The American Bar Association Mid Winter Conference on Workers' Compensation is rapidly approaching, and this year's session, scheduled for March 19 thru 21, 2015 in Naples, Florida, will take an in depth look at the future of workers' comp. I have the distinct pleasure of moderating an opening panel on that topic, and am looking forward to hearing how our panelists see things shaping up for the workers' compensation industry in the years ahead. The ABA has assembled, in my opinion, an excellent group for that task, but more on that in a moment.

Before my panel has its opportunity to take the dais, Sedgwick President & CEO David North is scheduled to provide the Keynote address to kick the conference off. He will be looking at the same themed topic, giving us his take on trends and concerns before us in the days ahead. North is an excellent speaker, and I expect his presentation will be informative and entertaining.

Predicting the future can be a tricky business, and I was wondering what the focus of his presentation would be. North is also on my panel immediately following his presentation, so it always helps to strive for consistency, don't you know. I had the opportunity recently to reach out to him and ask about some of the things he thought important for him to cover. His response likely provides an excellent glimpse of what we can expect in March at the conference. He says:

Trying to predict the future by looking at a rear view mirror is complicated and often misleading.  We find comfort in trends and historical analysis, but unless you recalibrate the findings with environmental changes you expect, then the same trends will provide different results in a new environment.  I will attempt to put some of today's hottest trends in perspective as we try to predict tomorrow's landscape.

For example, the fundamental structure of workers' compensation as we know it today is being challenged with court interpretations of exclusive remedy, alternative structures such as opting out, socio-economic pressure on a changing claimant base, and how health care will be provided.  How any of these levers play out impacts the other. 

The entire concept of “recalibrating findings” with expected environmental changes is unique, and is probably not being done today by many. We tend to look at future predictions in the context of today's beliefs and attitudes, and what North is suggesting (or more accurately, what I believe he is suggesting) is that looking at trends from a current interpretation may not provide an accurate barometer of things to come. Instead, we need to measure trends against those economic or sociological changes that we may reasonably anticipate.

Of course, the ABA conference, while gearing content for and welcoming people of all professional stripes, certainly will address its fair share of the workers' compensation legal community. To that end, an additional comment by North goes directly to a point not really on the radar for many, but certainly pertinent for this particular audience. He says:

A future look would also suggest that the practice of law as it relates to workers' compensation may face some of the same pressures that occurred in practice of medicine.  Clients are looking for greater transparency in dealing with business partners on fees and billing practices, seeking more alignment with their partners' financial success with their own, a common language focused on outcomes as defined by the client, and greater ease of access of legal counsel on a national basis. 

I personally believe he is on to something here, and it is a topic that to date has not been given much public discourse. There are shifting trends in the selection and utilization of legal counsel in this country, particularly on a defense basis. Employers are looking for more consistent national approaches from what has traditionally been a jurisdictional industry, and billing review services are becoming more common for this field. Additionally I believe employers want a more collaborative partnership with their defense counsel. Some in the legal community seem to be aware of this and are working to provide nationwide solutions that address some of these concerns. I have long touted the National Workers' Compensation Defense Network as one of these forward looking organizations, and time will tell if others try to imitate their success.

It is interesting that North will be addressing that element during this conference.

As mentioned earlier, our panel immediately following Dave North's Keynote address will include North, Marc Salm, Director & Counsel Risk Management at Publix Super Markets, Inc., Chuck Davoli, Attorney and President of WILG, and Sean Mitchell, Business Manager at Ironworkers Local #402. It is a panel that crosses both sides of the aisle for comp, and promises to provide a lively and enjoyable discussion.

I hope to see you in Naples. Just about an hour and a half south of my home, I can assure you it is a beautiful place in which to hold such an event. And I may not be any good at future prognostications, but I feel pretty damn comfortable predicting that the weather will be better in Naples than wherever you are sitting right now.

For more information and to register, go here.

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