January 2021 President’s Letter

By Hon. Deneise Turner Lott


What We Make of It

The pandemic has roiled the surface of our little, blue planet like few other events in history. Social, economic, and cultural changes are occurring in ways we are only beginning to understand. It likely will take generations for the ripple effects to become apparent.

And the world of work is at the vanguard of these changes. Where we work, how we conduct business, and the services and workers we deem essential have all been redefined in our need to bob and weave our way past this pandemic. Among our efforts to stay in the ring has been the transition to remote work. Many of us were surprised by how quickly and effectively we pivoted away from the office when shelter-in-place orders were issued in March 2020. Some of us were so impressed with the intended and unintended consequences of new protocols that we retained them after the orders were lifted.

In this respect, the pandemic has been an accelerator as well as a disruptor. One estimate is that the pandemic accelerated the pace of remote work by ten years and tele-medicine by at least five years. It has also exposed and exacerbated disparities in income, risk, health, and opportunity – in the workplace and beyond.

As we move forward in 2021, the disruptions of 2020 will require continual reassessment of our technology, processes, and policies. Ideally, this reassessment will involve stepping back to reexamine our goals. It will also involve ensuring, to the degree we have influence or control, that our processes align with our goals. Because what kind of workplace we want is really a reflection of what kind of world we want. More streamlined and less complex. More consistent and predictable. More people-friendly and transparent. More fair. Less friction.

The good news is that the great disruptor has created a space where we can re-imagine the world of work and perhaps reset expectations or realign incentives. Who knew we may be handed a once-in-a-lifetime creative license. What will we make of it?


Even before the pandemic, the gig economy gave us a preview of the promise and the peril of work disruption. Judge David Torrey returns to this subject in his review of the well-received book, Hustle and Gig. A better understanding of the nimble gig economy may help us to meet the demands of the post-pandemic workplace.

And for those seeking to be well prepared, the New Judges’ Boot Camp will be held for three and a half hours each day, Monday through Wednesday, March 1-3, and for two hours on Thursday, March 4, 2021. Judge Pam Johnson of Tennessee who chairs this event and her hard-working committee have put together a stellar program. Don’t miss it if you’ve been on the bench less than three years or are just in the market for a new perspective on an old problem. Registration is $150 before February 1, 2021 and $200 afterward! Please see agenda below.

Judges with all levels of experience will want to be involved in the Virtual Moot Court Competition which will be held at the end of the year in conjunction with NAWCJ’s Judicial College. Virginia Commissioner Wes Marshall is spearheading this effort which will involve more than 100 judges from across the country. Please see his article for more details.

For a review of recent critiques of the new digital format of the AMA Guides to Permanent Impairment and an excellent discussion of impairment versus disability, please see Judge David Langham’s article, “Will the New Guides Be Lost in Translation?” The physicians’ and economists’ takes on the issues were particularly interesting to me. Could this be a topic for a future roundtable discussion?

If you have suggestions for newsletter topics or would like to join a committee, please contact me at NAWCJ is better because of your participation! Until February, stay warm and stay safe.