AAJ is on the upswing. In the past three years, our conventions have hit record numbers and seen increases of more than 25 percent in attendance. As president of AAJ, I look forward to continuing this positive momentum. It is a tremendous honor to serve you and the people you represent. There is not a higher calling in democracy than advocating for and protecting access to the civil justice system. AAJ is the only organization in Washington, D.C., fighting effectively for your clients’ rights every day and preserving the fundamental right to trial by jury.
Because this is my first President’s Page, I would like to tell you a little bit about myself. I was born and raised in Baton Rouge, La. My mother set aside her own education and other pursuits to raise me, and her first job was as a secretary to one of the only plaintiff lawyers in town at the time. My father worked in construction as a member of the Louisiana AFL-CIO while he also attended school. My parents had me when they were very young, and their sacrifices certainly provided me with greater opportunities; I graduated from Louisiana State University and from the Loyola University School of Law in New Orleans.
In life, any degree of personal success can be attributed to help or guidance from others along the way. I had the benefit of a father-in-law, Jerry McKernan, who was a trial lawyer’s trial lawyer. A champion of the underdog, he was president of the Louisiana Trial Lawyers Association. Papa Jerry paid my dues to join that association and ATLA. There was also Victor Bussie, president of the Louisiana AFL-CIO for 41 years. He had the confidence to allow me, as a young lawyer, to represent his members and retirees as designated counsel in occupational disease cases. I miss my mentors, and I thank them for letting me stand on their shoulders.
On the upswing
Thanks to AAJ members, our board, my fellow officers, and AAJ staff, over the last several years we have been able to
- defeat numerous tort “reform” measures, including caps on damages in all medical-related cases
- pass affirmative legislation, with the Strengthening Medicare and Repaying Taxpayers (SMART) Act, that provides certainty and finality for lien resolution
- elect numerous pro-civil-justice candidates last cycle (with the AAJ PAC’s success rate at more than 80 percent)
- launch TakeJusticeBack.com to educate and engage the public.
Over the next year, I would like to see us accomplish several goals.
Become more bipartisan. We need to continue to reach across the aisle and seek support for the Seventh Amendment from both parties. We have many allies when we frame our message as protecting the right to trial by jury. We need to seek to increase the number of Republicans who respect the rule of law and the Constitution.
Improve our messaging and our image through our actions. We need to message with greater discipline and profile the good deeds of trial lawyers throughout the country. I will continue Trial Lawyers Care, which Mary Alice McLarty reactivated.
Reinvigorate our State Affairs program. Many states are under serious assault in their legislatures. AAJ needs to support them and has hired new staff to do so. We are all in this together.
Activate membership. We must educate members of every state association that it is imperative for them to be members of both their local association and AAJ. What happens in Washington, D.C., has a direct impact on local practices. Times have changed, and we must increase our membership ranks to reflect this new era. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and its front groups are engaged in a full-court press in the states and in Washington. We must respond in kind.
My experience serving as president of the Louisiana Association for Justice following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita—when one-third of our membership was displaced from their homes and offices—has made me a stronger leader. And, after serving as an AAJ officer for the last five years, I am ready to take the helm. I look forward to working with Linda Lipsen—our CEO and the best lobbyist in D.C.—as well as with AAJ’s talented and dedicated staff, each of whom plays a role in advancing our practices and fighting for our clients every day.
J. Burton LeBlanc is a shareholder with Baron & Budd in Baton Rouge, La.