The Mission of the American Association for Justice is to promote a fair and effective justice system—and to support the work of attorneys in their efforts to ensure that any person who is injured by the misconduct or negligence of others can obtain justice in America’s courtrooms, even when taking on the most powerful interests.
On August 16, 1946, a group of nine plaintiffs’ attorneys involved in workers’ compensation litigation met in a hotel room at the Heathman Hotel in Portland, Oregon. Their goal was to put together a plan for a national organization to combat new threats facing trial lawyers across the country. It was at this meeting where it was enthusiastically agreed upon to create a new association by the name, the National Association of Claimants' Compensation Attorneys (NACCA). Their devotion to securing strong representation for victims of industrial accidents soon attracted admiralty, railroad, and personal injury lawyers. It wasn't long before the group included attorneys engaged in almost all facets of trial advocacy.
Reflecting its growth and expanded commitments, NACCA changed its name 3 times before 1973, when it emerged as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA). In 1977, ATLA's headquarters moved from Boston to Washington, DC.
In 2006, ATLA members voted to adopt a new name: the American Association for Justice (AAJ). Today, AAJ is a broad-based, international coalition of attorneys, law professors, paralegals, and law students.
As the world's largest trial bar, AAJ 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. With members worldwide, and a network of U.S. and Canadian affiliates involved in diverse 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.
The American Association for Justice Name Change
Corporate America has spent billions of dollars to define AAJ as a special interest group. You asked us to fight back and we did. We’ve launched an aggressive public education campaign to improve the image of trial attorneys, as well as to protect and strengthen the civil justice system. Our campaign is about helping us win back the public in both the jury box and the ballot box.
We conducted the research to tell us how to best reframe the debate, then hired the staff and built the infrastructure to enhance our ability to rapidly respond to attacks. We’re making a difference with the media, driving our storyline, hitting back with ads on television and in newspapers, using emerging techniques on the internet to target new audiences and taking the fight to the home turf of our opponents in Congress.
We took the next step. We knew from our research that if our message is or seems to be only about helping attorneys, we lose. On the other hand, if we concentrate on protecting the civil justice system from greedy corporate CEOs, we win.
The name ATLA is about what we call ourselves, not what we do. Our mission is not about helping ourselves, but rather about protecting and strengthening the civil justice system for everyone. Our name should be about what we do, not who we are.
We looked at many options, but, in the end, the right name needed to meet three criteria. First, our name has to make sense to our members and the public. Second, we wanted to avoid trademarks and other conflicts. Third, it has to send the right message. Names with the words “justice” and “association” help us meet the above-mentioned criteria. We also found in our research that the words “trial” and “legal” were not that meaningful to the public. AAJ’s Board of Governors recommended, by a vote of 91-5, to send only one name to the membership—the American Association for Justice, which meets all three of the criteria.
We will always be trial lawyers, and we will always call ourselves that proudly. But we must communicate more strategically and clearly about why we are proud to be trial lawyers and why what we do is important. When people hear our name, they should know what we do, what we fight for.
Whatever we do, the opponents of the civil justice system will attack us. With the name of the American Association for Justice, we move to pre-empt them before they attack us. In the end, having a name that better communicates our mission will help us defend the civil justice system from attacks by the other side.