AAJ's Name Change
The following is a list of Questions and Answers we released to inform our membership at the time ATLA adopted a new name, the American Association for Justice, in 2006. Also included below are communications from then-president Ken Suggs to our membership regarding the name change.
Questions and Answers
Why is AAJ changing its name to the American Association for Justice?
Corporate America has spent billions of dollars to define AAJ as a special interest group. You asked us to fight back and we are. 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.
Now it’s time to take the next step. We know 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.
It’s the logical next step in our communications effort. We learned from our polling that the majority of the public does not understand our mission when we use our current name. Using the American Association for Justice will help us better communicate our mission—and help us win back the public.
How was the American Association for Justice selected?
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.
Are name changes typical for associations such as ours?
Yes. National professional organizations often change their names, and most don't highlight their members in their names, but their missions. Two are the American Medical Association and the National Education Association. Their names reflect what they do, not what their members call themselves.
Even our opponents have done the same. For example, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of America changed its name to Pharma.
Will we still call ourselves trial lawyers?
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.
What will the other side say and how we will react?
Whatever we do, the opponents of the civil justice system will attack us. If the membership changes the name to the American Association for Justice, we will move to pre-empt them before they attack us and will roll-out our new name in the most positive light. 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.
Won't the press just report the new name with the caveat, "formerly ATLA"?
Experience has shown us that when organizations change their names, media coverage reports the former name for a short period of time, then stops referring to it at all. For instance, stories covering the Consumer Attorneys of California, which changed from the California Trial Lawyers Association, do not mention the former name.
While media coverage is important, changing our name is not just about media. A name change is the logical next step in a larger effort to change the way we communicate the role of trial lawyers and the importance of the civil justice system.
How much will this cost?
Estimated costs—changing stationery, business cards, etc.—will be under $150,000 although most of these items have to be reordered periodically anyway, even if we didn’t change our name.
Will the state trial lawyer associations change too?
That’s entirely up to them. Certain states are actively considering a name change along with AAJ, and others were considering name changes before this discussion began. But any decisions would be made by the state associations themselves.
2006 Letter to the AAJ Membership from Then-President Ken Suggs
Dear AAJ Member,
As you know, AAJ embarked on an unprecedented public education and communications campaign last year to educate the public on the importance of the civil justice system and the lawyers who work in it.
Last week, the AAJ Board of Governors voted 91-5 to recommend to the membership that we change the name of our association to the American Association for Justice. Per Article VII, Section 4 of AAJ’s bylaws, a vote of this nature can only be taken up at an annual membership meeting—as such, a vote on the proposed name change will take place in the Princessa Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Seattle at 8:00 am on Wednesday, July 19.
The goal of our communications campaign is to tell the public the true story about who we are and what we are fighting for. Our research shows that if our message is about helping lawyers, we lose. On the other hand, if we’re about getting justice and holding wrongdoers accountable, we win.
Our current name—the American Association for Justice—is all about us. It describes who we are. In contrast, our proposed new name—the American Association for Justice—is about what we do. And what we do is fight for justice—for our clients and all Americans each and every day.
When you and I are in the courtroom, we work hard to frame our case for the jury. We help the jury understand why our client deserves justice. The court of public opinion works the same way. And a name change is the logical next step in a larger effort to change the way we communicate our role in protecting and strengthening the civil justice system.
The name change will be considered at the Membership Business Meeting during the Annual Convention, in the Princessa Ballroom of the Grand Hyatt Seattle at 8:00 am on Wednesday, July 19.
The language of the proposed bylaw change is as follows:
Changing the Name of the Association
Existing Article I of the Bylaws is amended as follows (new language shown in bolded italics):
The name of the Association shall be The American Association for Justice, hereinafter referred to as The Association.
I believe we ought to have a full and spirited debate among the membership before we make this decision. That’s why we’ll have five additional opportunities for AAJ members to hear the research, ask questions and voice their opinions. I hope you’ll be able to join one of these.
The first of those five opportunities will be via a conference call and web presentation on Tuesday, July 11, 2006 at 3:00 p.m. Eastern time. The dial in numbers for the conference call are as follows: (U.S.): (800) 811-8845 (International): (913) 981-4905 and the access code is: 6839446.
The web address for the web based presentation is: https://www.livemeeting.com/cc/vcc/join?id=w6839446&role=attend&pw=A683944
Please test your browser for compatibility at the following URL prior to the event date:
At the convention, there will be four forums, all taking place at the convention center:
• Sunday, July 16, 9:30-10:30 am in room 4C-4
• Sunday, July 16, 3:30-4:30 pm in room 4C-4
• Monday, July 17, 4:30-5:30 pm in room 4C-2
• Tuesday, July 18, 9:30-10:30 am in room 4C-4
I look forward to speaking with you more about this important decision as this process moves forward, and I hope to see you at the convention.
Ken Suggs, AAJ President
Letter Regarding the Fight for Justice Campaign and AAJ Name Change from Then-President Ken Suggs
Dear AAJ Member,
This morning, the members of AAJ took an important step forward in the fight for justice.
During the membership meeting at the Seattle convention, AAJ’s members—79% to 21%—voted to change the name of our association to the American Association for Justice.
As you are well aware, justice is under attack from powerful interests in a way unseen during the sixty years of our organization’s existence.
To evade responsibility for their negligent behavior, big corporations have spent billions of dollars to eliminate the only thing left holding them accountable—the civil justice system.
And to hide their true intentions, they have spread lies, distorted the truth and manipulated the facts to demonize trial lawyers, blaming us for everything from clogging the courts to increasing the cost of health care. Their shameful tactics are no surprise—we represent the people who use the civil justice system to hold them accountable for negligence.
Because of these unprecedented attacks, our historic role as the advocates and defenders of justice is more important than ever. That is why last year we launched the Fight for Justice Campaign, the size and scope of which is unprecedented in our history. Our members had been asking us to fight back—and that is exactly what we are doing, for the people who need our help getting justice.
Changing our name to the American Association for Justice is just one step in a larger effort to explain to the public who we are and whose side we are on. We fight to ensure that every person has access to justice and can get a fair shake, even when up against the most powerful interests.
This decision to change our name was not made lightly. On June 20, the Board of Governors, at a special meeting, voted by a margin of 91-5 to recommend this name change to the membership.
The decision has also been seriously debated within the membership and in meetings across the country. The AAJ leadership and I have met with 24 different state TLAs and their members on this issue. We look forward to discussing it with all the membership as our Fight for Justice Campaign moves forward.
I have to say I was encouraged when I woke up to see in the Seattle version of USA Today, a silly cartoon ad by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—a front group for the drug, tobacco and oil companies—attacking our campaign and the proposed new name.
As the saying goes, you know you’re doing the right thing when the bad guys are coming after you. Opponents of justice will stop at nothing, so expect more of these attacks. The difference now is that we are going to fight back like never before.
I am also pleased to report that in addition to advancing our communications campaign and voting to become the American Association for Justice, we had a full, productive and energizing convention in Seattle. We elected new officers, an exceptional team of leaders who will help our association fight to protect justice and hold wrongdoers accountable.
We also celebrated our 60th anniversary at the convention. We have much to be proud of as we look back at what trial lawyers and this organization have accomplished since nine attorneys gathered in Boston in 1946 to form the National Association of Claimants' Compensation Attorneys (NACCA), our first name.
I leave my term as president prouder than ever of what we do. And I believe that we will look back on the decision we made to change our name as a critical and important step in our fight to restore a level playing field in the courtroom—a place where every American can get justice.