Schuylar Whitte 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Arizona Vocational Consulting & Forensic Services, Inc. Determining the value of an individual’s loss of occupation due to injury, illness or death; analyzing the time and financial investment necessary to re-career — how do these intangibles translate to economic loss over a person’s life? This is frequently the assignment requested of Lisa Clapp in the work she does as a vocational consultant and expert witness. As founder of Arizona Vocational Consulting & Forensic Services, Inc., Lisa has made it her life’s work to analyze what it takes for injured workers to return to competitive employment. “People associate so strongly with their occupation. It often defines who they are,” she said. “So for many, loss of job equates to losing part of their identity. It’s an intrinsic part of the damages component in personal injury and medical malpractice cases.” Helping others understand the significance of work force displacement and the disruption it causes in a person’s life is a critical task. It’s one of the more important factors to be considered when making the decision about what an injured party should be awarded in economic damages. “I’m constantly meeting with individuals,” she said. “I gather information about their backgrounds and work history, and analyze that information in conjunction with the implications of their injuries on their ability to return to work.” As a vocational/labor market consultant and expert witness for over 20 years, Lisa specializes in counseling, assessment, evaluation, and job placement for those who have suffered life-altering injuries. She and her staff maintain active caseloads providing direct vocational rehabilitation services. “Dealing with real people who’ve sustained career and life altering injuries, who are looking at return to work options, keeps me real as a consultant and expert witness,” she said. Equestrian at Heart “My other life is my horses.” As a girl, Lisa enjoyed a rural upbringing in Findlay, Ohio where the seeds of her passion for horses were nurtured through 4-H, then the American Quarter Horse Association. Horses remained in her life until college in Flagstaff at NAU. “With the exception of three years abroad in London, I always had horses up through high school.” “Then life’s priorities stepped in,” she said. “It was school, family and career.” Lisa was well established in her own firm, when in 2004, a major event occurred. “I almost lost my dad to an aortic dissection. It rocked me to the core,” she said. “I realized I needed horses back in my life again. They are magnificent healing creatures.” Relegated to “weekend warrior” when it comes to riding because of her heavy work load, every available spare moment finds her horseback. “That’s my outlet. They are mirrors to our souls,” she said. “The thing with a horse is they are with you 100 percent. Any anger or frustration you’re carrying with you, will reflect in their behavior. So you learn to let go of it so you can just be with them in the moment.” Immersed in the Buck Brannaman style of horsemanship, Lisa has discovered a new level of understanding horse and human behavior alike. “Buck was right,” she said. “He said it’d make me better in areas that I didn’t think related to horses.” Lisa added that one of her favorite quotes from Brannaman is “Solvitur en Modo. Firmitur en Rey.” (Gentle in what you do. Firm in how you do it.) Getting Around the Glass Ceiling “‘I want to be an expert witness’ is not something a child says when asked what they want to be when they grow up,” Lisa confided. “I planned to be a newscaster.” To this end, she worked 13 months at KNAZ, the Flagstaff local NBC affiliate, after completing her B.S. in Communications and Economics minor in 1988. When Lisa moved to Phoenix she was hired by OCS, Inc. as a research assistant, doing economic damages projections and labor market research. “That was my introduction into the field of labor market consulting and vocational rehab,” she said. Lisa next worked for Crawford Health and Rehabilitation for seven years. During this time she attended night classes and completed her M.A. in Professional Counseling and became a certified rehabilitation counselor. “Much of what I accomplished was possible because of my mentor and manager at the time Tom Mitchell,” she said. Lisa added that she also appreciates the serendipity of her undergraduate courses in report writing, editing and public speaking. In 1999 she set off on her own. “It was one of the scariest and most exciting decisions in my life,” she said. “I’d gotten to a point in my career where I hit a sort of glass ceiling. I was going to have to wait for someone to retire or die to be promoted.” Lisa’s former mentor continued to influence her career after setting out on her own. In 2000 she followed Mitchell’s suggestion to complete a peer reviewed exam through the American Rehabilitation Economics Association. She became a certified earnings analyst, demonstrating proficiency in present value calculations for wage, benefit and future medical costs. Today, Lisa stays foundational assisting individuals in identifying realistic return to work goals. This may involve job placement using transferrable and job seeking skills, or education. “Being in the trenches with vocational rehabilitation clients in their job search keeps me current on employment trends,” she said. She calculates lost wages, costs of vocational rehabilitation necessary for work force re-entry, and what that means in terms of economic damages. A Team Perspective The amount of research and time involved in evaluating employability in workers’ compensation, personal injury, medical malpractice, wrongful termination, employment discrimination, wrongful death, and even family law matters demands able assistance. Lisa’s introduction to the industry came through mentors. Recognizing the significance of this in her career development, she provides the same opportunities to staff. “Evaluating the economic impact of a person’s injuries, and providing expert opinions is not fully learned in a classroom,” she said. Providing the opportunities she was given is her way of “paying it forward.” Her current staff includes three vocational consultants, one also a certified life care planner who teams with Lisa in catastrophic injury cases, and a bilingual employment specialist. “I am honored to have such complementing talent on staff,” Lisa added. When asked where she derived the motivation for her work analyzing the effects of disability on employment, Lisa replied simply: To help people wanting to understand its significance. “I have always enjoyed oral examination,” she said. “Listening closely, and answering as thoughtfully and truthfully as possible to provide helpful information to the trier of fact.” Part of the challenge to an expert witness is presenting a complicated set of facts and figures in a coherent manner. “That’s important in what I do as a vocational expert,” she said. “Communicating this information so the jury can then make an informed decision about how the parties can be made whole.” Working both plaintiff and defense cases, Lisa strives to be realistic. She says this “good news, bad news” approach is not always what the other person wants to hear. “This philosophy, while not always easy, has served me well in both personal and professional relationships. It lets you know where I stand,” she said. “This is very important in any relationship. Horses, more capable of unconditional honesty than humans, taught me this.”
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