Reach Out, Engage, Inspire
by Bruce H. Stern
AAJ President, 2019-2020
August 2019 [President's Page column from TRIAL magazine]
I am honored this year to serve as president of the American Association for Justice. Being a member of AAJ and having the opportunity to volunteer on committees, teach at AAJ Education programs, and serve for the past five years as a national officer has made me a better lawyer for my clients. My father and grandfather were lawyers, so I always knew I’d be a trial lawyer—I just didn’t know which kind. After law school, I clerked for a civil court judge in New Jersey and then worked for three years for a plaintiff firm. From there I went to another plaintiff firm that took in more than 1,000 cases each year. I was brought in to be the trial lawyer if the firm couldn’t settle the cases. This was not the practice I wanted.
Soon after this, Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, N.J., hired me, and I’ve been there for more than 30 years. Their philosophy was “hire to grow.” For me, everything clicked when a senior partner sent me to a Brain Injury Association seminar in 1990. I came back interested in the science and inspired by what trial lawyers could do to help people with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), which became my focus.
As I moved forward with my TBI practice, my involvement with AAJ also moved forward. Two AAJ members, Harry Deitzler and Jim Peterson from West Virginia, were doing an AAJ PAC drive in New Jersey, and they mentioned that the association was going to form a TBI Litigation Group. Until that point, I had not attended an in-person AAJ event. I went to that first TBI Litigation Group meeting and did not look back—my engagement with the association grew from there. That engagement through AAJ helped me network and build a successful practice.
AAJ is powered by members working together with a dedicated staff. Everyone has something to offer, and AAJ wants to hear from you. Members help plan and teach education programs, host membership and PAC drives, and provide insight into emerging areas of litigation and feedback on how proposed legislation may affect our practices. The association encourages us to contribute documents to the Exchange—AAJ’s online document repository—and Litigation Packets to help our colleagues in their cases. AAJ also helps us engage with law students, the future of our profession—for example, by serving as judges in the annual Student Trial Advocacy Competition.
AAJ gives us the opportunity to publish articles in Trial magazine or books through AAJ Press. In this month’s Trial, members have written about locking in standards of care and using clinical practice guidelines (pp. 27 and 32), negligent credentialing in hospitals (p. 20), and birth injury case intake (p. 46). Last month, member Mark Mandell’s new book, Advanced Case Framing, was released by AAJ Press.
We must continue to spread the word that AAJ is the premier national community for plaintiff trial lawyers. Member engagement is key. Over the next year, I want to visit as many trial lawyer associations as I can. The next stop on my calendar is the Colorado Trial Lawyers Association.
I encourage you to invite an AAJ officer to your state. I know how much it meant for me to hear past AAJ President Peter Perlman speak in the 1980s at my state association. He was so well-spoken and inspiring. Maybe it was he who first put the thought in my mind that one day, I, too, could be president of AAJ. That’s what I want AAJ’s officers and members to do—reach out, engage, inspire.
Bruce is ia shareholder at Stark & Stark in Lawrenceville, N.J. He can be reached at email@example.com.