Spotlight on culture

Colin S. Taylor, executive director at Willis, on demonstrating a strong and healthy culture to your Professional Indemnity Insurance provider


At the time of writing this article we have just over three weeks to go before the main Professional Indemnity Insurance renewal date of 1 October.

By the time you read this, if you still renew on the 1 October, then you will have now completed your renewal negotiations for another year. As always, there will be stories of reductions or increases, how easy the process was, and any difficulties experienced.

Although the focus for an insurer will change annually, depending on where the claims are coming from, the one constant is the insurers’ desire to understand, either through the proposal form or through one-to-one meetings, the culture of the firm they are asked to provide a quotation on.

Culture will of course mean different things to different people, but how the firm manages itself is a key feature in understanding the risk associated with any firm. One of the most important cultural aspects is how quickly and easily management are made aware of issues that may need to be notified to insurers.

This one cultural quality can greatly improve a firm’s insurance costs and reduce the exposure to both excess payments and reputational damage. Many firms may desire this cultural characteristic, but it’s not easy to create and just as difficult to maintain. In recent years this has become even more of a challenge in the face of widespread merger activity where cultures may be at odds. The importance of achieving a common understanding of the obligations is all too clear. To change culture you have to change behaviour and maintain those new behaviours.

The culture of any business starts with those in a leadership position. During crisis periods they need to be very direct and “transmit” the message to their employees. Most of the time, however, firms are not in crisis and we need a style that engages all members of staff.

Leadership requires excellent listening skills, integrity, openness and establishing a no (or at least a low) blame culture. Lack of proper supervision has been the cause of many claims against lawyers and if we need help then we have to have the courage to ask for it. In a well-run firm it will take less courage to ask; in a poorly run firm it will take great courage.

We have to create a trust and collegiate atmosphere. Equally, every member of staff needs to feel their work is important. Having staff that want to work for the firm rather than having to work can transform performance.

As such, I believe a coaching culture is to be encouraged. The challenge for all of us is finding time to create this culture and yet by doing so we may well find we gain the time we are so desperately looking for.

It is my personal view that many heads of departments and supervisors at law firms do embrace a more rounded and supportive style of leadership and, no matter how renewal negotiations go, demonstrating this to insurers will remain as important as ever.

Colin S. Taylor is an Executive Director at Willis