ATLA (the “Association of Trial Lawyers of America”) held its 2006 Annual Meeting in Seattle from July 15-20. The most important result: ATLA members voted to change the organization’s name to the “American Association for Justice” (AAJ or A2J?).
As explained in a written communication to attendees signed by 17 former ATLA presidents: “Our current name – the Association of Trial Lawyers of America – is all about us. It describes who we are. In contrast, our ….new name – the American Association for Justice – is about what we do. And what we do is fight for justice – for our clients and all Americans each and every day".
The featured A2J speakers included James Carville, John Edwards and Eliot Spitzer.
From a structured settlement and settlement planning perspective, the most important A2J speakers were:
- William Dussault – “Ethical Considerations in the Use and Implementation of Structured Settlements”.
- Matthew Garretson – “What You Must Know About Medicare’s Growing Role in Catastrophic Personal Injury Cases”.
- Robert DeRose and Deborah Kohl – “Social Security Issues in Workers Compensation Cases”.
Approximately 300 companies exhibited at the A2J Annual Meeting at a minimum cost of $2600 per exhibitor. Many of these exhibitors also contribute to ATLA programs as sponsors and advertisers. Exhibitors of interest to the structured settlement and settlement planning industries included:
- Annuity Providers – Mass Mutual; MET Life; John Hancock.
- Structured settlement producers – Creative Capital, Enterpriz Economic Consulting, EPS Settlements, High Impact Litigation, Innovative Settlements, Lesti Structured Settlements, Mass Tort Settlement Services, Millenium, Forge, Ringler Associates, Robert Johnson & Associates, Settlement Services Group, SSP.
- Trust producers – Rich Halpern & Associates; the Settlement Services Group.
- Banks (offering special needs trusts) – Wells Fargo, US Bank.
- Litigation Financing (non-recourse) – American Asset Finance, Fast Funds, LawCash, LawFinance Group, Law Max, Lawstreet Capital, Peachtree Funding and Plaintiff Support Services.
- Non-bank recourse lenders – Advocate Capital and Counsel Financial.
- Economists – Enterpriz Consulting and Robert Johnson & Associates.
- Life Care Planners – Beacon Rehabilitation Services
- Medicare and Medicaid lien adjustors – Settlement Services Group
- Trade Associations – Society of Settlement Planners (SSP)
- Technology companies – many: including Structure Online and translation.net.
- Factoring companies – Wentworth and Strategic Capital.
Obviously these and other companies now recognize one truism about the Future of Structured Settlements: plaintiff attorneys are the primary “purchasers” and/or “deciders” for numerous financial and insurance products.
By comparison, with only a few exceptions, ATLA (now A2J or AAJ) has done a regrettably poor job in educating its members about important, developing issues related to these same exhibitors, sponsors and advertisers – and to the emerging industries they represent including:
- Structured settlements;
- Settlement planning;
- Settlement trusts;
- Settlement transfers (aka factoring);
- Legal finance.
As a separate comment (and criticism) about A2J’s educational program in Seattle: except for Ringler Radio’s mobile podcast recording studio, the conference was completely devoid of any evidence or education about Web 2.0 for Lawyers. By comparison, and simultaneous with the ATLA meeting in downtown Seattle, Edward Tufte spoke to consecutive one day sell-out audiences (500 persons at $360 per person) about the topic of “envisioning information” - an important Web 2.0 core competency.