Updated at 5:18 p.m.
The top lobbyist for the nation's plaintiffs bar has received a promotion.
Linda Lipsen is the new chief executive officer of the American Association for Justice, after heading up its lobbying team in Washington for the better part of two decades. The group, formerly known as the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, has been without a permanent chief executive for a year, since the departure of Jon Haber.
The promotion, announced today, means the organization will be headed by someone with deep experience on Capitol Hill, as opposed to in the courtroom. Lipsen has a law degree from Antioch University, though she has been the trial lawyers’ top lobbyist since 1993 and previously spent a decade working on legislation for the Consumers Union.
In an interview, Lipsen said she plans to continue the organization’s mission of promoting access to litigation — a mission that increasingly involves action in Congress.
“It seems like every possible group that might face a lawsuit — because of products they put out there in the stream of commerce or some service they might provide the public — all of those groups are going to Congress and asking Congress to give them a break,” Lipsen said. “We’re saying, ‘It’s the public that needs a break.’”
Lipsen, 57, said she’ll retain the group’s lobbying portfolio even as she manages its other operations day-to-day. And there will be plenty to do as the group spars with the defense bar and its allies, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
In the past year, the American Association for Justice’s congressional agenda has included pushing a ban on mandatory arbitration and trying, successfully, to block proposed caps on damage awards. They’re also lobbying, so far without success, for a change in tax law that would allow lawyers to deduct loans to clients in contingency-fee cases.
“When I started 17 years ago, we were mostly on the defense,” Lipsen said. “And now we’re on the defense and the offense at the same time.”
Victor Schwartz, chair of the lobbying practice at Shook, Hardy & Bacon and a frequent adversary of the trial lawyers, praised Lipsen’s expertise in Congress. “Her strength is Washington. She really understands Congress, and she properly boasted about their victory in health-care. They gave up no yardage,” Schwartz said, referring to the debate on whether to cap medical malpractice awards.
Lipsen’s long history inside the group means that she’s “thoroughly familiar with how the organization works or doesn’t work,” said Robert Peck, president of the Center for Constitutional Litigation, which collaborates with the trial lawyers’ group to try to overturn laws limiting access to courts.
“It’s a unique job,” Peck said. “Someone who’s equally qualified to run the American Dental Association is not really qualified to run this organization.”
The association’s previous CEO was Jon Haber, who went to the group from the public-relations firm Fleishman-Hillard. He stepped down in April 2009 after five years, telling Legal Times then that he was voluntarily leaving “because the organization is so strong.” Tom Henderson, who preceded Haber as chief executive, has been acting in that role for the past year.