Washington state trial lawyers association – will it change its name?

I read that the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association is studying a possible change of its name. When the American Trial Lawyers Association decided to change its name to American Association for Justice,somestate trial organizations began to make the same kind of changes to their names. California was one of the largest to do so.

There is no question but that a brand or name has an impact on people’s impressions. That’s exactly why Karl Rove and other Republican advisers saw the merit in misnaming Congressional bills and Bush policies. Clear cut logging would re renamed "renewing forest resources" following their view of how to influence people. I also realize that insurance companies, the Chamber of Commerce and big business have continouslyhidden behind front organizations with names that conceal who really is involved.

It is also true that since the days of Melvin Belli, the insurance industry has carried on a direct attack on trial lawyers as professionals. They have been successful in painting trial lawyers as people striking it rich through big verdicts and who have raised the cost of medical care as well as dozens of other charges. No one can argue that the campaign has been successful in making "trial lawyer" a disparaging term.

However, I don’t agree that our state trial lawyers name should be changed to something else. Perhaps I have a biased view about this because I was president of WSTLA when I had it incorporated under the present name. One objection I have involves the attacks from the insurance industry, Chamber of Commerce and big business aftertrial lawyers organizationshave changed their name. They have said in the media that these trial groups "must think the public can beeasily fooled." They have attacked the change of nameby charging that the public will not be fooled "by this slick attempt by pollsters and public relations experts " to hide who they really are.

Frankly, I think they are right. Who do we think we are fooling when we change the name? A change of name like this is nothing more than concealing who we really are. I agree that we are lawyers seeking justice and that "justice" is a word that is favorably received by the public whereas "trial lawyer" is not. I agree that on first blush a name that does not include "trial lawyer" will be more favorably received. I don’t have an objection to our state trial group havinga political arm whose name ismore neutral for political success.But, I don’t agree with the main body changing its name.

Clearly among legislatures a name change will not conceal that we are trial lawyers. They will fully realize who we really are. The media will also understand we are who we have always been, trial lawyers. When we appear in court representing the plaintiff or the defendant charged with a crime, we can tell the jury we are "consumer advocates" or whatever substitute name is adopted, but they know we are the plaintiff’s lawyer seeking damages or a trial lawyer seeking an acquittal. The jury certainly won’t be fooled what ever name change might be made.

So, where is the benefit? Is the thought that an uninformed public that reads about the "Consumer advocates Association" and won’trealize they are plaintiff trial lawyers? I doubt it. Certainly the insurance industry and their friends will make sure the media identifies who we really are. Exactly how does a name change help us other than perhaps at a cocktail party when we are asked what we do and we can adopt the new name instead of "trial lawyer." I see that as a lack of courage, pride and integrity. Perhaps I fail to understand the full reasons, but I would keep the name of the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association and belong to it with pride in what that stands for.

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