Tragedy is sometimes followed by emotional and heartwarming stories overcoming the consequences of the initial disaster. In my line of work, I have seen survivors embrace each other, genuinely surprised each made it through a life threatening disaster. I have witnessed the compassion and caring that otherwise strangers show to their fellow brother and sister in time of need. Yesterday, I attended a wedding of two that only occurred because Hurricane Katrina brought them together.
Slaten Bickford of Adjusters International grew up in the business of public adjusting. His father, Pat Bickford is a past president of the National Association of Public Insurance Adjusters. Slaten graduated from Columbia, an Ivy League school. From personal experience, he is one of the smartest, most passionate, and hardest working young public adjusters in the business.
Slaten Bickford spent a couple days driving me to each part of the Port of New Orleans property after we were retained as counsel in the fall of 2007. We had to cover 26 miles of property along the Mississippi River. Even after two years following Katrina, various parts of the Port were difficult to traverse. Indeed, one of the unique supplements to the claim were the tires that were ruined from nails and debris.
Slaten moved to New Orleans from Denver to help adjust this massive claim. Teams of estimators and adjusters were poring over the loss locations. It was obvious to me that while there were older and more experienced adjusters for the insurance companies and with Adjusters International, Slaten was going to be the best choice for me to rely upon as our client’s primary adjuster. He was the one person with the detailed knowledge of the claims from all perspectives. He had the organizational skills, creativity, and historical knowledge of what had transpired before to help me refigure the damage into a proof which would withstand a critical review by the insurance company’s team of attorneys and experts.
As a result of our close working relationship, I became very familiar with Slaten and his work habits. Since he is about twenty years younger than I, there are some humorous generational differences in how we approach things. I am convinced that professionals 30 years of age and younger live their lives on a laptop and a cellphone. Everything that Slaten produced or was presented to him regarding the Port claim was on his laptop. I asked a question, he looked at his laptop–no paper and nothing tangible that I could hold. For a guy that learned how to practice law with the IBM Selectric and carbon paper copies, he and I would laugh as I tried to navigate in his virtual file world of photos, spreadsheets, scanned images, and emails.
I also learned from Slaten that "the office" was the place his laptop was at, and at the time he was working. Neither were normal nor set. Going to another country to romance a young woman who would later become his fiancé’ did not mean stopping work for the Port of New Orleans. ‘Where are you working from?’ was a question I frequently asked. The answer had some pretty exotic and out of the way venues.
The estimators reporting to him also lived in this virtual world of information sharing with massive data on spreadsheets exchanged and worked on collaboratively despite these individuals being thousands of miles from each other. I was amused while standing at a particular structure and after asking a question to Slaten, as his laptop would open and then he would communicate on cell and email–often discussing photos and videos of damaged structures with others to get my inquiry satisfied immediately. This type of efficient productivity was not possible when I was a young professional, but is the current status of how people work together in the modern adjustment era.
Slaten announced one day at lunch that he planned to propose to his Tulane medical student girfriend. I cannot remember a person as positive and ready to become engaged. Laura and Slaten are both very bright and share a love for informality in their affairs. For example, their wedding was a typical New Orleans affair with beer being served during the ceremony. If brains are determined by genetics, their children will be brilliant.
I was happy to see that so many of the estimators Slaten worked with were there to share the moment. While I demanded that certain work be done until it was done right, Slaten was the guy in the field, drinking beer with those guys, and explaining why my needs as the Port’s attorney required work to be reconfigured for proof at a trial—and always right away. I am certain that, but for Slaten, some of those hardworking estimators would have simply walked off the job rather than deal with my demands.
Many of us in my line of work tend to be nomads going from one unfortunate place of disaster to another. The marriage of Lara Yanovsky and Slaten Bickford will certainly be a case study of logistics because Slaten works long and hard in far away places, and most doctors work pretty long hours in one place. I guess modern technology will help them stay close even if they are far away.
So, yesterday was a good time in New Orleans. As we flew over the Mississippi Coast and New Orleans, I was reminded of how many other good things can sometimes come out of catastrophe.