bono case, you're saying if it doesn't specifically state that in the policy that for that particular case, they might not have coverage under that policy?
Adrienne Woodhall: The specific wordings will be very different, and they always put some type of verbiage around your pro bono work. So every carrier will change the way that they do it, the way that they'll cover it. The most important thing is it will always be listed as a definition of insured. So if you do want to have that pro bono work where you are doing that, it's important to make sure that the verbiage is there in the policy wording, which it does vary slightly based upon everything that you'll see.
Joey Giangola: That makes sense. Have you seen success with a specific subset of lawyers? I guess there's always some sort of little sweet spot within a niche that always lends itself to maybe a more profitable return. Maybe there's a type of coverage that makes the premium a little bit bigger, makes it a little more worth the agent's time. Is there something in that, in this policy, with lawyers in general, that you always kind of zero in on as being a good indicator?
Adrienne Woodhall: There are so many different ways that you can classify [inaudible] as a practice that are covered under these lawyer policies. The more generalized lawyer, defense firms, are usually looked at as being a little bit lower of a class. Insurance defense comes up very often when we're talking about on our lawyers policies. We feel that that's a class that we would love to write a lot more of if they're doing it. There's also certain law firms that really specialize, so they don't have to be in some of the lighter AOPs, areas of practice, but they specialize in what they do. Which to me and to my group, we feel that if you're specializing, you're doing 100% of something all day every day, the odds of you making a mistake are slim to none, so we prefer to always have specialists going on in our programs. A lot of times that doesn't come to play, but it does make a big difference. If you're looking at something and that's what you're doing, you're going to know the ins and outs of that, and the odds of you missing something like that are slim to none.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, and this is part of, again... You always hear agents toss around the word program. I've got an insurance program for that, and it sounds like they're passing around a middle school flyer or something. They got this program that's folded in half sort of thing. But one of the big advantages of that is, like you said, the specialized underwriting of just being able to do things over and over again. Have you seen any instances to where that's actually played out in practice? Any good stories of where, listen, these underwriters are going to catch stuff that you might not see with somebody that's doing a lawyer's policy, versus a contractor's pollution policy, versus a cyber policy?
Adrienne Woodhall: Well, looking at it from the aspect of your agents understanding professional liability, that would come and make a big difference. Specific to specialization, I do deal with a handful of retailers that the only thing they do is professional liability, so they know what coverages they want. They know what coverages are in the market. They know what is to be competitive. I've also come across some other agents that happen to come across a lawyers professional policy. They want to try to replace it, but they really don't understand the difference between an occurrence and a claims made policy. All of our lawyers policies, most lawyers policies, are all claims made and reporting. Definitely not occurrence. The occurrence policies used to be back a while ago. They used to be occurrence, but claims made, and having somebody that specializes in, even from a retailer's point of view, from a law firm's point of view, will always make the, in our eyes, the exposure a lot less.
Joey Giangola: What are you looking at now? I mean, again, a lot of law practices are basically small businesses. Their things are kind of on hold. Where do you see things going in terms of the coverages? What are you seeing in terms of actual practices being able to still operate? What's going on? How is that impacting the coverage? I mean, it's not like you can go and just pivot and become something else in terms of... A lot of manufacturers and things are kind of moving things around a little bit. What are you seeing from that space in terms of what's happening from kind of our forced separation?
Adrienne Woodhall: Of course. Unfortunately, no matter what's going on in the world, we'll always need lawyers. So you always have someone that wants to sue someone for something they did, or felt like they were wrongly taken care of. During this, making sure that you really are staying in your lane as best as you're possible. I mean, the smaller law firms I feel will, in this type of scenario, might take on things that they're not so comfortable with because their case load has dropped, or the courts are closed or, they're not able to do mediations. So many different things can vary, especially in this situation, and it's really important to make sure that on a go forward, that you're always having the coverages that you need. And it does make it a little bit more difficult when we're kind of all quarantined into our houses. Obviously that varies throughout the whole country, but making sure that you stay in your lane during this time makes the most sense. You don't want to pick up adage exposure that you really don't know anything about. You want to stick to what you know.
Joey Giangola: Yeah. I mean, so from an agent's perspective, do you think they should then maybe consider just checking in on some of their lawyer clients and say, "Hey, listen, what's going on these days? I want to just make sure you got coverage for what you're practicing. I want to make sure you know what you're doing. I know you might be looking for that next case or whatever." But I mean, would that be something that might be worthwhile at least for, like you said, some of their higher value clients, just to make sure that they haven't strayed too far from their kind of core practice?
Absolutely. I think that a phone call to especially clients that you've had, bigger clients or clients that you've had for very many years. You always want to stay visible on a time like this and make sure that they know that you're there for them, that you've been thinking of them. That will only help. It'll help with their coverage, it will help with any midterm questions that they might have. I also feel that it really will help you secure possibly that renewal a little bit more easily, because when everything was down, you were the person there on the phone with them. You were the person that was there making sure that they had the coverage they need.
The other thing that I would say is making sure that something with... The way that our lawyers program is coming, we have risk management opportunities where they can ask a lot of questions for free based upon the fact that they're insured with us. That's huge in my eyes, especially during this timeframe. Our risk management law firm that takes care of this. They put out a lot of information, especially with all these changes that we've all had to make in the new norm, although I hate that saying, so the new norm. But it's important and having somebody, having a third party outside of your agent, sometimes agencies aren't aware that they have somebody else to talk to about risk management. Whether they should report a claim, whether they shouldn't report a claim. They also have a lot of different templates for engagement letters, and different variations of what they do on their day-to-day. But it is important, definitely important.
Joey Giangola: Yeah, I'll raise your new normal with unprecedented times, Adrienne.
Adrienne Woodhall: There you go.
Joey Giangola: So actually, I'm kind of curious. Talk to me about that renewal process a little bit. I mean, again, now more than ever, what do you think goes into a good renewal when dealing with professional lines policy?
Adrienne Woodhall: There's always going to be the people that are going to go just where the cheaper premium is. That's never been our strategy on selling. I don't think it should be a strategy when you're purchasing. The old saying is that you get what you pay for. There are policies that are going to be cheaper and the coverages are going to be a lot worse. So when the chips are down and you do have a problem, and people get pulled into lawsuits all the time, whether they did anything wrong or not. In this timeframe, you want to make sure that the carrier that you're with is going to be there when you happen to have a claim come up, or incident come up, against your policy. Cheaper's not always better. And a lot of people, especially in this timeframe, people are going to be looking at it from a monetary standpoint a little bit more just because of the way society is right now.
Joey Giangola: And kind of staying on that a little bit, I was curious, you had mentioned about it being on the eCommerce platform. What's the traditional process like, in the old paper world versus the amount of questions that we have now?
Adrienne Woodhall: In a normal underwriting process, you usually fill out a full application. Usually the applications that I've seen, that we've used ourselves, are five, six pages sometimes. Obviously they vary a little bit by the carrier as well, but going from five, six pages of questions. And then with our process, we've really shortened that with eCommerce. Realizing that some of those questions, they were there because they were there 10 years ago, and really kind of looking at how do we update this process so that we're not receiving renewal applications, or new business applications by email, having to manually update the information, make sure that the client's filled out all the questions the right way.
The process took a lot longer, not to mention the fact, from an underwriting point of view, that also takes a while. People you are going to have to work through. You try to do everything as quickly as possible. Obviously, you need to make sure that you're doing it correctly. But with this eCommerce platform, I'm really excited about breaking down that underwriting process. Shortening the question set, making sure the questions that we're asking really do have a difference on the way that we view a law firm, or the way that we are pricing a law firm. Shortening that process with this eCom platform gives an opportunity for our retail agents who can't go to their client's offices an opportunity to share the application. They can complete it together. They can do a digital sign. Some of the smaller law firms don't have those capabilities. This is something that will give our retail agents a way to get into their clients without physically being able to be there.
And answering a set of questions, our application is, on the new program, is less than two pages, and it's even less questions. We have some what if, like if you have to answer this. I've been an underwriter my whole career, and to have this different type of approach, I'm really excited about. I think that it's really important to make these different changes. As we've been successful as RPS with this type of platform, and I'm really excited about seeing the lawyers professional on it. I think that it's needed, and it's very fortunate that it was launching during while we were in quarantine.
Joey Giangola: I got to know, you said being an underwriter, from an agent's perspective, what do you think is the, I don't want to say misconception, but what's one thing, if you could say, "Agents, do this one thing to get better results from submitting to an underwriter, just communicating with an underwriter." What is that one thing that you would constantly just, if you could, install across the entire industry?
Adrienne Woodhall: It would be just sending incomplete information. I know that there are applications that I come through that are half blank. As underwriters to go back and forth, everybody's busy, everybody in the entire world is busy to some point. To help speed that process is to make sure that all that information is submitted at the same time. So there's no back and forth, or at least a little bit of back and forth. It really can make the underwriting process that much more simple. Just making sure that you have all the information upfront.
Joey Giangola: We keep hearing it, Adrienne. You'd think after so long, it would become sort of a thing that we would kind of get behind, but maybe one of these days we'll get there, right?
Adrienne Woodhall: Yeah, no, I will say I've been unfortunately guilty of that myself, and from a underwriting point of view, I want to be very upset with the broker point of view, the broker side of me sometimes. Because it is very simple. It's very simple to forward.
One way to make it easier is to reduce the number of pages of the application, so that's one way to do it.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Reducing the amount of questions on an application just makes most sense. When I talk about completion of underwriting stuff, but if you have claims, send loss runs. If you have a client who's answer yes that they... If it's a broader question, "Have you had three sued for fees in the last five years?" And your answer yes, well, how many? Getting those little bit of added additional questions only helps that process even a little bit quicker. And from an underwriting point of view, those are the ones that I want to see. Where I could open a file, I can look at it, I can get the quote out, even with our eCommerce platform. We have a few things that we'll refer out with an underwriter reviewing it. Having that information in the beginning, it just speeds up that whole process.
All right Adrienne, I got one more question for you. And you've got a pretty extensive history within the insurance world, so I'm kind of curious. What are you most excited about next? We're kind of talking about pushing the limits of applications questions and things like that, but what's even beyond that? What's the next thing that you're excited for in terms of insurance and kind of pushing it forward that really kind of gets you going?
Not just to go back to the eCommerce thing. The eCommerce, we've been dealing with that with RPS for years as a whole. My programs that we have in our office now are not an eCommerce base and that's something that really excites me on a go forward basis. I think there's a need for change, a need for being updated. Going through these applications and trying to shorten them. There's questions there that are only being asked because of the 2008 financial crisis. That was 12 years ago. So, updating all those procedures, I'm really excited about it. Working on this new program with a new platform, it just made me that much more excited.
Joey Giangola: All right Adrienne, well I appreciate you taking the time. It was a lot of fun.
Adrienne Woodhall: Oh, no problem. I really appreciate it, Joey. Thank you so much.