Insuring a Future

By pushing limits, and herself, Karen R. McCarthy has risen to the top of The Bar Plan as its youngest and first female CEO.

In the mid 1980s, Karen R. McCarthy was working a not-so-glamorous job as a front-desk clerk at a resort in South Carolina. After some soul searching, she decided to continue her education. In 1990, McCarthy graduated from St. Louis University’s law school. In 1995, she joined The Bar Plan Mutual Insurance Company, a Missouri-based company that writes professional-liability insurance for lawyers in Missouri, Kansas, Indiana, New Mexico, and Tennessee. After steadily climbing the ranks, McCarthy was promoted to her current role as president and CEO, becoming the youngest person and the first woman to hold that title.

The Bar Plan has been serving lawyers for over 25 years. What’s the key to your company’s longevity? 

We’re unique in that we were started through an effort of the Missouri Bar as a result of a crisis in lawyers not being able to find professional-liability coverage in the early ’80s. Commercial carriers thought the risk was too difficult to write, and they pulled out of the market. This was going on all across the country. There are several state-bar associations that decided to get involved and formed their own mutual-insurance companies. Because of that, [law firms] have a lot of loyalty to our company because we were there for the lawyers when no one else was.

How has the economic recession of the past few years affected your company?

Because law firms were struggling, they needed to make decisions on insurance with price being the most significant criteria instead of quality or coverage. We’ve never competed based on being the lowest price carrier. Our coverage is very broad and we offer a lot of services that other commercial carriers don’t offer. That caused us to lose business while firms were trying to just keep the lights on. But the amount of business that we lost since the beginning of 2008 has slowed down significantly.

How was The Bar Plan able to survive even when it was losing business? 

We have a dominant share of the market in Missouri and a significant share in the other four states. In Missouri, we currently write about 70 percent of our available market. The key really is to price the business correctly, and we do that based on our long history in the market and actuarial studies. We can continue to show good results by pricing the business accurately. We get the right rate for the business that we do write.

Nine years ago, at the age of 38, you became the youngest and first female president and CEO of The Bar Plan. Is this something you’re proud of?

I would say I’m proud of it because I’ve always been an advocate for people being all that they can be. I certainly talk that way to my two daughters. I don’t think about barriers. But I also realize I was in the right place at the right time, and I’m certainly not saying it could only be me, by any means. I feel very fortunate to have everything align so that I had the opportunity.

What is the driving force that helped you succeed? 

I’m the type of person that really likes challenges so I looked for opportunities to do more than my job. I push myself to do well more than anybody else pushes me. I think because I’m fairly hard on myself it does push me to not settle. I’m always looking for ways that I can be better or that the company can be better or that we can do things more efficiently.