Choose to spend your legal career in the insurance industry and you’ll always be at the center of the action. That’s because insurance industry lawyers and paralegals are part of the teams that develop new products, devise business strategies and make sure the company complies with state and federal laws.
“It’s challenging and exciting work,” says Beth Friel, vice president of human resources for an insurance firm in Harleysville, Pennsylvania. “You partner with a business unit, and you actually work on the company’s business plans and contribute to its achievements.”
For instance, Friel’s company is launching new policy administration systems. “That’s a big project and the lawyers worked on everything, beginning with the contract negotiations through rolling out the new systems and new products,” she says. “It really is true that the legal staff is involved in everything that goes on in the company.”
Where You’ll Work
Like many large firms, State Farm Insurance in Bloomington, Illinois, divides its legal team into two areas: litigation and counseling, says human resources representative Lara Horton.
Within those two areas, lawyers and paralegals work together on the daily legal issues facing the company. State Farm’s attorneys and paralegals have the opportunity to handle class-action and certain claim and nonclaim litigation, labor and civil rights issues, legislative and regulatory issues, purchases and real estate contracts, intellectual property issues, tax and investment matters, and write agency contracts, Horton says.
Land a Legal Job in Insurance
To work as an insurance company counsel, you’ll need to be licensed to practice law in at least one state. Insurance companies look for people with good legal experience either within the insurance arena or in specific legal fields related to their business, Horton says.
The experience often comes from outside insurance companies, says Robert R. Stone, executive vice president of Slayton Search Partners in New Canaan, Connecticut.
“In the claims department of property and casualty companies, you’ll see people coming out after five to nine years of private practice, especially from specialty practices such as director’s and officer’s insurance where a claim equals litigation,” he says.
As you rise through the ranks, companies seek even more specialization, says Bryan Cascarano, a senior recruiter for the Mergis Group, a division of Spherion. “Depending upon the position -- vice president or even director -- when we’re assisting in a search, the companies want a particular skill set at a similar size company, and they definitely want specific industry experience,” he says. “The different insurance lines have different laws they have to follow. The company is paying a good salary and wants the employee to be able to hit the ground running.”
To land a paralegal position at an insurance company, you’ll need paralegal training or its functional equivalent, such as a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies, a certificate from an American Bar Association-accredited institution, an associate’s degree in legal studies from an accredited institution, or the Certified Legal Assistant designation from the National Association of Legal Assistants, Horton says.
Once hired, paralegals support lawyers working in specialized areas, says Anne Jennings, managing director of Kelly Law Registry’s Hartford office. “If a company is developing new insurance products, a paralegal will handle the insurance filings with the state,” she says.
Paralegals often move into insurance from related fields, such as real estate, as well as from corporate positions. “A paralegal from a company that does securities filings could easily transition into insurance,” Jennings says. “Law firm experience is also good.”
Integrity and Smarts
When seeking paralegals or attorneys, insurance companies tend to look for certain personal qualities in applicants. “We need people with integrity, critical thinking, decision-making, judgment and teamwork,” Horton says.
Once hired, you’ll find insurance companies both small and large are known for generous benefits, including compressed workweeks, pension plans and great 401k programs. And unlike companies in many other industries, insurance companies tend to retain the same employees for decades.
“It’s really a nice quality of life for individuals,” Cascarano says. “That makes people feel empowered and part of a team. They get a level of stability when the market is great and even when it’s in a recession.”
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