Leading UK insurance expert joins Kiwi firm

by Sophie Schroder13 Aug 2014
London barrister Toby Gee has been appointed as special counsel at Minter Ellison Rudd Watts after arriving in the country at the end of last year.

The leading insurance and negotiation expert says he spent a lot of his initial time in New Zealand carefully investigating the different job opportunities in the market here, and is now looking forward to getting down to business with Minters.

“I think Minter Ellison [Rudd Watts] has a first class reputation as a commercial firm and has an excellent insurance practice. It’s got a great range of really good work in New Zealand,” he told NZ Lawyer. “I’m hopeful that my 20 years of experience of being a barrister in London dealing with insurance related issues will enhance that.”

In England Gee has been involved in extensive litigation cases since the start of his career, after qualifying as a barrister.

It was partly by accident that he became involved in the insurance side of law:  At the chambers he worked for 80% of the cases that came through happened to be insurance related.

“In England a huge range of types of civil litigation involve insurers…it does mean that the cases I’ve dealt with over the years have often had quite different issues relating to liability or insurance disputes,” he says.

Gee also combined his litigation work with training as a mediator, because he felt as that litigation should be a last resort, and it’s always important for a client to turn to other ways of resolving things first.

A positive spin-off from this has been that the lawyer has found it extremely helpful in understanding a mediator’s perspective when he’s representing clients.

“I understand what the mediator is trying to do and I can help them push the right buttons,” he says. “Mediation often achieves a quicker, cheaper and better outcome for clients.”

Gee is excited at the prospect of working in New Zealand, which he says is now a world leader in terms of insurance law following the Canterbury Earthquakes.

The earthquakes have thrown up a host of interesting insurance issues, both in quantity and complexity, and the industry here and abroad is following these closely and adapting.

“Going forward the challenges the NZ courts are dealing with in terms of insurance will be of global significance,” he says. “Climate change and extreme weather events in the future are bound to give rise to huge insurance events worldwide and the fact that New Zealand has already been dealing with these issues means it is at the cutting edge in terms of insurance law.”

Gee says the sheer amount of construction work being completed around the country at the moment could also be creating future insurance challenges.

“There is some concern that the volume of construction work in Christchurch and to a lesser extent Auckland may be causing building standards to slip,” he says. “There’s also a risk that some of the building industry won’t be able to adapt to regulatory changes quickly enough. Both create increased insurance risks.”

He predicts another looming challenge will be the way the insurance industry will adapt to the sophisticated cyber risks that their clients are increasingly facing.

This is a rapidly changing environment that includes new privacy issues and international cyber-crime, and the regulations of data protection are changing both in New Zealand and worldwide, Gee says.

“There are changing regulatory duties for employers and financial institutions and insurers need to respond to these and create policies to cover the new risks.”

Minter Ellison Rudd Watts managing partner Mark Weenink says he is thrilled to welcome Gee to the team.

His extensive international litigation experience means Gee is in an ideal position to help clients with large scale insurance and commercial disputes, “the likes of which New Zealand is only now experiencing”, Weenink says.