Five partners, 8 lawyers and 12 support staff from the insurance litigation department of HGR joined the Melbourne office of Moray in July 2006. They included newly appointed managing partner Bill Papastergiadis, who spent 12 years at HGR, while partner Anthony Scott has been at HGR for 17 years and partner John Wycherley approximately 20 years.
For Papastergiadis, the move was indicative of a developing trend toward specialist insurance firms in Australia.
“I can see a trend developing in the marketplace for people to co-ordinate their skills and their clients in this way,” he said. “What’s becoming apparent is that there is a clear dichotomy sometimes between insurance divisions and the commercial division of many firms, hence the separation we have seen in recent times of insurance divisions.”
Moray’s Melbourne office now includes 10 partners and 16 lawyers, while there are more than 140 legal staff members nationwide.
“I believe real specialisation is the only way to excel in the current insurance market,” Papastergiadis said.
“The conflicting fee structures and different work practices across departments in commercial law firms make servicing specialist insurance clients too difficult. To offer truly competitive rates without compromising service, insurance lawyers need to find an appropriate specialist insurance environment to operate in.”
The exodus from HGR also made good commercial sense to Papastergiadis.
“I think it’s a fit, [given] … there’s a stronger commitment towards understanding our clients’ needs and requirements, and the marketing issues that surround those commitments. There is [also] a dedicated investment in IT technology that a lot of our insurable clients are now demanding,” he said.
In fact, IT capability was one of the core reasons that insurance clients are attracted to Moray, because “the key driver in most of the tenders that we’re confronted with relate to the systems, the processes and the resources that a firm has, to enable the insurer to monitor data almost on a real-time basis — that’s a key part of what Moray & Agnew offers,” he said.
According to Papastergiadis, the recent growth in the Melbourne office is only the beginning — he hopes to double again in size over the next 12 months.
“We’re in discussion with a number of allied government and insurance service departments in other firms, and we’re quite hopeful about being able to expand quickly … and we see that as an important part of the firm’s progress, because you need the critical mass to be able to offer the appropriate service to the relevant large national and international insurers,” he said.
Asked whether he thought this would make his competitors worried, Papastergiadis said, “I think so. We would like to think that we’re on the panel of most of the major national insurers. We have a large presence in the UK — we fund trips to London twice a year — and send over three or four lawyers to do substantial marketing there.”