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Why I ended up in workers' compensation? - Jeff Adelson

By Jeff Adelson 

My dad had shoe stores. He was in the business of designing and selling shoes.  I started going to
work with him on Sundays when I was 8.  For the next few years, it was just a fun thing to do.  Watch people and hang out with my dad.  By the time I was 14 I was selling shoes and eventually shoes and a few other money-making opportunities paid my way through college and law school.  Learning the shoe business was fun, entertaining as well as an opportunity to understand how business was conducted.  From customer satisfaction to human resources all geared to selling a product, shoes.  According to my dad, people have feet and need shoes.  Not quite that simple but if you ever met my dad or heard me talk about him you would understand the simplicity of his logic.  It was always about the process, how we go there, make the parts work together and you would sell a lot of shoes.

I look back at that time and realize it was how pieces fit together to make the business a success was what working was all about.  Then, in college, I came across a book which took me in a new direction.   The book is WORKING-PEOPLE TALK ABOUT WHAT THEY DO ALL DAY AND HOW THEY FEEL ABOUT WHAT THEY DO. Published in 1974 and put together by Studs Terkel.  I read it, then kept going back to it.  I still have several copies in my library.  Not too many years ago I presented on the impact of "new" technology and devices in the workplace.  I went back and read Working yet again.  Once I got back into the book I was shocked!.  The jobs exist but none of them are done the same way.  We all know the world and workplace changed, but this dynamic impacted all of us while we were living and not necessarily thinking about the entire workforce. 

After my first reading of Working, I realized how much I loved watching people work and asking them how they did things and why.  I kept that thought through college and moved on to law school.  In law school, I took classes in which situations in the workplace arose.   It could have been any class as work cuts a common path through many subject areas.  Then, one day I heard about workers' compensation.  This was magic to me!  I remember thinking this is everything I love.   People, jobs, and how it fits together.   What could be better?  So law school and the bar came and went and I decided Workers' Compensation was going to be my future.  The problem was no one agreed with me.  My family said, WHAT?  My brother almost stopped talking to me.  They wanted me to do great things.  I just wanted to earn money and find an area of practice that would inspire me.  There were no jobs, nothing!.  Finally, I got into an executive training job with an insurance company and had the position of assistant workers' compensation underwriter.  That was not what I was looking for.  Why were the claims people happy and outgoing and the underwriters, to be kind, not quite as fun-loving.  Finally, the workers' compensation manager at the company decided to help me get my first job as a defense attorney.  Not the job I wanted at the time, I wanted to represent people but that is not where opportunity took me. 

During this time I was holding onto my copy of Working.  I was living the book.  I was Studs Terkel asking people about work during depositions and trials.  I was asking my clients about how they ran their businesses and doctors about their medical findings.   Somehow this all fit together and patterns emerged, no two jobs or employers actually did things the same way.   No two applicants described their jobs in quite the same way.   I learned the job was approached by an individual with real feelings and understanding about what they did.  In other words, I learned Workers" Compensation is a reflection of our society and how we look at life.  It runs through every aspect of American life.  From the professional to the entry-level worker.   From individuals who were born here to an immigrant's first job in our country.  From an established national or international employer to the guy like my dad who had a shoe store.  All about dreams of making a business work or feeding a family.   I learned people have different reasons for working and choosing the jobs they do.  I learned what the common thread that we all want is.   It is respected and to be treated with respect at work, during the course of healing from an industrial injury and subsequent litigation. 

When you view a workers compensation case as a life with all the nuances that come into play from both personal  and  workplace issues it is hard to be bored or look at life as "just another case'"

I have been doing this for a long time.  Not once have I been bored or sorry.  I will only be sorry when I no longer can follow the path Studs Terkels put me on.


Mr. Adelson is the firm's General Counsel and co-Managing Partner. He has practiced in the field of Workers' Compensation for almost 40 years. In addition, Mr. Adelson's legal career includes experience in the areas of civil, family and criminal law.  https://adelsonmclean.com/

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