Retaining an Attorney by a Claims Person

A Video About Selecting and Working With Counsel

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In instances where insurance claims may entail litigation, insurers must move quickly to engage counsel. When an attorney is retained to defend a person insured, the fact should be documented in writing by the attorney, the adjuster, and the insured who is to be defended.

Before an insurer retains an attorney to represent an insured to defend an insured who has been sued for a tort the claims person should be certain the lawyer is competent to defend the insured. This can be accomplished by attending a trial conducted by the lawyer where the claims person can evaluate the lawyer’s competence at trial. If that option is not available the claims person should seek recommendations from other insurance claims professionals who have retained the lawyer in the past or the insurance company’s list of approved defense lawyers who have been evaluated by the insurer’s management.

If the attorney is being retained for the first time by the insurer, the insurer should obtain an engagement letter from the attorney setting forth the terms and conditions of the retention and signed by the attorney, the claims person, and the insured. If the attorney or law firm has an ongoing relationship with the insurer, only the person being defended need sign an engagement letter.

The claims person must understand that an engagement letter is an effective contract between the lawyer and the insurer. As a matter of law, there could not have been an implied contract between Plaintiffs and Gulley, personally. Because the Court has decided the implied contract issue as a matter of law based on undisputed facts, the issue of whether there is a factual dispute regarding the existence of an implied contract is moot. Like an insurance policy a lawyer’s engagement letter will be read as written if there is no ambiguity.

Whenever an insured is sued and requires a defense or the insurer is sued, the insurance adjuster and the defense attorney must understand their respective roles in preparing the case for trial. They must develop a rapport with each other and with the insured person or entity that is being defended, to make communication easier to maintain. Bad faith lawsuits and poorly tried bodily injury cases seem to arise when the adjuster and the defense attorney fail to communicate regularly with each other and the policy holder.

At the first meeting, the attorney and the adjuster should agree on the division of labor with regard to the preparation of the case, according to their respective training and experience. Counsel and the claims person should reach an agreement regarding the handling of the case.


How to effectively retain a lawyer is important to everyone. It is essential to an insurance claims person who is called upon to retain a lawyer to represent the interests of a person or entity insured.

© 2021 – Barry Zalma

Barry Zalma, Esq., CFE, now limits his practice to service as an insurance consultant specializing in insurance coverage, insurance claims handling, insurance bad faith and insurance fraud almost equally for insurers and policyholders.

He also serves as an arbitrator or mediator for insurance related disputes. He practiced law in California for more than 44 years as an insurance coverage and claims handling lawyer and more than 54 years in the insurance business.

He is available at and Mr. Zalma is the first recipient of the first annual Claims Magazine/ACE Legend Award. Over the last 53 years Barry Zalma has dedicated his life to insurance, insurance claims and the need to defeat insurance fraud. He has created the following library of books and other materials to make it possible for insurers and their claims staff to become insurance claims professionals.

Go to the podcast Zalma On Insurance at;  Follow Mr. Zalma on Twitter at; Go to Barry Zalma videos at ; Go to Barry Zalma on YouTube-; Go to the Insurance Claims Library –  The last two issues of ZIFL are available at  podcast now available at

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