March 2020


Insurers in court: mock trials for young professionals

by Dan Robinson, AILA Young Professionals

For experienced insurance lawyers, attending court, observing court etiquette, and understanding how an insurance-related trial is conducted is par for the course.

The level of familiarity with the process is gleaned over years of practice and the occasional hard lesson delivered from the Bench.

However, for young lawyers and other professionals working in the insurance industry, the position can be very different. Many junior insurance lawyers, claims handlers, adjusters, brokers, underwriters and forensic accountants may never have had reason to be in court for any substantial period of time, much less to sit and observe how a trial of a liability claim or an insurance coverage dispute unfolds. 

However, many professionals working in insurance will, at some stage of their career, either have to attend court or have their work impacted on by what occurs before a court. That might involve them having to attend a trial to observe or give evidence.

For non-lawyers, the procedure and process of attending and observing in court, or giving evidence, can be a very foreign and unusual ordeal. The process of giving evidence and the risk of cross-examination in particular can be frightening. 

Recognising that, the AILA NSW Young Professionals (YPs) devised an event to assist young professionals in the insurance industry to better understand court procedure and processes, and gain a better understanding of how an insurance-related matter unfolds before a court.

It is the third year the AILA NSW YPs have staged mock trials with the aim of educating young insurance professionals from all parts of the industry on how the court process works. The events, partnering with the Lloyd’s Development Group (LDG) and the National Insurance Brokers Australia (NIBA), have been well attended by people from all walks of the insurance profession. 

The facts of each mock trial centre on an insurance or liability related dispute, and have included hypothetical non-disclosure, insurance policy rectification and alleged broker negligence disputes. The events have taken place in a real court or a simulated mock-trial court, and attendees observe the process of how a trial is conducted. The trial takes place with opening submissions, cross-examination and closing submissions. Attendees receive the facts of the case before the event, so they understand the nature of the dispute and the positions of the opposing sides.

The events are designed to be as realistic as possible, having previously been presided over by NSW Supreme Court Chief Justice Tom Bathurst and Justices Darke and Bellew. Senior members of the NSW Bar have also appeared for the hypothetical parties and cross-examined senior insurance professionals in roles as hypothetical witnesses.

Once the matter has been concluded, quite often the presiding judge or senior counsel will provide feedback and tips about the court process and how litigated claims can be managed effectively at trial.  

At the end of the mock trial, a networking event is held for attendees to discuss the demonstration and meet the participants.

This year AILA NSW YPs will again partner with LDG and NIBA to deliver mock trial events. The first was scheduled for Thursday 27 February in the Banco Court of the NSW Supreme Court before Chief Justice Bathurst.

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Resolve is the official publication of the Australian Insurance Law Association and
the New Zealand Insurance Law Association.