Super Lawyers
William C. Altreuter

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Once again I find I'm working the comp side of the street. Doing what I do of course the comp universe is always on the periphery. It's like walking along the beach. The ocean laps along the shore and on one side there's the forest, full of trees and deer and moss and bears. On the other side there's the ocean, full of kelp and coral and sharks and whales. Even knowing the names of these different things won't help you if the tide grabs your ankles and sucks you in-- or if an errant wave throws you ashore, like a doomed horseshoe crab. It's two different universes, and a passing familiarity with the vocabulary of the universe where you don't belong won't help you breathe there.

The comp people try, sometimes, to explain how it is in their universe, but it is beyond them really. Although I've searched there doesn't seem to be a Baedeker for the comp world. Unless you swim in it regularly you will never move in it gracefully, and you will never recognize the difference between an interesting rock and a giant clam that will grab your leg and drown you. The best the comp people can do is to describe why their world is the way it is. They'll tell you about the Triangle Shirtwaist fire, as though that means something when what you need to know is what you have to file to get a Section 32 hearing-- or what a Section 32 hearing even is. Right now I am working on a case in which the Second Injury Fund may be implicated. (Real comp people call it 15-8, because comp is all code talk, like the joke about the prisoners who have told the same jokes so often that all the jokes are reduced to a numerical shorthand.) Trying to explain what the Second Injury Fund is was too much for the comp person we were talking to, so she did what comp people always do. "At the end of World War II," she started, "Employers were reluctant to hire veterans who had been wounded because they didn't want the additional comp risk...." Of course that's all very interesting, but it's like trying to explain how a traffic light works by relating the history of the Napoleonic Wars. It's not much help when what we are trying to do, right now, is figure out how to move our case, and what the economic implications of doing X or Y might be. "That looks like a worm, but it is really a part of a fish's face that dangles in front of its mouth. You have to watch out for those." Thus do I dogpaddle on the surface of comp, thinking the coral reef looks like a forest full of trees, and surprised when I learn that it is an animal colony.

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