How Brendan Malley Built a Legal Team from the Ground Up

At QBE North America, Brendan Malley restructured the company’s litigation function into a collaborative, centralized, and vital part of the business

Brendan Malley had his work cut out for him when he joined QBE North America in 2011 as vice president and assistant general counsel. For one thing, the litigation function he currently enjoys didn’t even exist at the time.

Brendan Malley QBE
Brendan Malley, QBE North AmericaPhoto: Caitlin Malley

To solve the problem, Malley had to build QBE North America’s litigation team from the ground up. Nine years later, as senior vice president and head of litigation, he oversees a team of eight lawyers and three paralegals—all but one of whom he personally hired.

“I’ve been an attorney for quite a while,” says Malley, “and when you have experience in any field, you get to know the players and know how to play the game.” Prior to being hired at QBE, Malley spent fifteen years at New York law firm Mendes & Mount (“I was a bit of a solo practitioner,” he notes of his time there), then six years at AIG as an associate vice president. By the time he came to QBE, he already had a strong foundational understanding of the intricacies of corporate insurance law.

Malley immediately understood that he needed to build out the company’s litigation function in a way that had never been done before. His first task was to find the right people. He sought out fresh talent to fill the roster: lawyers who, according to Malley, “lived, breathed, and loved insurance law.” He needed experienced legal professionals who relished the chance to fix problems and who fit well with the dynamics of a closely integrated legal team.

Malley was also cognizant of the need to create a working environment for the team that was collaborative but also allowed for independence. “It’s really important to me that we talk about our issues and cases,” says Malley. “A lot of what lawyers do isn’t black and white; it’s gray. So you need to bounce ideas off people.”

That also plays into his leadership style with the team, which is collaborative and transparent. “To the extent possible, we try to solve problems together. I don’t need to hand-hold the lawyers on my team,” he says. “I don’t want to, and they don’t need it.”

When you have experience in any field, you get to know the players and know how to play the game.”

Apart from building the team, Malley also had to “carve out territory” for his team, which involved not just establishing the specific tasks they would work on but getting buy-in from key stakeholders and then requiring other departments to send those issues to his team. “It took a little bit of time, but we were steadfast and soon developed a good cadence throughout the organization,” he says.

Over the course of the next three to four months, Malley built a strong bench of competent, personable lawyers, a cohesive team around which much of QBE’s legal activity centers. Together, they’re responsible for all disputes and litigation that involve the company. They also handle all coverage opinion work on every insurance policy that the company writes across the United States.

Since Malley built his team, extracontractual lawsuits against the company have dropped by more than 70 percent, and the amount of money spent on outside lawyers has been reduced by millions of dollars. Indemnity payouts have also dropped significantly. “Since we’re doing a lot of the work in-house now, as opposed to hiring law firms to do it, the savings we’re achieving is in the millions,” Malley says.

One preventative measure Malley’s team has taken involves instituting postmortems on matters referred to them so that they can identify any larger problems and craft strategies for mitigating and fixing risks. QBE has always done this after adverse results, but starting last year, Malley’s team has spearheaded postmortems for most every case, regardless of outcome.

“A lot of what lawyers do isn’t black and white; it’s gray. So you need to bounce ideas off people.”

Of course, there is always more to do and one of Malley’s recent projects is to better coordinate how the company creates law. “We have lawsuits going on all the time,” Malley says, “and when we defend a client in a case, we’re potentially creating law every day.”

Recognizing this potential, Malley has begun an initiative where all appeals will go through a centralized process, in which department heads and executives will talk about issues in new cases and their broader legal implications. “Do we actually want to pursue that strategy and those arguments?” he says as an example. “Because if we do that, we might risk creating bad law.”

While there is still more work to do, Malley’s extremely proud of the legal team he’s built over the last few years at QBE. His advice for other general counsel looking to build a team from the ground up? “Subject-matter expertise and fit are the two most important things,” he notes. “Find people who know their area and you can count on to deliver in that area.”

Brendan Malley: von Briesen & Roper, s.c. congratulates you on this well-deserved honor! We are proud to partner with you and to work with QBE to achieve great results for all of its stakeholders. We look forward to many more years of partnership! Again, congratulations.

Established in 1979, Lewis Brisbois is a national, full-service law firm with more than 1,500 attorneys and offices in 52 cities and 29 states. Our practice is sophisticated, multi-faceted, and well-versed in current legal trends, while our individual state practices provide vast resources and knowledge of procedural and legal nuances.