A firm with over 130 years in the field is going to create some high expectations. In an interview with Best Lawyers CEO Phillip Greer, Manuel Carvallo of Estudio Carvallo Abogados in Chile discusses his firm’s 2019 “Law Firm of the Year” award for Insurance Law; his best advice for client service; the changes coming to Chilean consumer practice; and navigating Estudio Carvallo’s century-long history of success.
What achievements are you most proud of from this past year?
I would point to the advances that we've made in insurance fraud. We are doing a lot of investigation and prosecution in respect to insurance fraud cases, which we investigate, detect, and handle on behalf of insurers. We’ve been able to use the recent insurance fraud act to obtain a few convictions. Unfortunately, the statute doesn't establish a very strict or very hard conviction sentence. Violators are not thrown to jail but it's still good to have, at the very least, a record that shows who has been convicted of insurance fraud. In some cases, we've also obtained a reimbursement of funds that were defrauded against an insurer.
What changes do you see coming to insurance law in Chile for the next few years?
Probably the most relevant change is the “merger” of the insurance regulator (Superintendencia de Valores y Seguros) with the financial regulator (Superintendencia de Bancos e Instituciones Financieras) into a new entity, called “Comision para el Mercado Financiero” or “CMF.” This would not bring any specific changes into insurance law, but surely will establish a completely different structure in respect of regulation and also should provide several efficiencies in aspects where the previous entities may have overlapped. One potential legal change currently under discussion at the parliament it's in respect of personal data. This law may have some similarities with the standards recently enacted in Europe—it won’t exactly be the same, but it follows the international trends of data protection. That may have an influence in insurance law and most specifically in how insurance is offered to clients.
We always need to understand what our clients need, what's happening in the market, and try to challenge ourselves all the time in terms of how to provide an accurate and client-oriented service.
How has technology affected insurance law?
I think in Chile specifically, it is a “work in progress”. There are a lot of apps that are starting to be used, and we see more and more innovation being announced. We're probably a few steps behind larger markets because Chile has only 18 million people and, therefore, is a relatively small market despite our GDP in order to develop something from Chile only. In this matter probably the “neighborhood” is necessary, so what happens in Brazil, Peru, and Argentina may create a larger market to allow this new trends to reach us in a more significant way. There are some relevant efforts being made in loss adjusting, with the development of automatized systems for self and instant adjusting, which may be relevant when the next big earthquake may reach us.
How do you stay ahead of competitors in the field?
I could not say that we are “ahead” of anybody, there are many good lawyers in Chile, and therefore in order to continue developing our practice, I guess that we need to stay humble and also be very critical of our work in order to continue improving and innovating. We always need to understand what our clients need, what's happening in the market, and try to challenge ourselves all the time in terms of how to provide an accurate and client-oriented service. I think a crucial aspect is to understand that many of our clients in the insurance market are not lawyers. They're the claims managers, they're underwriters, they're engineers. Therefore, they need to see what we’re giving them is not necessarily a huge, complex and difficult to read legal report. Sometimes they need practical advice and service-oriented advice. That's one of our goals despite the fact that the law firm is very, very old—founded in 1885. I think our drive is to offer practical advice to clients.
How does your firm's nearly 135 years of experience impact the firm and its reputation today?
Well, it's changed so much. I was able to find a very old file, for instance. It was dated 1928. A lot of those files has been lost over time but it was incredibly rewarding to find the type of work that was being done almost a hundred years ago and it was inspiring for our team, considering the fact that they get to be part of this tradition. At the same time, you cannot get by on tradition only. You need to provide an up-to-date service. We have years and years and years of experience but at the same time, We need to understand what a 32-year-old manager wants. They want people that know what they're doing, but also at the same time that they do it in a way that's practical for them.
How have the firm’s goals and mission statement evolved over the years in response to the firm's tenure and the markets?
Well, I could not say for the 120 or so years before I was running it. But from 2010 onwards our idea has been to provide a service so that later on the best cases chase you, rather than waiting around and hoping they appear. Make a difference, be on the side of the client, answer them on time, so that the client’s needs are met without stress. Your legal advice is answered not just by doing the correct work but also by trying to explain it in a friendly way. We always strive to be a part of the solution, not just presenting the client with more problems, in terms of legal objections. If there are objections you should find ways to - within the legal scope—try and solve them together with the client. I think that's been the central drive over the last 10 years.