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Security in Specialization

Ahern Insurance Brokerage: How much insurance coverage is enough?

One of the most important aspects of running a law firm is securing the proper insurance coverage.  Although California does not require mandatory professional liability insurance coverage for law firms and sole practitioners, most in the legal profession will agree such coverage is vital. Since 1997, Ahern Insurance Brokerage has been in the business of providing law firms with the appropriate coverage to ensure the wherewithal required to run a successful and secure practice.

There is no one-size-fits-all insurance solution that works for every law firm. Ahern Insurance strives to understand the customer’s individual needs, which will vary depending on the size of the firm, area of practice and history of claims. Ahern employs 33 professionals, including 11 brokers, and has offices throughout California. The Ahern team works with clients on an in-depth basis by building long-term relationships, not just making a quick sale. President W. Brian Ahern worked for Arthur J. Gallagher, the fourth largest insurance broker in the country, before starting his own business. “By creating my own agency, it allowed me to create an environment where working with my client base of lawyers came first,” Ahern says.

Focus Means Growth while Building Loyalty.

Currently, Ahern’s niche includes small and mid-sized regional law firms between one and 200 attorneys. Based in San Diego and considered the preeminent independent insurance brokerage in the southwest, Ahern is moving to a national platform. “We have a vision to grow, and we are very well positioned to do so,” Ahern says. “It is a great time for expansion with the legal industry rebounding from a rough few years.  We are seeing a significant number of firm acquisitions, lateral moves and other indicators that law firms are looking more toward the future.”

This new focus on larger law firms was promulgated by the addition of Rian Jorgensen, J.D. as senior vice president and counsel. Jorgensen comes to Ahern from Marsh Risk and Insurance Services, where he was insurance counsel on behalf of policyholders who had secured D&O, EPLI and E&O policies through Marsh. Drawing upon his 25 years of experience in loss prevention support, risk management and the practice of law, Jorgensen will provide clients with risk management consulting and insurance coverage counsel. He will also be responsible for helping Ahern launch and brand the firm’s “In-House Risk Management Program and Services.” Additionally, Jorgensen will assist in the development of a regional and national platform for securing large law firm business.

While positioning to compete with national insurance providers, Ahern is committed to continuing its focus on providing small and mid-size law firms with the quality professional liability insurance solutions that has been its hallmark for 16 years. “These clients are the heart and soul of our firm. They have been the foundation on which our firm has grown and achieved its current level of success, and we will remain committed to these clients and their needs,” says Ahern.

This isn’t Ahern’s first business expansion.  In 2008, he formed a new division, Ahern|ELT Insurance Services, LLC, which provides employee benefits including medical, disability, life and retirement benefits plans specifically tailored to meet the needs of law firms. Based on the company’s understanding of law firms, a strong mix of benefit solutions and funding arrangements, and the strategic hiring of experienced employee benefits experts, the expansion has been a success.

Ahern has earned the certification of Registered Professional Liability Underwriter specialist (RPLU), a distinction held by a limited number of insurance professionals.  He has also seen the insurance landscape change over the years. “Right now, if you look at professional liability insurance rates, they are at an eight-year low. The insurance business is a cycle. This industry is becoming more fine-tuned, and law firms find insurance brokerages that understand the legal industry to be a great asset,” Ahern says.

Based on his experience as a business owner as well as his expertise in the insurance industry, Ahern often serves as a sounding board for clients and provides business advice to seasoned attorneys as well as new lawyers.

What Young Attorneys (and All Attorneys) Need to Know

Malpractice is an aspect of practicing law most attorneys would prefer to not think about. However, having proper professional liability (malpractice) insurance coverage from the day you begin your law practice is imperative.

According to Ahern, lawyers in the Golden State have additional challenges. “California is one of the most high-profile states with regards to claims activity. It also has the attention of the insurance companies because of the total number of policies written in the state due to the large number of practicing attorneys.  This can make the process of securing insurance more expensive and more complex.”

The foundation for any firm is a professional liability policy, which covers damages resulting from the delivery of professional services. Several factors determine how much liability coverage each practice/sole practitioner should have. Certain areas of law have a higher frequency of claims than others, and according to Ahern, personal injury and real estate top the list.  Another aspect of determining insurance coverage is the monetary value of the firm’s cases and the potential damages should a claim arise, especially from one of the larger suits.  “So many issues are involved in selecting the right insurance for legal service providers that it’s important for law firms to work with someone who knows your business and your areas of law,” says Ahern.

An experienced insurance broker can help you determine how much coverage you need and help you secure favorable premiums. Ahern encourages law firm partners to look beyond the professional assets of the firm and consider their personal assets, which may also be at risk in a malpractice suit.  Most importantly, notwithstanding the specific requirements of California LLCs and APCs, the professional liability insurance coverage must meet the entire needs of a firm or it will fail the intended purpose.

Ahern believes his team’s focus in the legal industry ensures the best answer to the question: how much coverage is enough? “There is no one answer to that question,” he says.  “Each law firm is unique. Taking what makes a law firm different from the rest and using that info to get our clients the proper insurance coverage is our mission.”

Bridget Brookman

Bridget Brookman is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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About the Author: Bridget Brookman is a Staff Writer for Attorney Journal

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