Argo Surety Lawyer Finds His Specialty

Former Litigator Found Niche in Surety Claims

Formerly a general litigator, Robert Lavitt found his specialty handling surety claims and carved out a legal career in insurance.

Robert Lavitt headshot

Even when he was in high school, Robert Lavitt knew he wanted to be a lawyer. But over a decade into his legal career, he realized that surety was where he wanted to be.

“Frankly, I wish I’d specialized in surety sooner than I did in my career,” Lavitt says.

Now, as Vice President, Director of Surety Claims, Counsel, Lavitt handles claims on multimillion-dollar bonds and coordinates the issuing of bonds all around the world.

Private practice to surety specialist

After studying law at Boston University, Lavitt moved back to New Jersey and worked as a general litigator for various private practices. That’s where he first encountered surety work and enjoyed it.

“In surety, you write bonds that cover all different areas of industry and human interaction,” Lavitt says. “So I’m never bored.”

There are bonds for appeals, so attorneys can be exposed to it through litigation. Bonds are common in the construction industry, where they ensure that projects are completed and that subsystems like air conditioning and electrical are installed properly. There are also bonds that ensure labor and material suppliers are paid.

“Hopefully the reclamation will be completed by the bond principal, but if it isn’t done by them, it’ll be done by us.”

Argo Surety writes bonds that guarantee the completion of environmental reclamation projects, in which Lavitt takes a special interest.

“In the old days, a company would use all the coal up, leave a hole in the earth and go broke because it had no more to sell,” Lavitt explained. “And the hole would be there forever.”

“Now, there are surety bonds that ensure that the reclamation will be completed,” he says. “Hopefully the reclamation will be completed by the bond principal, but if it isn’t done by them, it’ll be done by us.”

Embracing surety’s challenges

In addition to its U.S. business, Argo Surety writes bonds in countries around the world using fronting companies. When dealing with large sums of money, as well as international business and government entities, claims handlers and underwriters lean on legal experts like Lavitt.

“We have to hire local counsel and make sure we’ve got the authority to reinsure for a local company that’s issuing a bond or letter of credit on our behalf,” Lavitt says. “I find that very interesting and challenging at the same time.”

Lavitt also says that sureties can create further challenges by limiting collaboration between legal experts and underwriters – but that’s not a problem for Argo Surety, as leadership encourages open communication.

“The most successful surety companies are the ones that let their attorneys closely interact with the underwriters,” he says. “If the underwriters have a legal question, they can go directly to the attorneys and get things ironed out.”

Advice to lawyers: Find your niche

For younger lawyers entering the job market, Lavitt offers some advice: Find an area in which you can specialize.

“The legal field today is so crowded,” Lavitt says. “Unless you find a niche, I think you’re really going to be lost. Find something you like to focus on. For me, it was surety.”

Lavitt’s also found a specialty that makes him happy outside of work: rebuilding model trains from the 1930s. He also enjoys travel and is planning a tentative trip to California as soon as it’s safe.

“I’m looking forward to being able to travel with my family on vacation,” he says, “and to see my industry colleagues in person instead of just on Microsoft Teams.”

Learn more about Argo Surety.

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