Lisa A. Rickard
The Association of American Trial Lawyers of America voted today to change its name to the American Association for Justice.
At the trial lawyers' annual convention in Seattle, the measure easily passed 390-91 on first vote. But a motion was later approved to make it a unanimous vote.
In a written statement Wednesday afternoon, ATLA President Ken Suggs said, "As advocates and defenders of justice, trial lawyers ensure any person can hold wrongdoers accountable on a level playing field in the courtroom and our new name reflects what we are fighting for - justice.
Suggs took aim at big business, charging that the American justice system is under attack by powerful corporations. Last month he urged members to vote for the name change to reflect "what we do, not who our members are."
"To evade reponsibility for their negligent behavior and further boost their bottom line, big corporations have spent billions of dollars over several decades to eliminate the only thing left holding them accountable - the civil justice system, often the last resort for many Americans," he said Wednesday.
Illinois Trial Lawyers Association President Judy Cates, a personal injury attorney from Swansea, declined to comment on the name change.
In June, ATLA's board of governors voted 91-5 to recommend the name change.
Critics claim that "cosmetic surgery" is not going to change the behavior of the trial lawyer organization.
Ed Murnane, president of the Illinois Civil Justice League, said trial lawyers' image problem is not because of their name, "it's because of their conduct," he said.
"They are the original 'ambulance chasers'," he said. "And changing their name is not going to fix that, nor their image."
Lisa A. Rickard, president of the U.S. Chamber Institute for Legal Reform, called the vote "an astounding admission of the unpopularity of trial lawyers in America."
"But the sad fact is that trial lawyers have no one to blame but themselves for their low esteem," she said in a written statement. "Decades of abuse of the civil justice system by some of their members have created a sue-happy litigation climate that results in lost jobs, higher consumer prices, and ultimately, little justice for anyone-even the victims that they represent.
In his statement, Suggs said big corporations and their "front group, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, attack the justice system and trial lawyers to distract attention from their true motive - to eliminate people's right to hold wrongdoers accountable."
Rickard's statement continued, "Obscuring who they are by removing the words 'trial' and 'lawyer' from their name is only cosmetic surgery unless it is followed by abandoning the high-dollar business model of industry-targeted lawsuits, followed by a real commitment to comprehensive reform of our civil justice system."