September 1970 was a time of big personal change for me. We were living outside Washington, D.C. and my father had just received orders to the National Data Buoy Project at NASA’s Mississippi Test Facility, now known as the Stennis Space Center. My mother, who grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, was in tears wondering how her children were ever going to get an education in Hancock County, Mississippi. Three years later, she was crying as we left for Southern California. Rather than follow my father right away, we stayed an extra year, using an excuse that my father would be gone for nine months on a Coast Guard icebreaker. The best education and lessons I have ever had were from brothers of the Sacred Heart at Saint Stanislaus during seventh and eighth grades. Drew Brees had it right when he spoke of how much the New Orleans Saints football team means to New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast Region.
According to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the name “Saints” was chosen by popular vote in a fan contest staged by the New Orleans States-Item. The franchise was awarded on All Saints Day, November 1, 1966. New Orleans is famous worldwide as the city of jazz and the famous marching song, "When the Saints Go Marching In.”
Except for a small number, almost all of our Hurricane Katrina insurance coverage cases in New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast are over. I was honored to use whatever talents and knowledge I have in this area of insurance law to represent some of the finest and nicest folks you would ever want to have as clients. I did it with some help from lifelong friends I first met when living in the area as a teenager. My parents received “thank yous” from friends of theirs who I was able to help.
The State Farm cases we litigated and resolved provided a significant milestone to our law firm’s success. The Port of New Orleans litigation was certainly the most challenging and fun case packed into ten months that any policyholder’s coverage counsel could hope. Saying “thank you” is important and I am looking forward to this Thursday evening’s dinner at former client, Pearl River Community College. Indeed, we hosted a thank you Thanksgiving Luncheon just for the rank and file employees at the Port of New Orleans. This kind of leads me to the point of this post.
It has been my experience that attorneys sometimes get far too much credit for winning cases. Often, the facts that make or break an insurance coverage matter are with the people you represent or the folks that are working for the organization you represent. Far too often, arrogant attorneys simply need to ask for some help from their own clients and treat them like equals rather than jump to conclusions and spend far too much money on experts that know less about the loss than the people who lived through it.
For example, employees in the maintenance department of the Port of New Orleans had never talked in depth with anybody before we were retained a couple years after Hurricane Katrina. A bright paralegal retained by my co-counsel suggested donuts and coffee in the morning and an offer of after hours beer for the guys who have to spend their own time away from their already busy jobs just to meet with the attorneys. This helped set a tone for discussion and they provided me all the help I needed to get the case resolved quickly.
I recall spending a great deal of time with one maintenance worker who had a tattoo of the Louisiana Tigers on one arm and the Dallas Cowboys on the other. I asked him why he did not have a tattoo for the Saints, and he told me that they had caused him too much heartbreak over his life. Maybe he has changed his mind.
In a post, The Port of New Orleans Employees, I noted these lessons and thoughts:
“Life’s lessons can be very beneficial if you actually remember them and change your behavior according to what you have learned. I was lucky to watch my father as he lead various tours of duty in the Coast Guard. Both the ordinary seaman and the Chiefs that ran the ships seemed to respect him. He always treated everybody as important because they were. He always thanked them, and then showed his appreciation.
We had a settlement that had the Board of the Port Authority of New Orleans doing "high-fives" largely because the rank and file Port employees helped the legal team. As is customary in many of the cases we litigate, I cannot comment about the amount of the settlement even though this one is of public record. What I can say is that we held a very public "thank you" luncheon for the Port employees. Without their help, we would not have been as successful…
After the Port retained us in November 2007, it became obvious that those responsible for putting their claim together had not adequately discussed it with the employees out on the wharves, docks, in the maintenance departments, and those outside the main office building. …
A number of Port employees left their families before Katrina struck New Orleans because they had to work during the catastrophe. As a result, a number of them knew their homes had been destroyed and did not know for several weeks where their spouses and children went. A few broke down when they recounted their hardship and trauma. Many still have not rebuilt their homes. The Port Police Department helped us track down eye witnesses to the destruction. They told us of the numerous rescue efforts in the Lower Ninth Ward and how much flood damage had occurred along the Industrial Canal. They found video and photographs taken during and immediately after the storm, helping us prove our theories of loss and damage.
I often say that I am a "Johnny come lately" to the cases I get retained upon. We come after the fact and then pry into the business and past of our clients. We were a major disruption to the Port because we looked into every employee’s memory about what the Port was doing before and then after Katrina. We went through six million of their documents, invaded their computers, and took time away from their pressing jobs to get our own jobs done. We completely dislodged and stole office space from the marketing department. I am certain we were silently cursed.
The employees’ help and their understanding of what we were trying to do for them and the Port paid huge dividends in this case. We owe a great deal of thanks to the "rank and file…”
I could not be happier that the New Orleans Saints are the World Champions. Their fans, who have been through so much, deserve it more than most will ever realize.
So, as part of the celebration, I would suggest everyone join in with the song from the Great Louis Armstrong: