Membership in the nation's largest trial lawyers' association has fallen by half over the past decade, a candidate for a top office in the American Association for Justice says.
"[Instead] of increasing our numbers, AAJ continues to shed members at an alarming rate. Ten years ago, AAJ claims 50,000 members. Today AAJ member numbers are less than half that -- a time when our fight requires that our numbers multiply," wrote Los Angeles attorney Simona Farrise in her candidate's statement for the office of AAJ vice president.
Farrise, founder of the Farrise Law Firm, is challenging noted trial lawyer Lisa Baron Blue of the Baron & Blue Law Firm in Dallas, who currently serves as AAJ's secretary. Both firms specialize in asbestos litigation. (Baron Blue's statement of candidacy)
Members attending the AAJ's annual convention at the Chicago Hilton will vote for officers for 2012-2013 on July 30. Officers' terms last for one year.
Both lawyers have set up websites promoting their candidacies, a recent phenomenon for AAJ elections; the sites include social media tools like Twitter and Facebook, lists of endorsements and information about candidate events in Chicago: http://farrise4justice.com/ and www.votelisabluebaron.com/
Materials at the websites reveal details about internal disputes at the trial lawyers' organization that rarely make the public eye. Farrise, for example, paints the AAJ as undemocratic because it has limited voting for officers to attendees at the national convention, although she acknowledges new rules for electronic voting. Under a section of her candidate statement, "One member/one vote" she promises to end the "poll tax" of attendance requirements.
As a dues-paying member you can vote in AAJ elections whether or not you also pay the "poll tax" of registering for and traveling to the annual convention. AAJ's last election had only 400+ voters.Both candidates highlight their years of service to AAJ and other lawyer groups. Their partisan activities also figure prominently in their appeals for support.
Baron Blue touts her fundraising for Democratic candidates and vows to organize attorneys for polling disputes.
I have led successful efforts to assure that pro civil justice candidates receive the support they need. Decades before I was part of AAJ officers team, I spearheaded fund raisers for friends of civil justice. This past year I was asked to take on the AAJ responsibility to raise money for the Democratic Congressional Campaign and exceeded the goal set for me by Linda Lipsen and my fellow officers by over $100,000.
Providing monetary support and organizing fund raising activities is not enough to assure that the justice system is protected. Over the last 2 years, states have passed discriminatory measures which will impede voting rights. ... Last election, AAJ helped mobilize lawyers throughout the country to work at the polls and provide legal assistance to those exercising their voting rights. This year, we must be more strategic and involve many more of our lawyers since the problem has grown exponentially.
Baron Blue and her late husband, Fred Baron, have long been major donors to Democratic candidates.
Farrise promotes her activism in a section of the website, About Simona:
Simona has served the cause of Justice with AAJ for more than 16 years. She has given more than $150,000 to AAJ directly, as well as for political candidates and party committees supported by AAJ, This financial support extends to legislative fights to defeat the FAIR ACT (asbestos) and H.R. 5 (tort reform, medical malpractice) and sponsorship of AAJ conventions, events and forums.
Mary Alice McLarty of McLarty Pope LLP in Dallas is expected to rise to president of the organization, succeeding Gary M. Paul of Waters, Kraus & Paul LLP in Los Angeles. Two years ago, McLarty also bemoaned AAJ's plummeting membership to win election for vice president, saying she would work to fix things. (Point of Law post)
(Returning to POL after a hiatus, I again note my contributions are all my own and do not reflect the views of my employer)