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AIM Explained: Insurance for Legal Profession

By David Laprad

Known by its acronym, “AIM,” Attorneys Insurance Mutual of the South was formed out of the Alabama State Bar in 1989 to serve attorneys who were left without professional liability coverage when big commercial carriers pulled out of the Alabama market.

While large carriers have continued to come and go, AIM will celebrate 35 years of service in July. It welcomed Tennessee attorneys to its malpractice protection in 2011.

As a licensed lawyer, AIM’s president and claims counsel Sharon Stuart is the embodiment of the company’s mandate to be “by attorneys, for attorneys.” Here, Stuart fields questions about the nature of AIM’s sponsorship of the Chattanooga Bar Association, the services the insurer provides, the personal connection it fosters with its insureds and more.

news article featuring Sharon Stuart

Give us a primer on Attorneys Insurance Mutual of the South.

“We provide legal malpractice insurance and cyber coverage to attorneys. We offer free CLE seminars and webinars for our insureds, as well as resources like newsletters, a blog and a cyber portal. We specialize in taking care of everyone from solo practitioners to mid-sized firms.”

How did AIM connect with the Chattanooga Bar Association?

“AIM has subscribed to the Hamilton County Herald for years. We’ve been reading about y’all and welcomed Tennessee attorneys to our malpractice protection in 2011. We admire your special comradery and are drawn to it.

“AIM also follows Lynda Hood of the CBA on LinkedIn. She’s impressive and clearly loves bench and bar folks since she just celebrated 30 years as the association’s executive director. We’ve enjoyed working with Lynda to partner with the CBA.

“AIM attended and sponsored the CBA’s annual meeting in January, and we’ll be back May 21 to sponsor the association’s Law Day luncheon at the Hunter Museum. We work to be a good partner to local bar associations like the CBA and invite everyone to follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook. We’re very active.”

Why should an attorney purchase a policy through AIM instead of another insurer?

“AIM is different from commercial insurance companies. We’re a mutual company, which means our insureds are our owners. We’re local, homegrown in the South, and we treat our insureds like we want to be treated because we’re lawyers, too.

“We promptly and personally answer every phone call and respond to every email and website inquiry. Nobody seems to do that anymore. Everything is automated through AI or outsourced. Not at AIM. Even our underwriter is in-house, and he’s a former private practice attorney as well. AIM is growing and expanding our product and market reach, but we’ll aways provide a personal connection.

“Many attorneys that talk with us at bar events admit that they have no idea who their firm pays to provide their legal malpractice insurance. Our insureds know when they have AIM coverage. They know that when they have a problem, they can pick up the phone and talk to me, and as claims counsel I’m there to personally help them.

“We provide local, respected, recognized defense counsel. When our insureds are faced with a claim, AIM gives them the option of selecting their defense counsel and will not settle without their consent. Because of our personal, hands-on approach, we’re able to jump in early and repair claims before they escalate. Simply put, we provide the best personal claims defense your premium dollars can buy.”

“We’re very active at state and county bar association meetings, we’re members of bar-related associations and affinity groups, we sponsor lawyer networking events, we promote lawyer well-being on a weekly basis on social media, we educate lawyers with our articles and CLEs, and we enjoy discussing things like tail coverage, cybersecurity and ethics.

“We’re also known for our interesting giveaways at bar events.”

How does being a mutual company benefit policyholders?

“Because our insureds are our owners, we focus on their needs. They select our directors, for example. Participation as an AIM insured maintains and supports the defense of your fellow attorneys who require professional liability protection. In addition, we’re fortunate to have a strong and diverse board of directors that oversees and provides guidance on how we can best serve our policyholders.

“We also have a local advisory council comprised of policyholders in every district of Alabama. We meet at least twice a year to discuss local bar events that will help strengthen existing relationships and forge new ones. We intend to create a council in Tennessee as well.”

Attorneys in Tennessee are not required to have legal malpractice insurance. What are the potential consequences of not being covered?

“Lawyers sometimes think they don’t need insurance because they have few assets and are judgment-proof. This is rarely true, and I’ve seen lawyers financially ruined because they didn’t have coverage. Also, lawyers without coverage often have to hire a friend or a lawyer with no malpractice defense experience to help them, and that rarely turns out well.”

What stories can you tell of how malpractice insurance helped an attorney?

“AIM can help its insureds in almost every situation. We’ve assisted so many attorneys who have made simple but catastrophic mistakes like missing a statute of limitations. Malpractice cases are nerve-wracking for the lawyer involved. We jump in and hire experienced defense counsel to give our insureds peace of mind. We keep an open line of communication with the insured and defense counsel so we can work proactively together to resolve the case to the insured’s advantage, whether through dispositive motion, settlement or trial.”

What is myAIM?

“We recognize that some seasoned attorneys will always want to pick up their phones and talk with us about becoming a policyholder or renewing their coverage, and we’ll always welcome that line of communication. But many of us – especially younger attorneys – want an online approach at their convenience.

“MyAIM is our customer portal that offers potential insureds and existing policyholders online access to applications, quotes, billing and payments. It’s confidential, secure and very user-friendly. It’s also still us behind all the technology. We’re just more streamlined and efficient in our underwriting department.”

Can attorneys earn actual CLE hours by participating in your webinars?

“Yes. On average, AIM offers 12 hours of free CLE to our Alabama and Tennessee insureds ever year. We have a special designation with the Alabama State Bar that allows us to directly report credit. We also directly report credit to the Tennessee Bar and incur any expenses.

“We spend a lot of time researching trends that affect lawyers such as mental well-being, generative AI, cyber breaches, amendments to rules and civil procedures. We ask thought leaders in the legal and insurance sectors to present these CLEs. We also present our own CLEs on ethics and cybersecurity for state and county bars and bar-related associations. AIM is presenting CLEs at the Alabama State Bar, the Nashville Bar, and the Memphis Bar this summer and fall.”

Tell us about your history as an attorney and why you chose to hang your license at AIM.

“I’ve been a licensed attorney since 1990. After practicing at a big firm in Texas and clerking for a federal judge, I’ve practiced at a defense firm in Birmingham since 1993. In 2001, I joined AIM’s board as a director. I’ve served on virtually every committee over those 23 years and became chair of the board in 2018.

“In 2019, the directors asked me to step in as president and claims counsel following the retirement of the founding president of the company. I love every minute of serving in this role – helping our insureds when they have a problem is one of the most fulfilling roles I’ve ever had the privilege to play.”

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