This guide follows the typical research pyramid: start with secondary sources, move to primary sources via online services, and finish with tools to check current awareness of your topic.
Even though this guide is meant to follow the typical research path, each page was designed to be a discrete resource for insurance defense research. You may find that one page or another is particularly helpful as you begin to practice.
Whether you review this guide page-by-page or if you pick and choose topics as needed, two research problems are included to test your research abilities. When you can quickly review both research problems without having to refer back to the other pages, you will have exceeded the scope of this guide. At that point: Congratulations, and best wishes in your insurance defense career!
This guide is not meant to be comprehensive; rather, the intent is to highlight the sources that recent law graduates practicing in the insurance defense field are most likely to come across and to provide quality evaluations of those selected resources.
As Dean Jerry notes in the preface to Understanding Insurance Law, instruction in insurance law is woefuly inadequate in most law schools. Virtually every person in the United States has insurance in some form or another - health, auto, worker's compensation - and yet most lawyers would be unprepared to handle the twists and bends of their client's insurance policies. Insurance is a heavily regulated industry, which requires a broad knowledge of insurance law before handling insurance cases. At the same time, insurance defense leaves a lot of room for creativity and can be highly fact-specific. No two situations carry the exact same fact pattern because insurance defense involves people - and no two people are the same.
This research guide is meant to provide direction to the new attorney, in practice less than five years, who is dealing with these insurance related issues for the first time. No doubt, there may be valuable material for law students studying insurance law as well as seasoned practicioners, but the intended audience is new attorneys. As much as possible, this guide attempts to be state-neutral. However, because state resources are a valuable part of legal research, references are made to Missouri materials where needed.
Insurance defense attorneys should make use of both factual investigation materials and legal research materials. Factual investigation can be extremely important because of the fact-sensitive nature of these cases. Once you have a firm grasp of the facts, move to researching the substantive law that governs the issue. Often times there will be a question of whether insurance coverage is clear, and there may be issues when there are other individuals or insurance companies that could also be at fault. However, this decision must be made quickly, because there are potential legal penalties to delays in handling claims.
The best insurance defense lawyer is already versed in the basics of insurance law and can spot coverage, or other front-end issues, early. After spotting these front-end issues, the lawyer can then move into the specific facts of the case, utilizing secondary sources and current awareness tools to stay up to date on trends in insurance law. Insurance defense lawyers will rely heavily on sources describing insurance law as a whole, but in practice can devote substantial attention to insurance defense specific practice aids.
The best research strategy for an insurance defense lawyer is a proactive one: have a general understanding of the major insurance defense issues that can come up, from coverage issues to scope of damages. This can be accomplished by reviewing closely some of the introductory secondary sources on a regular basis. Then spend time researching more in-depth issues as they happen, and searching for the primary law to support that issue. Finally, current awareness of trends in the insurance industry is important, if nothing else than to allow you to work with the insurance companies that are providing you work.
Insurance defense can be confusing at times, and most lawyers do not receive enough education in the area. With time though, you will master the area of insurance defense. Happy research trails!
Phillip Raine is a graduate from the University of Missouri School of Law. During law school Phillip clerked for the in-house claims litigation department of an insurance company operating in the midwest region, and for a small law firm that practices in insurance defense, worker's compensation, medical malpractice, administrative defense, and family law areas.
This guide has been created in support of Professor Diamond's Advanced Legal Research class for Fall 2012. The contents of this guide should not be taken as legal advice or as the work product of MU Law librarians.