Wow. What a conference! This week Merlin Law Group was a sponsor and exhibitor at the 15th Annual Windstorm Insurance Network Conference held at the beautiful Rosen Shingle Creek Hotel in Orlando, Florida. Merlin Law Group’s own Chip Merlin, Jean Niven, and Doug Grose, all presented on educational panels throughout the week.

On a personal note, I have some very interesting memories from a prior stay at this full service hotel. I graduated law school in December of 2006 and sat for the Florida Bar exam the following February. Every Florida lawyer knows that the Tampa Convention Center is the test location for the bar exam, but an exception or some change was made for the February 2007 test. All the examinees had to travel to Orlando and the Rosen Shingle hosted the test in its conference facility. I remember it like it was yesterday.

I checked into the hotel early Saturday with hopes of being able to concentrate in a nice hotel for the last few days of studying. On a student budget and a stomach that I was pretty sure was developing an ulcer; I was not dining on room service or playing golf at the course. I did join my friend Kelly for lunch a time or two but on the days of the test, I used the coffee pot to make hot water to pour of a package of plain instant oatmeal. I checked out of the hotel Wednesday after completing the test on Tuesday and I remember walking past all the examinees at the hotel bar. To this day it has to be the longest line I have ever seen for beer and all those in line didn’t care how long it took. I skipped the bar, wanting nothing more than to drive away fast…but not realizing I would just sit in 5:30pm gridlock on I-4. I left the hotel and had no idea what my future held. Little did I know that seven years later I would be back having interesting debates, learning new skills, meeting new friends and expert witnesses, and even discussing an insurance company’s request for mediation on a case with opposing counsel.

The smell in the lobby, the sky blue paint on the ceiling and especially the escalator ride to the conference facility all still gave me a little bit of bar exam anxiety during my visit. (I took the stairs after the first day of the conference!) Merlin Law Group had a booth in the exhibit hall and I am convinced it was in the exact location of my assigned seat for the exam seven years prior. Maybe I am just a little over sensitive, but this conference was especially rewarding to me because while all law school graduates have big dreams, I never imagined my career would unfold in the way it has in less than a decade.

I have attended WIND since the 2008 conference and each year the classes get better, the conference facility seems nicer, and I know more of the participants. “See you at WIND?” is a question we all start asking adjusters and other insurance professionals in the months leading up to the conference.

WIND, like the First Party Claims Conference, is a time when all sides of the insurance profession come together to connect and learn from each other in a professional manner. The keynote speaker gets us all laughing and enjoying each others company and Casino night is a great way to end the conference and take home some great prizes.

Two classes that I really enjoyed were the Mock Evidentiary Hearing (Don – you were a great sport!) and Gulf Coast and Southeast Insurance Case Law Update.

The Mock Evidentiary Hearing was a new platform. The panelists didn’t just discuss the new prevalence of these hearings but acted one out. I think a lot of the audience members saw first hand how important it can be to be able to prove your client did due diligence with respect to reasonable compliance with the policy terms when a claim happens. I also think members of the audience could feel how frustrating it sounds when your insurance company is not responding or investigating the claim the way their representatives have been trained to handle losses. This mock presentation was Saturday Night Live funny and was not a true set of facts – it went overboard on both sides to keep the audience engaged and underscore their points. An A-plus presentation.

If you like to get called on and put on the spot, Chip Merlin and Stephen Pate’s eleven problem question and answer presentation of the new law updates was the place to be. Everyone was learning and no one was on their phone in this class. Again, a non-typical format presentation of the material is what made this a stellar course. Instead of reading the law and telling you the case citations, Chip and Steve gave us fact problems and polled the audience for the answers. The questions covered flood proofs of loss (lesson learned: watch to make sure the proofs of loss are timely and inclusive of your adjuster’s estimate), appraisal of overhead and profit, (lesson learned: remember in Florida an insured can get a second appraisal on ordinance and law as this coverage can’t be appraised until it is incurred), and many more topics. To read the formal paper published by Mr. Pate and Mr. Merlin, click here.

At the conference, public adjuster, Rick Tutwiler (board member and speaker) and I discussed the new WIND designations and the benefits of being a distinguished member.

The WIND Professional Designation Program has been established to recognize within the industry individuals that demonstrate professionalism and technical knowledge in the field of property and windstorm insurance claims. The program includes two levels of designations: the Windstorm Insurance Network Associate (WIND-A) and Windstorm Insurance Network Fellow (WIND-F). Both designations recognize individuals who show a dedication to ongoing education in their respective concentrations.

As you can see, Rick and his father, Dick Tutwiler of Tutwiler and Associates are already members and I have already started working on my WIND-A designation so I can be part of the fun.

Here is a picture of the first professional fellows and associates.