IMPACT and Membership: ATLA 2003-04
By Brad Hendricks, previous ATLA President
* Originally published in the ATLA Docket, Spring 2004
This is my last opportunity to communicate with you as your President-Elect and IMPACT chair. The members who actually read these articles may have discerned a slightly different style than that of most of my predecessors. Precious little of this space has been devoted to congratulating others for hard work, as that is implicit in the descriptions of what has transpired in ATLA over the last year. Instead, my focus has been on how our organization needs to change, and the work which still needs to be done. This article will hopefully maintain that focus, but some reflection and expression of gratitude should be a part of this last report to you.
Please permit me to enumerate that which has been done before describing that which needs to be done. As this is being written, we are exceeding our stated goal of having one thousand members before the annual meeting in Eureka Springs in late April. At a time when internal and external criticisms of ATLA (some well founded and others ill-informed) were numerous and vocal following the last regular legislative session, we have emerged stronger than ever. The people you elected to lead this organization have listened to you, and working with the Executive Director, have responded to your concerns and demands.
We have greatly strengthened and revamped our lobbying team. We are actively working to challenge Act 649. We have recruited political candidates to run for office and are providing them with substantial support. We have reached out to legislators and healed wounds from the last session. We have hired a full time Director of Legislative Affairs. We have revamped the ATLA administrative structure. We have established good relationships with good legislators, and are working hard to defeat those who are bent on further damaging our civil justice system. We have fanned out across the state to receive your input in person. We have enhanced our public relations efforts. More tort reform on behalf of nursing homes was kept off of the agenda during the special session despite promises that it would be included. The attempt to tax legal fees during the special session was defeated.
That’s the good news. The bad news is, it’s not enough. There is more which must be done and must be done quickly. Your elected leadership has done what you have asked. Now the key to success is in the hands of the membership.
In talking with certain legislators about their votes in favor of Act 649, the worst legislation in the history of our state, one inescapable fact became very clear. Our membership was seriously outworked by those special interests which are determined to weaken the judiciary in general and the American jury in particular. These legislators received hundreds of calls, faxes and emails in favor of tort deform and those communications were cited as the basis for votes in favor of tort deform. That was the result of a brilliantly conceived, well organized and fully executed plan by our enemies. In comparison, our effort can only be accurately described as pathetic. That happened because the rank and file members of our opponents’ organizations were motivated to act, and did so. Stated bluntly, for some incomprehensible reason our members were not motivated to act, and did not do so. As always, some of our members worked hard, but it was a mere drop in the bucket in comparison to the effort which could have been mounted if our membership would have responded in the same manner as did the membership of our enemies. While there is strength in our numbers, if only a small percentage of our members actually do something to work against our opponents, our numbers become meaningless.
I ask you to consider some simple questions, and to consider the impact on all of us if your answers are the norm in our organization. When Carol Utley sent out urgent messages asking you to contact your legislator, did you do so? When you were asked to send emails or make telephone calls to various key legislators and swing votes, did you do so? When you were asked to devote some time to protecting your clients and your practice, did you do so? Have you made the effort to establish relationships with your legislators? The membership of our opponents’ organizations answered those questions with a resounding “YES!” If we can answer these questions likewise in the next regular session, we can defeat the coming attempts to regulate legal fees and usurp from juries the constitutional power to set compensatory damages in civil cases. The judiciary already regulates these subjects, but our enemies seek to legislate that which is the sole province of the judiciary. If we answer “YES!” to these questions, we can take the offensive. We can take the fight to our enemies and put them on their heels, and win. Analogizing the political arena to a fistfight, the best defense is an overwhelming offense, and our membership needs to come out swinging.
One of the most disheartening things that I have observed during and since the last session is that there seems to be some kind of a strange notion that the leadership of ATLA and the ATLA staff can or should be able to handle these battles alone. That simply is not true. Our opponents are not saddled with that misconception, and it is critical that our proud ATLA members disabuse themselves of that false notion. The officers and staff are one small part of ATLA. The membership is our real strength. If the membership is galvanized and motivated to ACT, our successes will be stunning. We have everything we need to win because we have YOU. We are on the right side of the struggle. If we all get actively involved and work hard, if YOU get actively involved and YOU work hard, we will deal our enemies setbacks that will blow their minds.
I mentioned wanting to express some gratitude in this article, but I’m going to resist the temptation to mention individuals by name who are already aware of my gratitude. Rather, I would ask the membership to show their appreciation for the “new blood” which is emerging in ATLA with new ideas and enthusiasm, and for the “old guard” which provides wise stewardship and a sound institutional memory. Do so by getting actively involved yourself, as that is the one thing which speaks above all else to those who are working on your behalf.