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OBLIC director enters 2nd year with enthusiasm

Legal News Reporter

Published: April 10, 2013

Steve Couch is entering his second year as the president and CEO of the Ohio Bar Liability Insurance Company (OBLIC) with at least as much enthusiasm as he had when he took the job.

When he arrived from heading claims for the Missouri Bar Plan, an organization similar to OBLIC, he said that his plan was to “grow the company.” At the time, OBLIC had a healthy recent past—posting profits in nine of the previous 10 years, and receiving high industry ratings.

But OBLIC, at the same time, served only about 10 to 12 percent of Ohio lawyers, and Couch came to Columbus to try to increase that.

Before working for the Missouri company, Couch, a native Texan, had held positions in both the private practice of law and with other insurance companies. He said that he and his family are adjusting well to living in Ohio. (Couch, his wife, and three children are are not quite yet members of Buckeye Nation, but he said he would keep his mind open to it).

OBLIC started in September 1979, at the time responding to a situation in which it had become difficult for Ohio attorneys to obtain legal malpractice insurance. The Ohio State Bar Association has been the sole shareholder of OBLIC since 1998.

The company works out of its own building in Columbus with a staff of 12, which includes Couch.

Couch said that the company’s business pattern in 2012 essentially mirrored its pattern the previous year. The first half of the year was slow and with a fair number of claims. But the second half of last year saw fewer claims and a growth pattern that led to a profitable year.

Claims in 2012 were slightly fewer than in 2011, and claims in 2011 were slightly less than in 2010, he said adding that, “it is too early to tell if this is a trend or just a blip on the screen.”

Beyond that, Couch said that the company had had some success in defending some claims last year, which added to the bottom line.

This year is shaping up to be a year of introducing additional products for the company, he said.

“We are introducing some major coverage enhancements to our policies,” said Couch.

The company is increasing its policy limits to encompass expenses that may be accrued in defending a grievance complaint. This increase is designed to cover two stages of the disciplinary process: expenses incurred during the investigation stage of a complaint and expenses incurred during the filing of the complaint.

In addition, he said, “we are offering a limited income reimbursement feature for lawyers who lose income to attend a trial, mediation, or deposition as a result of a claim. We look at it as another way to help lawyers avoid financial aspects of a complaint.”

In the last few years, he said, claims patterns have emerged throughout the industry, which are reflected in the claims that OBLUC has seen.

“Like our competitors, we have seen higher numbers of claims in personal injury cases, as well as in real estate. There are also a growing number of claims in the consumer collection/ FDCPA arena.”

Couch said that the company is also implementing policies that could decrease its costs of doing business. “We are putting forth a concerted effort to improve our loss prevention services,” said Couch.

OBLIC has a newsletter that it sends to its insureds called “Malpractice Alert,” which generally comes in at one to three pages. Couch said plans call for a redesign of the newsletter to be sent out six times a year.

“We are revamping that publication,” he said. “It will probably eventually morph from strictly hard copy to both print and electronic formats. We are also improving the content to include a number of definitive subject areas, developments in law and tips and tricks that will hopefully help lawyers avoid discipline or malpractice problems.”

“I’ve really enjoyed myself so far. It has been a very good year,” said Couch. “We have a great staff that is devoted to our insureds and to making customer service a valuable part of our business. We are well received by our policy holders, and we have a great board of directors, most of whom are active lawyers. It has gone very fast, but it has been a fruitful first year.”