Lawyers' Group Shouldn't Change Its Name

Part of the reason why so many people hate lawyers-- I'm a "recovering attorney," remember, so I know-- is because lawyers are perceived, rightly in some cases, wrongly in others, as using their considerable intellect to twist and contort not just common sense but the English language as well. It all depends upon what your definition of the word "is" is, remember? That is why it is so silly, and ultimately so self-defeating, for the big plaintiffs-interests group, the American Trial Lawyers of America, to be seriously considering changing its name to, get this, the "American Association for Justice."

"Our current name," wrote ATLA President Ken Suggs to members, "is all about us. It describes who we are. In contrast, our proposed new name... is about what we do. And what we do is fight for justice-- for our clients and all Americans each and every day." Putting aside for the moment that it doesn't seem like that bad an idea for a group's name to be "all about" what it does, the idea that suddenly the ATLA is going to be more popular because it employs a euphemism is nonsense. Worse, it feeds into the very notion that lawyers are slick-talking weasels who don't say what they mean or mean what they say.

"When you and I are in the courtroom," Suggs continued, "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 next logical step in a larger effort to change the way we communicate with our role in protecting and strenghtening the civil justice system." But going Madison Avenue isn't going to change the image too many people have of lawyers. That's going to change only when greasy politicians (many of whom are attorneys themselves) stop using lawyers as convenient whipping posts. It's going to change only when greedy clients (remember, behind each lawyer you don't like is a client directing the case) stop trying to sue one another. It's going to change only when every person in America has had a good experience with an honest lawyer.

In other words, it is never going to change. The ATLA is a group dedicated to helping plaintiffs win their cases. There is nothing shameful in that. Lord knows there are plenty of defense-oriented legal groups out there whose sole purpose is to defeat the plaintiffs' bar. So whose side would you rather be on? But what I am saying is that if you have to make your name fuzzy to improve your reputation you've got a problem larger than any name change can fix. Thus endeth the sermon. Now let's have some fun. Send me your proposed new names for the group (be nice). I will include them in a future post.

Here is my initial suggestions:

ALWAYAA- At Least We Aren't Yucky Accountants Association

By Andrew Cohen |  July 19, 2006; 8:30 AM ET
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I am sorry, but trial lawyers are not "about" justice. Perhaps anything but that. When I was taking an undergraduate law course and asked about justice, the professor angrily disabused me law is about advantage, not justice. Justice is supposed to sort itself out as part of the process, falling out like the cupie doll in Sleeper.

What is really disturbing about this, as Andrew points out, is the double speak.

How about American Litigation Association. This describes what they do (litigate) and who they are (litigators).

If they do change their name then we may need to re-name the Department of Justice so there is no confusion between the two.

Posted by: what's right | July 19, 2006 12:44 PM

As I try to recall from the late 1950s, I think that ATLA was not the original name of this organization. Who out there recalls the original name? I vaguely recall that it was not too attractive a name.

Posted by: Shag from Brookline | July 20, 2006 05:00 AM

You are correct about the name change. It is unnecessary and their proposal is lame.

But -- with all due respect -- your explanation(s) for why trial lawyers are unpopular reminded me of canned sauerkraut -- not very fresh or authentic.

Posted by: MC | July 21, 2006 07:26 PM

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