Five minutes with…Larry Mirel, Nelson Levine

Insurance law expert Larry Mirel talks fraudulent agents and working as DC’s insurance commissioner following 9/11.

Insurance News


A partner at Nelson Levine de Luca & Hamilton, Lawrence Mirel didn’t enter the insurance sector until further along into his career than most. It’s clear Mirel has flourished, however. The former Washington, D.C. insurance commissioner and current insurance law aficionado took the time to talk to Insurance Business about his journey into the insurance world and what he’s picked up along the way.

Q. How did you get into the insurance business?

A. I got into insurance late in my career. I had worked in Congress as a staff member with both the Senate and the House, and then got involved with local politics. While I was working as a legislative lawyer for the district’s local legislator, I started getting involved with some very interesting insurance questions and found it fascinating.

I started working for some insurance companies in explaining their positions to legislators, and when there was a change of government in D.C., they asked me to be the insurance commissioner.  I was there from 1999 to 2005.

Q. What was it like being the D.C. insurance commissioner in the aftermath of 9/11?

A. We had a lot of discussions with the insurance industry and rating agencies about what was fair to charge for terrorism risk. I remember the long arguments I had with ISO on how they calculated risk in D.C.

They were rating us as the highest risk in the country along with New York and Chicago. I asked why, when D.C. had never been the subject of a terrorist attack, we were paying such high rates. They pointed to the Pentagon.

Well, the Pentagon is in Virginia, which was rated as among the lowest risk in the country. Regardless, the Pentagon is not an insured property—no government buildings are insured, and D.C. is essentially made up of government buildings. I remember a Neiman Marcus in D.C. was across the street from a Saks Fifth Avenue in Maryland, and the Neiman Marcus was considered about 1,000 times more likely to be affected by a terrorist attack.

We eventually did get ISO to refine their projections a little bit and make some distinctions between the core of D.C. and the suburbs. We got to be good friends, and had some very interesting conversations.

Q. As an insurance commissioner, what is the strangest case you worked on?

A. We dealt with an agent who was collecting premiums for auto insurance, giving the customer a binder with information about the carrier and the policy, but never transmitting the fee to the insurance company. She kept the premium and when the insured had an accident, she would try to pay it out of her pocket.

We found out what she was doing because one of her customers looked at his binder and called the insurance company, and the insurance company basically said, “We’ve never heard of you.”  He filed a claim with my office, we did an investigation and eventually arrested and prosecuted her.

When we checked in some weeks later, we found that people had been slipping checks under her door because they didn’t want to be late with their premium.

Q. If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would they be and why?

A. I’m a political junkie, so I’d love to have dinner with the president. That would be my ideal. I’m not so intrigued with Hollywood as I am with Washington.

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