You have been a prominent figure in the insurance market for more than 20 years and have been awarded various prestigious honours and awards over the last decade. To what do you credit your success?
Mostly good luck, I think. My good fortune began when I became the first ever pupil of Colin Edelman QC, who was at the time just beginning to develop his insurance law practice. He has since gone on to become the most knowledgable and formidable insurance barrister of his generation. A few years after I had completed my pupillage, Colin was instructed in the first of the many Lloyd’s of London insurance disputes in which he would establish his reputation. Being in the right place at the right time, and the case being large enough for an unknowledgable but hard working junior barrister just about to earn his keep, I was instructed as the third junior (those were the days). After that, I acted as his junior over many years, in many, if not most, of his notable early cases in Silk. Drafting pleadings and preparing for hearings with him was like being privately tutored. Having worked with him for over 10 years, I managed to learn a little from him. Even a little is a lot. We only lost one case, our final case, together; and that is generally considered to have been an ‘interesting’ decision of the House of Lords.
Your new law firm, Wynterhill LLP, offers a unique platform for commercial policyholders. With the new Insurance Act 2015 coming into force in August of this year, how well timed is your new venture and what was the thinking behind this proposition?
Wynterhill’s purpose is to act for and on behalf of commercial insurance policyholders. There has long been a structural imbalance in the UK between the legal firepower available to insurers and that available to commercial policyholders. The requirement of most standard model law firms for substantial cash flow with which to meet their high overheads means that it is invariably insurers’ steady and consistent flow of instructions that is most treasured. In addition, conflicts of interest, particularly as a result of the increasingly prevalent US rules on conflict, mean that even where a specialist insurance law firm may wish to act for a policyholder, it may be precluded from doing so by reason of conflict, having at some distant time acted on an unrelated matter for the particular insurer. This further limits the legal choices available to the policyholder. Wynterhill, by acting for policyholders, and by adopting a low cost model of operation, will not suffer from any insurer/insured conflicts of interest, and will be sufficiently insulated (we hope) against a dependence on consistently large cash flows to allow it to remain true to its founding purpose.
Wynterhill provides a full legal service for policyholders, but the catalyst for my plans to create a specialist legal entity was the policy wording review and revision work that I had been engaged in for the previous three or so years. I had for some time been bemused by the fact that commercial policyholders seemed very seldom to negotiate the inner details of their insurance contracts – the terms and conditions which determine whether or not indemnity will be paid – despite the fact that English law assumes that they will do so. The opportunity arose with one substantial client to deploy its commercial bargaining power to seek to excise from its policy wordings and/or to revise the many anachronistic and unfair legal provisions within its policy wordings. All of my proposed changes were swiftly agreed by insurers. By the time I had performed a similar service for a dozen or so further companies, the thought of setting up on my own for the purpose of facilitating and expanding this area of work had been planted.
At around the time that I had begun to have such thoughts, I had lunch with an old friend, Stuart Hill (then of Hogan Lovells, and now my partner in Wynterhill). It was a serendipitous occasion. Stuart’s areas of work as a solicitor were broadly similar to mine and we shared a similar view on the imbalance of access to specialist legal firepower. It transpired that he too had been thinking of making a change in his professional operations. One of us remarked, ‘why don’t we open a mixed-practice, policyholder dedicated, law firm?’ and, after taking a week or so to persuade ourselves that it would never work, we agreed to go ahead. Wynterhill LLP launched at the beginning of February, precisely so that we might be operative in the lead up to the coming into force of the 2015 Act and so far, so good.
Now you’ve made the move, do you wish you had done it sooner?
The regulatory requirements for Wynterhill were many, protracted and complex. I believe that we launched at a propitious moment. The imminent coming into force of the 2015 Act has helped to generate considerable interest in, and awareness of, Wynterhill.
What is the best professional advice you have been given?
My other pupilmaster, Alan Moses (now Moses LJ), used always to tell me that, when ‘under attack’ by a judge, one should stand stock-still, ramrod straight, and ‘look them straight in the eyes’. I have assiduously followed this advice
on many occasions over the past 30 years and, with a few exceptions, it has usually led to miraculous escape from further ignominy.
Away from the office, what are your interests?
Wine, Arsenal FC, West Indies cricket (when in ascendance), Lancia motor cars up to 1994, and watching athletics (running only – not jumping or throwing). ●
Colin Wynter QC was interviewed by Guy Hewetson and Mathew Kesbey of Hewetson Shah LLP