LCJ: 25 Years Of Defense Bar Leadership And Partnering With The Corporate Community

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 - 14:45

For more than 25 years, Lawyers for Civil Justice (LCJ) has enjoyed a record of success in achieving broad-based civil justice reform at both the federal and the state levels of government, and LCJ has been at the forefront of improving the legal system. Five of LCJ’s past presidents have offered their insights into the ingredients for this success as they paid tribute to LCJ’s 25 years of achievement. 

The Editor presents the following discussion based on excerpts from a video that will be featured at LCJ’s upcoming anniversary meeting commemorating its first 25 years. Listed in chronological order of their terms as LCJ President, the presenters are Edward W. Mullins, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP (LCJ President from 1990-1993); Michael A. Pope, McDermott Will & Emery LLP (LCJ President from 1994-1996); Stephen G. Morrison, Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough LLP (LCJ President from 1997-1998); Rex K. Linder, Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, P.C. (LCJ President from 2002-2003); and John H. Martin, Thompson & Knight LLP (LCJ President from 2010-2011).

What prompted the formation of LCJ 25 years ago?

Morrison: The IADC (International Association of Defense Counsel), DRI (Defense Research Institute), the FDCC (Federation of Defense & Corporate Counsel) and the ADTA (Association of Defense Trial Attorneys) all got together and said, you know, there’s a real need for unified reform efforts at the rules level and at the legislative level. We were all working on those things independently, but the new idea was: could we pull together the corporate leaders in America with the defense bar leaders to drive thought about the justice system? 

Why is LCJ unique among legal reform advocacy organizations?

Martin: I think LCJ is unique because it is literally the only organization that presents the defense bar and corporate perspectives on rule changes, both to the Civil Rules Advisory Committee and to state rules committees. There’s really no other organization that does what we do in the area of rules of procedure.

What is LCJ really doing for civil justice reform?

Linder: Our principal mission, of course, is to level the playing field. At times, in many jurisdictions and federally, it seems that the plaintiff’s bar has the upside of it as compared with the defense bar. Corporate America seems to be fighting back all the time. And any efforts we can make – whether through legislative processes, judicial processes, with amicus briefs or by any other means – to help level that dynamic throughout the country, I think, fall under one of LCJ’s strongest missions.

How would you characterize LCJ’s reputation with the federal judiciary?

Linder: LCJ’s reputation, particularly with the judiciary, is tremendous. If you look at the people who get involved, including the sitting judges who come to our meetings, speak at our meetings and participate in our discussions, it’s clear that they wouldn’t participate if LCJ didn’t have the fine reputation it has. As far as its reputation with legislators around the country, I think that’s significantly influenced by the associate members, which typically are important firms, either regionally or nationally. We certainly have interaction with the legislators and their respective areas. 

Mullins: LCJ really became recognized in the federal rulemaking bodies where we were fighting protective orders. So we got involved with the federal rules, and we became a very credible organization to the appropriate committees that were dealing with federal rules. The recent amendments that dealt with discovery and expert witness testimony were, we thought, favorable to the defense bar. We wanted to change a playing field that we thought was not level and that was causing a lot of consternation for our clients.

Has LCJ been active at the state level?

Pope: We can find out through the defense bar organizations what’s going on in particular states, and we’re very much attuned to what’s happening in any state that could have a major impact on litigation. And we are able to bring in local people who can come forward; who can lobby their legislator; or who can appear before committees and explain to them in a local fashion – sort of lawyer to lawyer, or neighbor to neighbor  – exactly what’s wrong with this process or what needs to be done. That effort has been very effective.

What’s your impression of the relationship between LCJ’s
corporate counsel members and its defense counsel members?

Martin: LCJ is a 50/50 partnership between defense bar attorneys and in-house attorneys working for corporations, and the perspectives sometimes are different. But by and large, we’ve been able to work on issues that everybody agrees on and that everybody has a common interest in.  The two groups work extremely well together, and they work extremely closely together. I know that corporate members are tremendously appreciative of the extraordinary number of hours that defense bar attorneys devote to this organization.

What do you see as the big challenges for LCJ in the future?

Linder: The challenges that LCJ faces will continue to be involved with the overreaching of the plaintiff’s bar, the overreaching of consumer law, regulation by the federal government and state governments, and the impact of that regulation on corporate America.  That’s not going away.  It’s only going to get worse and, I think, will continue to be one of our most significant challenges in the future.

Morrison: A big challenge, as I see it looking back, is patience. Don’t give up. Put your idea out there. Persist in the idea. Be tenacious about the idea. Continue to move it forward. As I have understood from when I was young right up until today, the law takes a long time to change, and it takes advocates who are patient and persistent in their advocacy. The law in America doesn’t usually move just because you thought of something cool.  It moves because you stayed after it, persisted, demonstrated thought leadership and then got it done.

Why is it valuable for LCJ members to meet twice a year
in New York City and Washington, DC?

Linder: The value our members enjoy runs along multiple paths. Perhaps one of the biggest benefits is that LCJ members receive early input from around the country on hot or emerging issues that may not have reached national prominence yet. Second, our meetings are an opportunity for some of the finest lawyers in the country to interact with some of the finest corporate counsel in the country. So, there’s the social experience and all the benefits of networking as well as the professional experience for members in participating at these meetings.

What would the civil justice system look like now if LCJ had not been helping
to shape the field of legal reform for the last 25 years?

Pope: Our efforts have been very successful at maintaining a balance between a real sense of justice and a level of confidence that matters will be handled with fairness in the courts. The perception that the public or outsiders may have – i.e., that the deck is stacked against corporations – is really not true. When you actually go to trial, you realize that with a fair judge and some fair rules, cases can and should be resolved in favor of corporations. I think this situation would be very different if LCJ had not been here for the last 25 years.