A Very Good Read: PLI's ERISA Benefits Litigation Answer Book 2013
I can still remember the first hearing I argued at, close to twenty five years ago, in Massachusetts Superior Court, in the very quaint (realtor speak for old, but still) courthouse in Dedham – I can still see the dusty parking lot out back, the old wood banisters separating the lawyers from the public area, and the close quarters among the lawyers, clerks and judge that are typical of courthouses of that vintage. Sure, I remember the argument too, which I won – it was an insurance coverage dispute over whether a voluntary payments clause barred coverage of a settlement in a trade dress infringement dispute between two Boston area businesses.
But it is interesting to me that what I most remember of that day are the sights and smells, the sensations, and the like, of being in court that day (along with the fact that I won; like many lawyers, I suspect, I tend to forget the losses but remember the wins). Yet, what I remember most about the first time I appeared in court to argue an ERISA case, close to 20 years ago at this point, had nothing to do at all with any of those types of sensations: what I remember most is that the lawyer for one of my co-defendants, a young (though still senior to me at the time) partner at a major firm, showed up at the hearing with a trial bag full of ERISA treatises, which he then arranged on the table in front of him before his argument. Now I know most of those treatises, as I can look across my office at my bookshelf and see them sitting there, and many of them are very good, but for detailed research and analysis work; none of them are really suited to being flipped open for a quick, summary answer on a litigation question, such as the kind that might arise in a courtroom itself, or for a quick consult in the few minutes one has to respond quickly to a client’s e-mail.
For years, I have looked for the type of resource that would serve well in that role, and I have at least skimmed the marketing materials for most of the major ERISA works out there as part of my search, but I never found a real fit – until now. One of the many benefits of blogging is that, on occasion, I luck into receiving a review copy of a book on ERISA or insurance coverage, and this time around it was the ERISA Benefits Litigation Answer Book 2013, edited by Jenner & Block’s Craig Martin and Amanda Amert, that landed on my desk. Published by PLI, it truly fits that niche – the handy dandy quick answer guide to litigation issues that arise in ERISA cases. Now, I am not sure it is the right book for a neophyte ERISA litigator, in that it provides – deliberately so – summary answers to questions that arise in this area, and thus requires a certain level of experience and expertise on the part of the reader; without that background, a reader cannot place a short answer in context, and understand what further analysis is needed beyond the summary answer. However, for the experienced lawyer who needs a quick but clearly accurate answer under time pressure, or the general practitioner or in-house lawyer who needs a starting point before turning to an outside expert on the subject (for instance, to determine the nature and viability of a claim against the company and to form the necessary background to discuss the claim intelligently with outside counsel), I can think of no better book out there at the moment.
Interestingly – to me anyway, because I have never noticed it before – there are two separate book groupings in my office. Across the room, on a bookshelf that I have to get up from my desk to reach, are the major treatises, copies of the “Annual Review of Banking Law” that I edited in law school (so long ago that, believe it or not, we published it on a Wang word processing system), and author copies of journals in which my work has been published. Right behind me though, on a credenza for easy reach, are books that I refer to all the time, such as the state and federal rules of civil procedure, an excellent summary of the federal rules of evidence from a seminar I attended many years ago, and Randy Maniloff’s great handbook on General Liability Insurance Coverage (the last, I just noted, rife with sticky notes on multiple pages). I have already put Martin and Amert’s PLI book with them.