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Australia - how law firms are adapting to the market


By Neasa MacErlean

20 November 2015 at 10:01 BST


Not even three months into the beginning of this year, Australian insurance law firm Wotton + Kearney was warning about the hacking dangers facing the country's insurance sector.

Partner Patrick Boardman said: ‘Since the start of 2015 there have been two serious hacking attacks in the US and Australia. It is currently understood that up to 80 million records held by the US health insurer, Anthem, and up to 770,000 records held by Australian travel insurer, Aussie Travel Cover, were compromised in the attacks.”

Data breaches

Cyber insurance is one of the newer areas that a group of specialist lawyers are advising on. At Clayton Utz, Sydney-based partner David Gerber has been warning of ‘the growth of cyber risks – including some varieties of cyber-attacks, their impacts and the changing legislative landscape in the context of data breaches’.

Allens, in a client update in April, highlighted moves from the corporate regulator ASIC (the Australian Securities and Investments Commission) to explain the importance of cyber resilience to business. Partner Michael Morris said that a recent ASIC report marked ‘a growing focus on cyber security issues by ASIC, which is consistent with an increased focus on this area by regulators globally’. 

Specialist law firms

Cyber insurance is one of many areas which keeps a wide range of specialist law firms busy in the country. The insurance sector is served by national and international law firms as well as by boutiques. The smaller firms have been increasing their reach this year. The 100-lawyer firm Wotton + Kearney is in the process of opening its fourth office in Australia through a new base in Perth. The practice believes there is a need in the area because of the large amount of ‘commercial insurance business [which is written] in the region’.

Meanwhile, niche firm Gilchrist Connell which only started in 2008 opened its fifth office (in Brisbane) in August. It has been expanding in a range of areas including workplace relations and financial lines claims. Strong geographical coverage has become important for the firm. Managing Principal Richard Wood said: ‘Our larger clients have indicated that they would like us to have a presence in as many major centres as possible..’

Workers compensation

Curwoods Insurance, the insurance arm of Curwoods Lawyers, has been specialising in the sector for 40 years. It highlights workers compensation changes in New South Wales, made in August this year, through the Workers Compensation Act, as a series of reforms ‘which will have broad impacts across the insurance industry’. Another major point of interest is the development of the proportionate liability regime across Australia. ‘All Australian States' jurisdictions…have enacted proportionate liability provisions, creating a reasonably consistent model for the determination of proportionate liability,’ comments the firm.  ‘Recent decisions have created greater clarity regarding the operation of the regime.’ 

Fraudulent misrepresentation

Another specialist firm, the Sydney-based Yeldham Price O’Brien Lusk, founded in 2007,  highlights case law in the Supreme Courts of Victoria and New South Wales as showing an interesting new trend. In two cases decided in these courts ‘the insurers successfully avoided life insurance contracts based on fraudulent misrepresentation and fraudulent breach of the duty of disclosure’ explains the firm. 

The breadth of the issues facing the insurance sector helps explain the growth and spread of law firms in the market. As we move into 2016, there are no signs of that growth stopping. 

 
   
 
 
 

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