About The Institute
We’re bringing insurance litigation down from the clouds and focusing in on the current issues relating to both substantive matters and trial techniques in our field. ILIA members are dynamic and experienced insurance law practitioners who seek to engage in professional development through salient programs and publications, and who wish to promote collegiality and cooperation throughout our nationwide network. As an institute of Litigation Counsel of America, an honorary society comprised of pre-eminent trial lawyers and litigators throughout the U.S. and Canada, ILIA envisions being an established resource for information or representation in all matters relating to insurance law.
LCA’s 2016 Spring Conference & Celebration of Fellows
April 20-22, 2016
Does a Bear Hide Rug Constitute a 'Fur' for Insurance Purposes?
Our colleague from the 49th State, James K. Wilkens, tells us what it's like to practice law and live in the Great State of Alaska
After completing my first legal job as a trial lawyer with the Department of Justice in Washington DC. I announced I intended to move to Alaska to practice law. One of my colleagues provided best wishes, but wondered aloud why I would leave the country. Well, Alaska is remote, but not that remote.
I am frequently asked what it is like to practice law in Alaska. As much as I may like to claim there is something unique and wonderful about Alaska, it is not much different than trying cases elsewhere. We have the same basic judicial systems found in other states. Alaska state courts have largely adopted the federal rules of procedure and evidence, so one would find little surprise in procedural and evidentiary rules.
Relatively speaking, Alaska is a young state, without a lengthy history of substantive legal precedent. Accordingly, our courts tend to draw on law and decisions from other jurisdictions. (As we like to say, we look to law of the “smaller states” like Texas, New York and California.)
That is not to say, however, that Alaska does not face some unique legal issues. For example, a recent case involved the perplexing question of whether a bear hide rug constituted a "fur" for insurance purposes.
Over the past 30 years, Alaska has experienced some heady times in the legal field. With the discovery of oil on the North Slope and the need to develop the pipeline, Alaska was on the forefront of settlement of aboriginal native rights, culminating with passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act. The Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 lead to massive and extensive litigation (some of which still drags on today). Because of our vast wilderness, much of it containing reserves of natural resources, we often face legal questions regarding conflicts between business development and environmental concerns.
For the most part, however, our litigation involves more routine tort, commercial and insurance matters. Much of this litigation arises out of our more prominent economic activities, such as tourism, oil and gas development, commercial fishing and, until recently, timber development.
One unique aspect of the business of law in Alaska is to obtain and develop new associates. There is no law school in Alaska, so we need to look "outside" for new lawyers. ("Outside" is Alaska-Speak for the lower 48 states.) While there are many good new lawyer prospects out there, Alaskan law firms need to identify those who will fit into our unique atmosphere.
That brings me to another question frequently asked – What is it like to live in Alaska? It is certainly true that one does not move to Alaska to practice law (or nearly any other job) without having a substantial personal interest in our unique outdoor activities. For those who have visited, you know Alaska is a place of natural beauty, wildlife, and opportunity.
Because of this, Alaskans tend to possess a very independent, self-reliant spirit. A popular bumper sticker reads "we don’t give a damn how they do it outside."
During the short but glorious summer, our litigation practice slows down. This is the time of year when judges, lawyers and everyone else spends time engaging in our summer activities, such as fishing, hunting, hiking, camping, rafting and boating. Alaska boasts the highest per capita rate of pilots and aircraft ownership. (I am a pilot myself.) Transportation by air is common, and sometimes necessary, to access remote parts of the state.
To thrive in Alaska, one also needs to entertain himself during the long, dark winter season. Winter activities including skiing, skating, snowshoeing, winter camping and snow machining. Some Alaskans engage in more unique, and challenging, activities such as heli-skiing, mountain climbing, white water rafting, and more. I guess you could say there are a variety of other ways to have fun, and risk danger.
As everywhere, to be successful as litigators, we need to know our juries. Knowing and understanding these attitudes and activities of Alaskans is important. This is particularly true in "bush" communities, those remote and largely inaccessible towns outside our major city of Anchorage.
In closing, one of the best aspects of being a member of an organization like Litigation Counsel of America is the opportunity to get to know people you may not otherwise meet, from all parts of the country. Now you know someone in the 49th state. I look forward to getting to know each of you better.Founding Member and Managing Partner of Gordon & Polscer, LLC, with offices in Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington, will be inducted by Group Admission...