WASHINGTON (Legal Newsline)-The U.S. trial lawyer lobby this week got a new leader, capping the American Association for Justice's year-long search for an administrator.
Linda Lipsen, who has led the group's Capitol Hill lobbying efforts since 1993, has been promoted to chief executive officer, after serving as AAJ's executive vice president for public affairs.
Lipsen, 57, will likely have to confront the group's reported financial struggles that were caused in-part by a steep decline in membership dues.
Lipsen succeeds Tom Henderson, who served as interim CEO for the past year. Her appointment was approved by the AAJ board Saturday. Her contract terms, including salary, have not been disclosed.
"Linda's commitment to representing and advocating for injured patients, workers and consumers has been the bedrock of AAJ's mission for many years," AAJ President Anthony Tarricone said in a statement. "She has the full support of our association and its members, and our organization has exciting days ahead under her leadership."
Lipsen was not immediately tapped for the top post. As recently as December, the association was using the recruitment firm Korn/Ferry International to seek applicants to the post. An ad first appeared this fall.
A statement said Lipsen will continue to lead AAJ's lobbying efforts, largely focused on expanding civil liability, in addition to handling the association's day-to-day operations.
AAJ's current lobbying efforts include supporting a ban on mandatory arbitration clauses common in consumer contracts, allowing trial lawyers to sue in state courts over regulatory-approved medical devices and pushing for a $1.6 billion change in the federal tax code to allow plaintiffs' attorneys to deduct fees and expenses up-front for filing contingency-fee lawsuits.
The association this year was able to help secure a major legislative win for its members - preventing tort reforms, including damage award caps, from being a part of the national health care overhaul signed in March by President Barack Obama, amid Republican opposition.
Victor Schwartz, the chair of the lobbying practice at Shook, Hardy & Bacon who frequently challenges trial lawyer interests, said Lipsen undeniably grasps the political workings of Washington.
"She really understands Congress, and she properly boasted about their victory in health care. They gave up no yardage," Schwartz was quoted Monday by the Legal Times as saying.
Formerly the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, AAJ has been without a permanent leader since last April, when Jon Haber left the Washington-based organization after four years at the helm.
In his statement at the time, Haber said he was leaving AAJ in a "strong position" to continue its efforts on behalf of trial lawyers, noting that the Democratic-led Congress and Obama are on their side.
Before joining the trial lawyer association, Lipsen lobbied for the Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports. She is a graduate of Antioch School of Law in the District of Columbia.
The American Association for Justice's rocky finances were first reported in September by The Washington Times. AAJ had a deficit of more than $6.2 million in its operating budget for the fiscal year that ended July 31, 2008, the newspaper said.
Additionally, the trade group's income from membership dues dropped from $28.6 million in 2005 to $19.2 million in 2008, according to a report filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
The Times also reported that the AAJ's filings for the past four years -- the most recent available -- show that the group's operating revenue went from $36.7 million in 2005 to $28.6 million in 2008. At the same time, the group's total yearly expenses remained about $34 million.