The Inns of Court Movement
By: Judge David Langham
I was invited recently to speak at an Inns of Court meeting in Jacksonville. The gathering was scheduled in early September, but was delayed because a crasher named Irma showed up. She showed up uninvited, unwanted, and unloved. No on loves a hurricane (in fairness, there are those in Miami who root for “The Hurricanes” but that’s different). So, I found myself headed east last Tuesday. People often forget the geographic size of Florida, but from Pensacola to Jacksonville is almost 400 miles. There and back in one day is a significant trip.
The Inns of Court are a tremendous movement. They are also a young movement. The first American Inn was founded in 1980, so a history of only 37 years. I have been a member of the Pensacola Inn of Court for about fifteen years. The Inns are designed around providing education in a general sense, but more so around building professional relationships and mentoring. Mentoring is seemingly a nearly lost art in our modern world.
In some Inn contexts, teams of members are formed. These teams are intentionally structured to include judges, senior attorneys, experienced attorneys and younger attorneys. Sometimes they also include law students. Including law students makes a great deal of sense, but that is not a requirement. There are, after all, a few American towns left without law schools. Admittedly it is very few, but there are still a few.
The teams in many Inns work together to analyze some legal subject and provide a presentation to the Inn membership; this is the educational component. But, in the process, the younger attorneys work with more experienced attorneys and become more familiar with them, their practices, and their expertise; the building of professional relationships component. And, through these casual interactions, they are afforded opportunities during the Inn year and thereafter, to use these professional contacts as resources when the younger attorney’s practice challenges them substantively or professionally; the mentoring component.
Eleven years ago, an Inn was formed in Jacksonville. Its focus was more specific at the outset. This would be a specialized inn, with members exclusively from the workers’ compensation practice. The idea of specialization was not new, but an inn focused on workers’ compensation was reasonably novel. That inn was named for E. Robert Williams, a consummate professional and long-time workers’ compensation lawyer.
Since the E. Robert Williams Inn was formed, the idea has spread. There is a William Weiland Inn for workers’ compensation practitioners in Orlando, named for a long-serving Orlando workers’ compensation judge. And just last year, The Tampa Bay Workers Compensation and Disability American Inn of Court was founded. Thus, right here in Florida there are three Inns dedicated to the workers’ compensation practice. According to the American Inns of Court, there are similar such inns in New Jersey; Jacksonville; Philadelphia; Wilmington, Delaware; Orlando, Virginia (meetings held throughout the state); Columbia, South Carolina, and Tampa. Eight workers’ compensation inns in the fifty states, and 3/8 of them are here in Florida.
The concept is laudable. The Inns are making a difference in professionalism and collegiality. I was impressed last week by the cordial reception, intriguing conversations, and camaraderie I experienced in Jacksonville. To be fair, I have spoken at a number of Inn programs, including the Orlando (Weiland) Inn, and each has been similarly welcoming and impressive. Inn members are focused on professionalism and professional interaction. They are making law practice in workers’ compensation more human and better. The adversarial nature remains, and their zealous advocacy cannot be doubted, but they are focused on disagreeing without being disagreeable.
It is gratifying to see attorneys and judges focused on professionalism. In a modern America the legal profession is often maligned, distrusted, and mocked (unfortunately, a fair few attorneys have done their level best to attract and encourage scorn and mockery for the profession). And, there are undoubtedly attorneys who are in this profession for the wrong reasons. Some lament that this is not even a profession any longer, and they perjoratively label it “the business of law.” If it is not a “profession” can we expect professionalism from its practitioners?
The recent experience with the Williams Inn made me think of David DePaolo, for a several reasons. First, somewhat selfishly, I thought of the eleven hours I spent driving to/from Jacksonville. David would have flown it less than half the time. I always enjoyed his stories of flying “forty-one Mike” (pictured), but particularly the ones centered on flying kids for medical care.
But more so, I thought of David because in the years I knew him, he was steadfastly focused on making the world of workers’ compensation better. That distinction bears amplifying. David was not micro-focused on improving the practice of workers’ compensation law, but on improving the world of workers’ compensation. He believed that the medicine could be more effective and delivered more efficiently. He believed that statutes and regulations could be better written. He challenged loopholes, favoritism, and made us think. He steadfastly documented and celebrated the good in workers’ compensation; the good people, good acts, and good outcomes. From his perch, with phenomenal access to breaking news and innovative developments, he brought us his perspectives, criticisms, and praise of the world of workers’ compensation.
David, I think, would have been proud of the Inns of Court movement. I think he would have praised those involved in workers’ compensation inns, and encouraged others. The fact that this movement is focused on the practice of law, a very specific focus, would not have deterred his enthusiasm. David was a proponent of the potential that lies in people making a difference. He lauded grand gestures and appreciated how major players could be an influence for good. But, he recognized that change and good often come in small packages delivered every day by the rest of us who are trying to make a difference, each in our own small way. It is often us little folks that ask the hard questions and quietly, but persistently, make this world of workers’ compensation a little better each day with our little gestures, efforts, and contributions.
And from his appreciation of those daily contributions came the Comp Laude. In his honor, the highest award of the Comp Laude, the Summa Comp Laude, was renamed last year the David J. DePaolo Award. That is fitting. The Comp Laude overall is about collaboration for better outcomes, connecting to make a difference, and celebrating what is positive in this industry. In short, Comp Laude is, on a grander scale, pretty much about the same goals and ideals as the Inns of Court. David would have been a great Inns of Court member and advocate. I humbly suggest that it is time for such an Inn in California. I am not saying it has to be the “DePaolo Inn,” but it could be, just saying.
Today is David’s birthday. He would have been 58 today, but for his untimely passing just over a year ago. He left a vacuum, but he also left a legacy. In 29 days, we will gather in San Diego for the Comp Laude. We will fulfill David’s wish for us all, that we recognize the people that make workers’ compensation great. There will be education, networking, and more. But, let’s remember that the “laude” in Comp Laude is about recognizing those who strive to do good for the process, the people, and the world that is workers’ compensation. Some will be nominated, a few will be awarded, but David would want us to remember that there are just too many to recognize them all. I hope you are one of them, making a difference each day in some way.
Happy birthday David! I am confident that you know we are striving, in your honor and from your leadership, to Laude the system and its best contributors.