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ATLA: A Rose By Any Other Name

When the Association of Trial Lawyers of America voted in July to change its name to the American Association for Justice, I called the move ill-conceived. In an op-ed yesterday in The New York Times, Columbia Law professor John Fabian Witt says the new name is unlikely to change how Americans view the organization.

It is not the group's first name change, he notes. The organization was born in the 1940s as the National Association of Claimants' Compensation Attorneys. It renamed itself in 1960 the National Association of Claimants' Counsel of America, then in 1964 the American Trial Lawyers Association, finally adopting its current -- and soon to be former -- name in 1972.

This struggle for identity parallels the course of American politics since the 1930s, Witt argues:

"As American politics has changed, so have the trial lawyers. They began as cogs in the wheels of the New Deal’s bureaucratic machinery. They became legal entrepreneurs, identifying creative ways to produce higher awards for their clients in the courts and line their own pockets in the process. Thanks to mass torts cases arising out of things like cigarettes and asbestos, the association’s membership includes some of the wealthiest lawyers in the country. And in the past two decades, the trial lawyers have become a crucial source of financial support for the Democratic Party."

The problem, he concludes, "is that the genius of the tort system -- its capacity to marshal the entrepreneurial energies of the bar -- is also its greatest public relations liability." This means that, no matter what ATLA calls itself, "some will say that the trial lawyers are still chasing ambulances."

Posted by Robert J. Ambrogi on October 25, 2006 at 03:38 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

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