German law firm BLD Bach Langheid Dallmayr has stood at the cutting edge of data security and privacy since well before Europe’s GDPR regulations made these protections necessary. In a conversation with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer, Bastian Finkel of the firm’s insurance law practice discusses how technology and policy have shaped his work and his clients’ expectations.
What inspired you to focus your expertise in insurance law?
I didn't really focus on the practice during my education. It was actually during the last year of my apprenticeship that I found my way to insurance law. In Germany, you study law, and then you spend two years in the field, during which you go to work for a judge, for a prosecutor's office, a public authority, and for a lawyer. Those two years allow you to see the business. I apprenticed with BLD, the firm I'm still working for, and that was where I first encountered insurance law. I just liked it. It's civil law, it's litigation, and it's never boring. The funny thing is, despite perhaps a duller reputation, I think it's far more interesting than other legal issues or other legal areas. Certainly, other fields may appear very fancy and the public thinks insurance law is boring, but it's totally different. The reality is the opposite of that perception.
Did you have any mentors in the insurance sector that helped to shape your career early on?
I had the great opportunity to work for Theo Langheid, who is one of our name partners here in the firm, very early on. He is a born litigator. Through him, I learned the business and that's what really gave me the idea that this is what I wanted to do. Really, he was the one I learned from.
What led you to join this firm?
I liked the atmosphere. We have a “flatarchy” at BLD Bach Langheid Dallmayr, which is a phrase for an organizational structure that places everyone on a roughly equal plane. Because of the flatarchy, everyone at the firm is able to approach people and speak with them openly, regardless of whether they're a senior partner or a junior associate. This structure and the atmosphere it creates really inspired me when I was young and was one of the reasons I decided to work here. Other law firms can be more traditional or more conservative in terms of colleague relationships. The feeling elsewhere may be, "Oh, no you can't go to him, he's got his door locked." But that attitude never came up here, and I think our system offers a better way to work.
What stands out about BLD that led to the firm being named "Law Firm of the Year"?
I think we have a unique position in the market, as we have the most specialization through all fields in insurance law. If you were to ask a very, very precise question, we would probably have somebody who has dealt with that question before. We have a broad knowledge in our firm and that is one of the key assets that our peers appreciate. Secondly, we are the biggest firm working in our area of law in Germany, despite still being only a local law firm. At our core, we are a German law firm. Becoming co-founders of Legalign Global was a major keystone for us to be able to respond to global needs in the insurance industry, and to have strong partners in key jurisdictions all around the world.
Are there any trends you've witnessed within insurance law in this past year?
I wouldn't say that insurance law directly has changed but we have seen other laws that nonetheless affect insurance law heavily. This year, coming into force, we have the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, which is directly applicable in Germany and all other European countries. And we have the IDD, the Insurance Distribution Directive, also European law. Both do heavily influence the work of insurance companies and do heavily influence the risks of insurance in the means of the GDPR.
Both of these laws impacted the firm greatly, and we did a lot of work in this regard. Any changes in the law are drivers for lawyers to get assigned to consult and to give advice on legal issues, so that's one side. The GDPR also impacted our life directly, so we ourselves committed to double check all our policies and the way we communicate with people how we store data, where we store data, and how we interact with international lawyers if we have a global case. All these issues also affected our work directly, not only for getting assigned for legal help but for straightening up our own policies.
In what ways has technology impacted your firm's work in insurance?
Since before the GDPR, we have worked to incorporate new technologies into our practice. Because much of our work involves the insurance industry, we need to look toward what they are doing. The insurance industry has changed its means of communication and of instructing lawyers. They don't want to send out paper files. They want to interact with the firms directly but not through email, so other means of electronic communication become necessary. For this reason, we’re always trying to be ahead of the pack a bit, so that we have the market benefit of saying we can offer all these ways of communication. Because for insurance in Germany, data security has always been a huge issue. Everybody's afraid of losing relevant information on the way to sending out information to your lawyer, so these networks need to be reliably secured and that has really impacted our lives over recent years.
And then the GDPR came and added another level to the security, so to say. It’s a constant flow of getting your technology straight, so you're ahead of the competition in the insurance world as a lawyer, and especially as a service provider.