Since 1985, Senior Claims Counsel John Hester has helped thousands of North Carolina attorneys with issues both large and small. To celebrate the company’s 40th Anniversary, John shares some thoughts and reflections about Lawyers Mutual.
Following are some of John Hester’s recollections about the creation and growth of a company that was the first of its kind in the nation.
What drew you to work at Lawyers Mutual?
It was my desire to work where I could make a more positive impact on the practice of law and perhaps be of greater service to the bar. Lawyers Mutual felt comfortable and inviting and offered me an opportunity to help other lawyers when they experienced some difficulty.
I had two years of private practice, seven years in corporate/insurance practice and two years in public service practice before coming to Lawyers Mutual. All of this experience has been beneficial to me. The general practice years gave me an understanding of the pressures our insureds face daily. The corporate and insurance experience allowed me to foster a Claims Department that followed insurance industry standards. My time in public service practice showed me the value of good customer service.
Describe your early experiences at Lawyers Mutual.
When I joined Lawyers Mutual in 1985, there was one underwriter and four of us in claims. In addition to the president, we had a bookkeeper and a secretary. Chris Coley, who was in charge of claims at that time, and I sat across from each other at the same desk and took turns using the telephone during my first few weeks. We didn’t have computers, and even making photocopies were expensive and time-consuming. Primarily, we made carbon copies of original documents and letters.
What I quickly realized is that many of the incidents being reported offered opportunities to correct the issue at hand and avoid a claim. These claims repair efforts were almost always successful and the cost of the repair utilizing outside counsel was significantly lower than that of paying a claim. The Claims Repair Program was born, which is now a model for the industry.
How did Lawyers Mutual assist in the formation of similar companies in other states?
In the mid-1970s, there was a national legal malpractice insurance crisis. National commercial carriers abandoned the state. Most attorneys were left without coverage or concerned that they would soon receive a cancellation notice.
Lawyers Mutual was the first lawyer owned and operated insurance company in the nation. John Beard visited almost all 100 counties and spoke about the formation of the new Lawyers Mutual. When I received my first policy, I knew this company would be successful.
Lawyers Mutual was an original, a success story. We set the standard. John Beard and other board members had significant contacts with the ABA, and this formed initial manner of contact for other companies. We provided advice directly on how to establish underwriting and claims departments. We invited others to observe how we conducted business and visited them for hands-on training. As I recall, we helped ten or twelve companies in various states in their start-up activities.
What milestones and achievements have you seen Lawyers Mutual accomplish?
One milestone was initiating the Claims Repair program. Another is the paperless system that is now in effect which increased productivity and improved response time to our insureds.
In the early years, risk management was a part of the Claims Department. These efforts are now handled by the Client Services Department with a staff of highly trained and effective professionals. Our risk management program sets the national standard for providing customer service to our insureds.
Another achievement is our retention rate. Our insureds stick with us. We continue to insure a substantial portion of the attorneys in the state while avoiding the turnover experienced by commercial carriers. Sometimes we receive calls from lawyers insured by another carrier who state their calls are either not returned or the other company won’t speak with them unless they are sued and have a claim. We don’t do business that way.
What makes Lawyers Mutual unique?
I would say I am not really surprised at the success of Lawyers Mutual. We have all worked hard as a team to maintain this company. Our business is building relationships.
The claims staff at Lawyers Mutual is stable, experienced and professional. When you contact Lawyers Mutual about an issue, you are going to speak with a lawyer, not an adjuster. The first thing that takes place is a close examination of what claims avoidance or repair efforts are possible when something is reported to us.
The Client Services Program at Lawyers Mutual provides CLE programs, newsletters and online services that are the envy of every other company in the country. Thousands of attorneys in our state annually receive personal attention either directly or through online services. We are offering CLE programs throughout the state on almost every topic imaginable, plus online risk management materials.
What is the most important thing you have learned from working at Lawyers Mutual?
Over the years I have talked with thousands of attorneys in serious distress. I have learned that the most important thing I can do is to listen when I am contacted by someone needing my attention.
A substantial part of my job involves counseling attorneys to see that we can work as a team to resolve any difficulty. By the end of our initial conversation you will know that our team is working for you.