A Look Toward the Horizon
A preview of CLM’s 2018 annual conference
By Phil Gusman
It’s a rapidly changing world with constantly emerging and evolving risks, but that’s nothing new for claims and litigation professionals attending CLM’s 2018 Annual Conference in March. These professionals have long been on the front lines of risk, dealing with new types of losses and legal dilemmas, and for years, CLM’s Annual Conference has helped them prepare for the unknown by exploring cutting-edge topics in its educational sessions.
This year is no different. Speaking about 2018’s schedule, Anne Blume, who chairs the Education Committee in charge of selecting the conference’s session topics, says, “These topical and timely subject-matter sessions are one of the many things that sets the CLM Annual Conference apart from the rest.”
Ian Stewart, a member of the Education Committee, says the committee wanted the schedule to contain topics that are emerging, “but not so far out there that they are purely theoretical or irrelevant.” Topics that are right on the horizon hit the sweet spot.
This year, such topics include artificial intelligence and machine learning, driverless car technology, and—the topic most mentioned by education committee members—marijuana. Regarding this last topic, Stewart says, “I spoke at the Professional Liability Underwriting Society Annual Conference back in 2014, and, at that time, it was a very touchy topic and heavily disputed.” Back then, he said the feeling was, “‘Are we really going to get up and talk about marijuana at an insurance conference?’
“Now, no one blinks an eye at it,” says Stewart. “In fact, it’s expected. It’s here, and not only for cannabis operators—the ones actually involved in the market—but also all of these non-cannabis entities, such as employers that have employees who can legally use it or have a right to medical marijuana.”
Stewart says the insurance market around marijuana is essentially being created from scratch “faster than any other insurance market we’ve seen.” He adds, “I think it’s a really important issue, and this market is going to grow really quickly now and over the next two years.”
Current events, of course, also shape CLM Annual Conference topic submissions and selection. The recent active hurricane season fueled a number of natural disaster-related topics, such as “In The Eye of The Storm: Navigating Construction Claims Arising From Natural Disasters,” and “A Perfect Storm: Hurricanes and Construction-Defect Claims.” This year’s conference will also see sessions on sexual harassment and misconduct claims, in part due to the #MeToo movement, although Education Committee Member Brenda Radmacher says there was interest in this topic even before recent events made it a major national story.
Perhaps there is no bigger story today than the presidency of Donald Trump. “Notably,” says Blume, “the political landscape provided a fertile source of interest, and the committee was really excited about the session, ‘Fake News or Grim Reality? Trump, the SEC, DOJ, and Predicted Effects on Business and Insurance.’” This session will review the predictions made in 2016 about how the Trump administration would influence the business world, then analyze how many of them came true.
Other sessions will dive into such topics as cybersecurity, wrongful termination, construction litigation and employment, the use of drones and related technologies, and more.
What Makes a Successful Submission?
While the Education Committee selects the sessions, it is the CLM membership that thinks up and submits the topics. Blume credits CLM members and fellows with providing dynamic submissions that feature fresh and exciting topics as well as creative presentation styles.
But, in the end, there are only so many slots available, and each year there are many submissions that do not get selected.
What do those that are selected have that the others don’t? At its core, the successful submission comes down to “an interesting topic and interesting speakers,” Education Committee Member Aisling Jumper says. “You need a diverse and dynamic panel; otherwise, even the most exciting of topics can flop.”
Radmacher says a timely topic that has not been rehashed over and over again will catch the committee’s eye, and she also says a submission should have substance, rather than just a sentence or two explaining the content. Stewart adds that topics should be well thought out, noting submissions that have clearly been “slapped together at the last minute and then submitted right at the deadline” are not likely to be chosen. Stewart also says it’s important to make sure the panel is already lined up. “‘Speaker TBD’ is a problem for us,” he notes.
He and Blume say presenters should approach issues from various perspectives. A member/fellow combination is preferred, and submissions featuring a range of professions is ideal. Blume says, “There are a number of people who excel at assembling all-star teams on new and different topics, but we really like to see new and fresh faces, too.”
Diversity is strongly encouraged, and, as Radmacher notes, it never hurts to have a catchy title to help a submission stand out from the crowd.
For those whose submissions are not chosen, the committee encourages them to keep trying. Sometimes it’s not what a submission is missing, but rather the competition it’s up against. Blume explains, “Each year, it gets harder and harder to turn down sessions that would have been selected in years past but, because the competition is so stiff, we have no choice since we just do not have the space to accept all of the submissions.”
Beyond the Sessions
There’s a lot for members and fellows to look forward to outside of the sessions. As Jumper says, “The education portion is always interesting and well organized, but the extracurricular events are where people are able to network and relax with their fellow CLM members and fellows.”
This year’s location, Houston, saw its shares of highs and lows over the past year, ranging from the devastating effects of Hurricane Harvey to a magical baseball season that culminated in a World Series Championship for the Astros. The conference will offer attendees experiences related to both of these major events.
The March 14 Welcome Dinner will be held on the infield at Minute Maid Park, home to the Astros. Meanwhile, one planned community service opportunity will involve assisting with the cleanup of Harvey-impacted Buffalo Bayou Park. Other community service opportunities include work with the Houston Food Bank; Meals on Wheels; and Bo’s Place, a nonprofit bereavement center.
A Big Thank You to Blume
Blume is no stranger to these pages when it comes to talking about the annual conference. She has always been willing to share her insights and enthusiasm regarding the topics, venues, and experiences that go into making the conference a success each year.
This year will be Blume’s last as chair of the Education Committee, and CLM thanks her for the tremendous work she has done for the annual conference. “It’s been a fun, challenging, and phenomenal experience,” Blume says. “I started on the Education Committee in 2008, when the conference was attended by 200 people. As the chair since then, I’m thrilled to see the conference grow to 2,000 people.”
Regarding the conference she has helped make happen since the end of last decade, Blume says, “The CLM Annual Conference continues for the 10th year in a row to be the hottest ticket in town. The parties are legendary, topped only by the education.”