Saturday, January 26, 2013

Are You a Mentor


I was humbled last week to share a meal with an amazing group of people. To a person, the room was filled with names which are synonymous with Florida workers’ compensation. Certainly each has faults or flaws, everybody does. But, these luminaries have had their names on doors in this state since I can remember, although that is not that long. This was the Workers’ Compensation Institute Hall of Fame, the second annual induction dinner. The event was held in Miami this year, with the planning and organizational efforts of Ray Malca and Steve Rissman.

I heard a great many stories about the way workers’ compensation used to be, and the “good old days.” I do not doubt those stories for a minute, and I respect the way in which all of the Hall members revere those that came before, those that have passed, and those that have brought texture to the fabric of this practice. I have to balance those recollections against the refrains of today, that “comp is dying,” or ‘it isn’t fair.” Certainly workers’ compensation is not easy. However, I am reminded of the line from a Billy Joel song in which he reminds “the good old days weren’t all that good, and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems.”

The role that these Hall members have played in the development of Florida Workers’ Compensation is dramatic. Around the table at dinner, I saw those who have represented parties in (now) famous cases, founded little law firms that became statewide, dedicated careers to developing successful insurance companies, lobbied for change, served the state, wrote articles and gave speeches. All important, helpful and gratefully acknowledged. Bravo ladies and gentlemen.

Despite these fine accolades and contributions, not their best work in my opinion. These are what you may know them by. But as I listen to stories around the table, I was struck by the contributions each has made to other people. One attorney raised his glass last Friday to another and said “you made me the lawyer I am.” When it all comes to rest, I suggest, the people are more important than the accolades and achievements. This is nothing new, and I realize I am echoing old sentiments about the importance of touching other people.

Our agency rolled out electronic service last week. Immediately, I began getting emails from attorneys who could not find the carrier they needed in the list on our e-JCC platform. We asked in October for the data to make this list complete. Some carriers provided it, others did not. Lives are busy, I get it. I started calling carriers. At one, the lady that answered the phone was an adjuster I worked with years ago. At another, I happened to reach a claims manager who also had been an adjuster I worked with in the 90s. Days later, yet another representative responded to an email request, and turned out to be yet another. She took the time to reminisce a few minutes with me about the 90s and our work for an employer in Jacksonville. That employer is gone, I have lost track of the people, but it was nice to remember.

My point? Each of those people reminded me how I learned to be the lawyer that I was. Those people changed me, mostly for the better. I remember writing a magnificent opinion letter, as a young lawyer, describing the many reasons my client’s employee’s death claim would never prevail at trial and why it should be denied. Like the narrator describes in “Alice’s Restaurant,” I had everything I needed to win (my letter took longer to read than Arlo’s 26 minute rendition). After reading my letter, the client asked me a question that I recalled many times thereafter as an attorney, “yeah Dave, but is it right?” My client paid me for my fine letter, and then paid the widow for the death benefits. It was the right thing to do.

Still don’t get the point? The most compelling stories from the Hall dinner, to me; the “best work,” to me, of those Hall members sitting around the table? That most of these workers’ compensation icons was a mentor, and many still are. Their “best work,” in my opinion, is the extent to which each has obviously and repeatedly touched the lives of other attorneys, adjusters, and paraprofessionals, struggling to balance the challenges and obligations of this fine profession.

When you help someone, there is a direct and practical value transferred. More important, you set the example which should motivate that person to, in turn, help someone else. Thus each of these Hall icons, with each person mentored, has mentored so many more. I consider this their “best work” because, as I said, workers’ compensation is not easy, nor is life. It can be easier, though, if you have a few good mentors or role models. We certainly have much to thank the Hall members for, over the course of (collectively) hundreds of years of service. However, what I want to specifically thank them each for is the contributions they have made mentoring.

Too few attorneys seek a place in workers’ compensation. Too many are leaving the practice. The reasons are varied. Past is the day when I met many fresh faces at the WCI conference each August. Despite this, there are young people around us, some in comp and others in our community. If we are to be measured a success, I would suggest that the best benchmark may be how much you do to assist and advise these young people, such that they may grow and become tomorrow’s icons.  Have you mentored someone today?

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