American Association for Justice
The American Association for Justice (AAJ), formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA) is the leading organization for lawyers representing plaintiffs in the United States. AAJ states that it "promotes justice and fairness for injured persons, safeguards victims' rights—particularly the right to trial by jury—and strengthens the civil justice system through education and disclosure of information critical to public health and safety". Headquartered in Washington, D.C., it provides information and professional assistance to its members.
In 1946, a group of plaintiffs' attorneys involved in workers' compensation litigation founded the National Association of Claimants' Compensation Attorneys (NACCA). As their work broadened beyond workers' compensation, in 1960 the NACCA changed its name to the National Association of Claimants' Counsel of America, and four years later, to the American Trial Lawyers Association. In 1972, these groups merged as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA). In 1977, ATLA's headquarters moved from Boston to Washington, D.C. Today, the American Association for Justice is a broad-based, international coalition of attorneys, law professors, paralegals, and law students.
Past presidents include:
- Harry Philo, 1980–1981
- David Shrager, 1983–1984
- Peter Perlman, 1985–1986
- Robert Habush, 1986–1987
- Eugene Pavalon, 1987–1988
- Bill Wagner, 1988–1989
- Bob Gibbins, 1991–1992
- Larry S. Stewart, 1994–1995
- Pamela Angagos Liapalies, 1995–1996
- Richard D. Hailey, 1997–1998
- Mark S. Mandell, 1998–1999
- Richard H. Middleton, Jr., 1999–2000
- Mary Alexander, 2002–2003
- Gary Paul, 2011–2012
AAJ has more than 56,000 members worldwide, and a network of state and local affiliates involved in all areas of trial advocacy. AAJ provides lawyers with the information and professional assistance needed to "serve clients successfully and protect the democratic values inherent in the civil justice system". Like many professional organizations, AAJ also engages in lobbying on matters of concern to its members and their clients: "AAJ supports the civil justice system as a fundamental check on the power of businesses and governments and opposes efforts to limit the legal rights of citizens". It has opposed many changes related to "tort reform", including the Class Action Fairness Act of 2005, which gives defendant companies the right to remove state court class actions to federal court.
Student Trial Advocacy Competition
The organization hosts the Student Trial Advocacy Competition (AAJ STAC), one of the largest annual mock trial competitions for law students in the United States. Roughly 200 teams compete at 14 regional sites. One team from each region advances to the national championships. The winning team and their coach receive free airfare, hotel accommodations, and registration to the AAJ Annual Convention where they are recognized during the Membership Awards Reception and Law Student Mentor Reception. This is an opportunity for law students to develop and practice their trial advocacy skills before distinguished members of the bar and bench.
The University of Notre Dame Law School won the 2013 STAC National Championship in New Orleans, Louisiana. The team was coached by Notre Dame Law adjunct professors Joel Williams and Kate Singer. Team members included: Sheila Prendergast, Michelle Pope, Brian Salvi, and Kristian Weir.
Trial Lawyers Care - pro bono efforts
AAJ has established the largest pro-bono project in American history, Trial Lawyers Care (TLC), to aid the victims of the September 11 attacks. TLC is a charitable non-profit organization, through which more than 1,100 lawyers have provided representation to more than 1,700 victim families and provided over $200 million in legal services free of charge. TLC also established The Hurricane Katrina Relief Fund to collect and distribute aid to relief organizations in Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama.
The association in recent years has been criticized by organizations such as the United States Chamber of Commerce for its role as a special interest and lobbying group promoting the interests of plaintiffs' lawyers. In 2006, ATLA's membership voted to change their name to the American Association for Justice. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce responded by again criticizing the organization.
- New York Times, 2006 article regarding history of AAJ
- Official AAJ Website: About the AAJ
- AAJ website: End of an Era(subscription required)
- Ann Knef (2006-07-19). "ATLA drops 'Trial Lawyer,' adds 'Justice' to name". Retrieved May 15, 2009.
- "Same Leopard, New Spots"