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The COVID-19 pandemic forced Liberty Mutual Insurance Co.’s 900-person field legal department to drastically adjust claims litigation handling as courtrooms across the country went virtual, from case depositions to trials and everything in between.
While the insurer had technology to respond when the world shut down in March 2020, said Arlene Zalayet, senior vice president and general attorney for Boston-based Liberty Mutual, the legal team wasn’t necessarily prepared to handle all court business outside of a courtroom or office.
“Nobody could be in the same room, even the lawyer and the client. … This was a whole new way of lawyering,” she said.
In response, the insurer’s legal training program was quickly expanded to include skills for virtual advocacy, Ms. Zalayet said. The mandatory trainings covered how to conduct virtual proceedings such as depositions and mediations with virtual simulations by senior attorneys. A mentor and buddy system, as well as checklists, were also created to help attorneys keep up with the constantly changing rules across jurisdictions.
As courts responded to the evolving pandemic, so did the training program. New training was introduced when virtual jury trials started in the summer of 2020, Ms. Zalayet said. It was challenging, as trials operated differently in different venues, with jurors in the courtroom with the judge and lawyers in some places and at home in others, she said.
In one instance, Ms. Zalayet said, the attorneys had to stand with their backs to the judge while facing the jurors on a giant screen.
“Our lawyers had to be trained on how you connect and make your points effectively in these strange physical settings,” she said.
Other departments were brought in to help, including Liberty Mutual’s actuarial team, which analyzed the situational data’s effect on case outcomes. According to that data, the team’s trial defense success rate was consistent with that of pre-pandemic.
The legal team also detailed its winning cases in a podcast series called “The Way We Win.”
Ms. Zalayet said the experience was a team-building and learning opportunity.
“We still have ongoing monthly meetings with the claims leaders, the actuary leaders and the national training coordinator because we didn’t want to let that synergy go,” she said.
Most courts will continue to have virtual case components going forward, Ms. Zalayet said, so the virtual advocacy training program will operate alongside the company’s in-person training program indefinitely.
“Everyone still needs virtual skills in their toolbox. From now on, our view of training is it’s not either or,” she said.
• Anderson Kill P.C. — The firm helped secure coverage victories for commercial policyholders in cases ranging from COVID-19 business interruption disputes to asbestos-related liability claims.
• Cohen Ziffer Frenchman & McKenna LLP — Cohen Ziffer is a recently formed law firm that has attracted numerous corporate policyholder clients to work on pandemic-related claims and complex liability claims.
• Covington & Burling LLP — The firm successfully represented policyholders in disputes including coverage for cyberattacks, pollution and losses related to COVID-19 shutdowns.
• Pasich LLP — The boutique insurance recovery law firm scored numerous wins for policyholders, including securing event cancellation coverage for concerts canceled during the pandemic.
The 2022 Business Insurance U.S. Insurance Awards celebrate teams working across the insurance and risk management sector that are providing solutions to problems faced by commercial insurance buyers and supporting the industry.