University: University of Bristol
Year of qualification: 2016
Department: Professional & financial risks (currently on secondment)
What was your journey to RPC?
I studied law at university and went straight on to the LPC, then worked for 18 months at two different law firms in the South West as a paralegal, before securing a training contract at RPC in 2014.
Since joining RPC, I have been able to get a feel for working in both Bristol and London, as well as the businesses of some of the firm’s main insurer clients. I trained at the Bristol office, with a six-month seat on secondment to London, and was based back in Bristol for a period after I qualified. I then went on secondment to a London insurer and have since moved across to the London office full time. Currently, I’m on another secondment with an insurer.
What attracted you to RPC?
When I was working as a paralegal, I was handling matters in which there were often insurers on the other side, and I developed an interest in insurance work. RPC has an excellent reputation and track record in insurance, with a wide range of practice areas and deep expertise, so this was what initially attracted me.
And as I found out more about the firm through research and talking to people, the culture began to really stand out as well. Throughout the application process, I found that the people working at the firm were so genuine and approachable, as well being excellent client-focused lawyers and having a fantastic amount of expertise and experience to share, which made me even keener to work there.
At university, I hadn’t thought it was possible to join a firm that offers both high-quality, challenging work and a healthy culture – I believed that realistically I could only have one or the other - but at RPC these two aspects naturally go hand in hand.
How do the Bristol and London offices compare?
The business is broadly split between insurance and commercial work, with the Bristol office primarily focusing on insurance and the London office covering insurance and commercial practice areas as well as internationally focused work. When I joined RPC, the Bristol office was still relatively new, having been established in 2012. At the beginning there were around 20 people working in Bristol, but the office has grown significantly over time and now supports 190 people over two floors. The number of partners based in Bristol has also grown, both through internal promotions and external hires, which reflects a wider sectoral trend of insurance work moving out of London to regional hubs. This is partly a response to the fact that insurers are very sophisticated purchasers of legal services – they know that the high volumes of work that they can direct to law firms of their choosing means that they have real leverage when it comes to negotiating fees and expecting more for less. It makes sense for law firms to expand their regional offices rather than in London, as the costs are lower but there is no drop in the quality of the service. And with the Bristol office continuing to grow, there is now an increasing commercial element to the work as well.
What does being an insurance lawyer involve?
‘Insurance’ is not an obvious name for what we do – as a student I did not appreciate what being an insurance lawyer means in practice. My area involves professional indemnity and directors and officers (D&O) liability insurance, so we do a lot of litigation, often defending claims against professional insureds and their insurers. We defend a wide range of professional people and entities, for example, company directors, insolvency practitioners, accountants, financial advisers, pension providers and insurance brokers.
We also advise insurers on the coverage available under these types of insurance policies when an insured makes a claim under their policy. For example, we will advise an insurer on how a D&O policy responds if a director is the subject of a claim or complaint from the shareholders of the company or if there is a regulatory investigation into the company or the director's conduct.
Other work that we are involved in concerns monitoring complex and extensive litigation and/or investigations, for example if these are being conducted in different jurisdictions or arise out of the insolvency of a large insured company. In this role, we provide insurers with ongoing advice on coverage and assist insurers with responding to fast-moving developments by keeping closely involved on the ground.
Do the different teams at the firm work together?
Yes definitely – one of the big advantages of having trained at the firm and worked in both offices is that I have good working relationships with people right across the firm. For example, one of the former trainees from my cohort has been involved in spearheading RPC’s developing sports law practice and the other day the insurer that I’m seconded to had a query relating to a football club insured, so I was able to call my colleague, gain some insights and report useful sector knowledge back to the insurer as well as outlining what RPC can do in that area.
As a firm we are good at collaborating across teams – as everyone is so approachable, it is always easy to pick up the phone for a chat to get some advice.
What are the benefits of going on secondment to a client?
I am a huge fan of secondments because it is so valuable to see situations from the client’s perspective. You gain an amazing insight into the particular pressures that your client feels and gain a much deeper understanding of their needs and what you and your firm can do to help them.
Insurance is a relatively compact industry where relationships are often built on working with clients closely, so you will work with the same people again and again. Working with the client as part of their team enables you to get to know people and form personal bonds and relationships that make working together more effective and strengthen the ties between the client and the firm.
Can you tell us about diversity and inclusion at RPC?
RPC is a small enough firm that the senior leadership are in regular contact and it is obvious when you speak to the senior partners that they genuinely care about making the firm a diverse and inclusive place to work. In recent years this has crystallised and grown into a more organised, structured set of initiatives. We now have the LGBT+ workstream which I co-lead, and the following workstreams; caring responsibilities, disability, ethnicity, faith, gender, mental health and social mobility. There are links across these networks so that the overall approach is intersectional – everyone should be able to bring every aspect of themselves to work. Every three months the workstreams all report in together as a wider taskforce so we can collaborate and support each other, and the taskforce then reports to Simon Laird, the firm’s head of insurance, and the executive team – so there is real engagement right at the top of the firm. Particular highlights for me include winning ‘best employer’ at Bristol Pride in 2018, RPC’s massive improvement in the most recent Stonewall rankings and perhaps most importantly, never having to hide my bisexuality.
We are also developing further initiatives in the areas of CSR, community engagement, pro bono and the environment.
How has RPC responded to the challenges of covid-19?
My own experience of the firm adapting to social distancing has been almost seamless and our ability to provide services to our clients has not been affected. People across the firm have been involved in remote hearings and mediations since lockdown began, and we have all shared knowledge and experience about adapting to remote working. We have regular virtual town halls and Zoom catch ups, and the firm is also providing access to a therapist through HelloSelf to support employees.
RPC was also one of the firms that came out very quickly to say that it would be doing everything it can to avoid making use of the furlough scheme or redundancies, with partners and directors taking a cut on their drawings instead. I think that is a sign of a firm that genuinely cares about its employees.
And in terms of recruitment, Ellinor Davey (early talent lead at RPC) has been working hard to ensure that RPC’s vacation scheme and training contract selection process go ahead as planned online, so there is no disruption in recruiting our next cohort of trainees.