An Expanded History of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA®)/American Association for Justice (AAJ®) | The American Association For Justice Archive

An Expanded History of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA®)/American Association for Justice (AAJ®)

Excerpts from Trial, July 1980

In 1945 the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC) met in North Carolina for its annual convention. For years IAIABC membership had been limited to insurance companies (which naturally spoke for manufactures’ interests). In this final war year, labor unions were invited to participate in the convention for the first time In doing so, the groundwork was laid for the national organization of its adversaries, the legal representatives of injured workers.

Ben Marcus, a workers’ compensation plaintiffs’ attorney from Detroit, traveled to North Carolina to represent the interests of the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Sam Horovitz, a Boston attorney, also headed south to represent the American Federation of Labor (AFL). The two organizations would later be consolidated. It was there, in North Carolina, that the two lawyers met. “We became friends immediately,” said Marcus in reflection on those early days, “and we both felt that it was important that we continue to represent their [the workers’] interest.”

Both men knew there were thousands of workers’ compensation cases litigated each year, and that about half the workers came alone to do battle with skilled insurance counsel, doctors, and investigators. They realized the urgent need for more adequate plaintiff representation and recognized the necessity for more legal knowledge on the part of the plaintiffs’ lawyers if they were to supply equal representation to the more than two million victims per year of industrial accidents

The giant insurance companies and employers’ groups were well organized. Working together to reduce their liability to protect their assets, Marcus and Horovitz knew that the means to the end for plaintiffs’ counsel also lay in organization.

The two attorneys kept in touch during the year through correspondence. They decided to attend the next IAIABC convention to be held in August 1946 in Portland, Oregon. They made plans for Horovitz to come first to Marcus’ Michigan home where he would address an organization of local labor lawyers. They would then go on to Portland together.

It was there in Michigan, in the Marcus family’s living room, that Ben Marcus proposed to Sam Horovitz that the two of them start a national organization. Horovitz agreed, and they set about contacting sympathetic colleagues.

In August, during at the convention, the plaintiffs’ attorneys met with nine others in a Portland hotel room, and officially formed the National Association of Claimants’ Compensation Attorneys (NACCA). Its goal—“to improve the administration of justice by representing and furthering the interest of injured persons”

The fledgling association’s 11 members appointed Ben Marcus their first president. Each member pledged to persuade other workers’ compensation attorneys to join their ranks. NACCA organizers hoped that by the time they gathered for their first annual convention (scheduled for August 1947); the membership would include at least one person from each state, with a total membership reach of perhaps 100 people. NACCA wanted, after all, to grow.

And grow it did. Membership swelled, far exceeding NACCA’s own expectations. But the organization grew, and has continued to grow, in many other respects as well. In fact, the association’s history can be characterized by growth—not growth in its goals, which have remained constant, but in other ways which help to promote those goals and to define them more clearly. In addition to its rapidly multiplying membership, the association has taken stands through the years on a growing number of issues of national importance; it has achieved more visible representation through the establishment of a state affiliates and law school chapters; and it has created and coordinated a network of ever-increasing and ever-improving education methods.

Membership—The Ranks Swell

In its very early days, NACCA membership grew at such a rapid rate, it surprised even itself. The organization that hoped to recruit 100 members in its first year found that by 1951, the year of its fifth anniversary, it ranks boasted 1500 members. It had originally planned to schedule its conventions to coincide with those of the IAIABC, but by 1949. NACCA had dwarfed the older organization, and the IAIABC asked NACCA to move its convention elsewhere because it was depleting IAIABC audiences.

There has, of course, been a natural growth as the association expanded from its beginnings as NACCA, an organization of only workers’ compensation attorneys, to become the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA®), comprised of attorneys, judges, law professor, and students engaged in virtually any phase or field of trial advocacy.

Expansion began with the first annual convention, held in Toronto, Ontario, in the summer of 1947.

Abe Freedman, an admiralty lawyer, called Sam Horovitz to request NACCA admittance for the representatives of injured ship workers. Horovitz explained that NACCA’s membership consisted exclusively of workers’ compensation attorneys, and admiralty workers, like railroad workers, were excluded from workers’ compensation coverage. “Well, isn’t it just as bad to lose a leg on a boat as it is in a factory?” asked Freedman. Horovitz invited Freedman to come to Toronto and convince the other members himself. Freedman came and spoke to the convention, and NACCA voted to take in the admiralty lawyers.

Subsequently, Boston railroad attorney Tom O’Brien pleaded with Horovitz: “Isn’t it just as bad to lose a leg on a train as it is on a boat?” and NACCA voted to accept railroad attorneys.

Up to this point, all NACCA members represented injured workers In 1949 San Francisco attorney Melvin Belli moved for admission of tort lawyers. Horovitz responded that NACCA did not “want the tort lawyers. The only ones we want are lawyers who represent injured ‘workers’ You represent injured person, not workers.” Belli countered: “Isn’t it [just] as bad for a ‘person’ who may well be a worker to lose a leg in a taxicab as a shop?” Belli presented his case to the Cleveland convention that year, and NACCA granted admittance to tort lawyers.

The aviation lawyers followed quickly, and by 1956 NACCA had voted to admit all personal injury lawyers. Thus the number of injured annually protected by NACCA representation rose from 2 million to 9 million people.

With the expansion, the association’s name no longer accurately described its membership. So in 1960, the association became known as the “National Association of Claimants’ Counsel of America, “ and in 1964 it changed again, this time to the American Trial Lawyers Association. “ (In late 1972, the name would change once more, to the “Association of Trial Lawyers of America.“).

For each of the different specialty areas granted membership, the association established sections. By 1971, the association’s 25th year, ATLA® had added commercial litigation, criminal justice, and environmental law sections to its organization, and since that time it has grown to include family law, labor law, and military law sections as well.

The association’s bylaws never excluded any attorney from joining by virtue of citizenship, and in 1973 the association officially recognized the largest segment of non-US citizen membership by creating two seats on the board of governors for Canada.

In addition to growth by expansion of scope, the association realized from the beginning that to have any real impact on society it must build its strength through numbers. In efforts to increase membership, the association sponsored several rather remarkable and effective membership campaigns, with association speakers traveling the country, finding and speaking directly to the potential membership.

Sam Horovitz undertook the first such campaign. Early in the association’s history, at the suggestion of Maury Maverick of Texas, Horovitz bought a trailer, packed up his family, and headed for the open road. Association members across the country hired halls and scheduled meetings. In the course of three month, the Horovitz family traveled 10,800 miles, stopping wherever they found an audience and converting attorneys to the association’s cause.

A few years later, NACCA began sponsoring air campaigns. The first of these campaigns included 13 members and their wives. They hired an airplane and set out together on a speaking tour. Members who participated in this and later tours included Sam Horovitz, Melvin Belli, Perry Nichols, Homer Bishop, Joe Schneider, Jim Dooley, Ben Cohen, Leo Karlin, Noah Lichtenberg, and Ben Marcus. The campaigners paid their own expenses.

In 1956, when NACCA celebrated its tenth anniversary, its membership rolls included about 500 voting members. Five years later membership had grown to 7176. In that year, 1961, Edward B. Rood became president, and with this presidency came the beginning of “The Big Push”.

At the time Rood became president, there was debate within the association whether the organization should remain stable in size or try to grow even more. True to the character it had demonstrated during its first 15 years, the association chose to grow. Hence “The Rood Rangers” came into being.

Rood and the association’s next five presidents, John Lane, Jacob Fuchsberg, Bill Colson, Joe Kelner, and Al Cone, headed the Rood Rangers. Throughout their administrations, they dispatched “road tours” from the association’s Boston headquarters to travel around the country, building the association membership, By the summer of 1967 membership increased more than 200 percent from the time Rood took office.

Growing Issues

The obvious and import issues to those 11 attorney who became NACCA’s first members were the promotion of adequate representation and awards for injured workers and, through this representation, the ultimate achievement of better worker safety.

Through the years, the association has become involved with many other issues which promote the public interest, both within the courtroom and without. All of them help to define association goals more clearly.

One notable issue within courtroom which ATLA® find just as vital today as it did in 1946 is the defense of the civil jury system. Throughout the association’s history. ATLA® leaders have defended the jury system against its critics. Critics have pointed out through the years that, as litigation has increased, so has the time one must wait for his or here case to come to trial, increased to as long as three or four years in some metropolitan areas.

Back in 1956, association editor-in-chief Thomas F. Lambert, Jr., said this in defense of the jury system in automobile negligence cases: “NACCA believes there should be long, hard, constructive thinking before we administer euthanasia to our revered jury system. Of course the intolerable congestion of the negligence docket must be reduced;… but to say than in order to speed up…litigation we must slay the civil jury is to slip on one’s premise and sprawl on one’s conclusion… It is using the guillotine to cure the toothache and recalls the ardent cry, ‘Quick, Suzie, the hammer; there’s a fly on the baby’s head.’ The same words could be used to express the sentiments ATLA® projects today in the face of current criticism of the jury system by the US Supreme Court Chief Justice among others.

The association has long recognized the need to voice its opinions in matters concerning not only the courtrooms, but the legislatures as well. ATLA® has for the past decade steadfastly opposed no-fault automobile insurance, arguing to the states and to Congress that the no-fault system allows an accident victim little room to seek fair compensation.

ATLA® has also lobbied for or against federal legislation which might affect an injured party’s receiving adequate awards, sometimes testifying before congressional committees. Adequate representation of its viewpoints before Congress was on of the key reason behind the association‘s decision in 1977 to move its headquarters to Washington, DC. An example of ATLA®’s participation in federal legislation is the proposed Uniform Products Liability Act currently before Congress. ATLA® has voiced its opinion to Congress that the act would limit an injured’s access to recovery.

Over the years, ATLA® has become increasingly involved in product safety issues. The furtherance of product safety will eventually reduce the number of accidents that occur, thus eliminating many of the injuries that would others have led to litigation.

One of ATLA®’s major issues today—one through which it hopes to make great strides in providing adequate legal representation—is the certification of legal specialists. For this reason ATLA® established the National Board of Trial Advocacy (NBTA). The NBTA has since welcomed several co-sponsors. It began testing applicants seeking trial certification in the spring of 1980.

There are many other issues affecting the trial bar and the American public as a whole on which ATLA® has taken stands and voiced its opinions. These issues include diversity jurisdiction, attorney advertising, and women and the law, among others.

State Affiliates and Law School Chapters

In a further effort to make the association and its view more evident, and to make itself more accessible to members, NACCA began a movement early in its history to establish affiliated state organizations. By the time the association celebrated its tenth anniversary in 1956, it could reach out from its Boston headquarters to touch members through 44 state branches and affiliates.

Today, from its Washington offices, ATLA® surveys a virtually complete network of state offices. There are now 53 branches or affiliates, representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.

Additionally, ATLA® has in recent years begun a campaign to form student chapters of ATLA® at the nation’s law schools. These chapters not only make law students aware of the association and its goals, but they also encourage students to consider trial advocacy as a specialty. As of July 1980, student chapters had been formed on about 60 campuses, and the membership department had announced it preparedness to move ahead with the student chapter programs at all schools.


Association founders realized at the outset that, in order to better represent the injured, advocates had to be better representatives; the education of the trial advocate cannot stop with law school. The association has sought throughout its existences to provide continuing education to members and other trial lawyers. It chief educational tools have been publications and seminars.

In May 1948 NACCA published volume I of the NACCA Law Journal. A semiannual publication for many years which was fist produced under the editorship of Sam Horovitz and then Dean Roscoe Pound, the Journal offered the reader in-depth articles and case summaries pertinent to the areas of concentration of association members. It served as the association’s chief educational tool during its first decade.

The Journal obviously filled a gap in legal literature, for the demand for it was almost immediate. From an original print order of 1600 copies the order rose in eight years to 10,000 many subscriptions being non-members. Various local and appellate courts cited the Journal with its first three years of publication, and; under the aegis of Dean Pound, it was cited by the US Supreme Court when it was barely more than five years old.

After two years’ service, Dean Pound was succeeded by Thomas F. Lambert, Jr. as editor-in-chief of all association publications. Professor Lambert guided the association into the production of other cyclical publications, and the Journal ceased semiannual publication in 1962. Today, the bound volumes become available every two years.

In 1957, NACCA expanded its publications department to include what is known today as the ATLA Law Reporter. It summarizes recent cases pertaining to such vital issues as professional malpractice, products liability, commercial litigation, civil rights, and family law, among others.

The association expanded publications once more in 1961 with the first issue of the PI&E (Public Information and Education) Bulletin. The Bulletin, however, was destined for a short life. Three years later, in 1964, NACCA became the American Trial Lawyers Association and with the name change came a new publishing image. Late that year, ATLA replaced the Bulletin with Trial magazine, the national legal newsmagazine.

Originally, produced six times a year, Trial has been a monthly publication since January 1976. Written largely by trial lawyers for an audience of their peers, each month Trial offers to ATLA® members and other subscribers practical articles designed to aid the trial lawyer in his or her quest to provide excellent legal representation to each and every client.

In 1974, ATLA® rounded off its publications program with the production of the ATLA® Bar News. The Bar News is a bimonthly newsletter available to ATLA® members only. Its purpose is to keep members informed of the current issues, opinions, and happenings of the association and its members.

Throughout its existence ATLA® has directed many of its educational efforts toward the young lawyer. It established a young lawyers section to aid in training new bar members in the art of advocacy. And to help the increasing number of women attorneys who have chosen trial work as a specialty in recent years, the ATLA® Women’s Trial Lawyer Caucus has been formed. The caucus initiates programs that promote the image and concerns of these women.

For all lawyers, experienced or not, ATLA® offers countless opportunities for participator education. In addition to the seminars and lectures at each annual convention and mid winter meeting, seminars are conducted every year by the ATLA® Education Fund in each circuit, usually in co-sponsorship with a state trial lawyers association. Given in cities across the country, each seminar concentrates in a particular legal specialty or on practical trial and/or settlement techniques. For example, recent seminar topics included trial tactics and techniques, psychology and persuasion in the courtroom, proof of damages, medical negligence, defending the criminal case, and professional liability.

ATLA® augments its seminars with the publication of books and audio visual products featuring the same topics. Since 1971, ATLA® has offered week long “advocacy colleges” through an ATLA®-formed organization, The National College of Advocacy. The advocacy colleges take place on some of the country’s major law school campuses and included numerous workshop sessions in which attorneys at all stages of their careers, from recent law school graduates to experienced trial lawyers, participate. Limited to more experience attorneys are programs sponsored by the Advanced Advocacy College, established by ATLA® in 1977. The advanced colleges admit just 150 qualified attorneys.

In September of 1968, when then Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, Earl Warren laid the cornerstone of the Roscoe Pound American Trial Lawyers Foundation in Boston, it was announced that the foundation would sponsor annually the Chief Justice Earl Warren Conference on Advocacy in the United States. Each year the conference focuses on a particular issue which is both timely and pertinent to practitioners in the field of advocacy. The published summaries of these conferences are made available for sale and provide an excellent source of legal education to trial lawyers.


ATLA®’s growth in every area has been tremendous throughout its history. But in many ways it has only begun to flourish. An examination of the growth ATLA® has achieved in any area only reveals its potential for much weightier accomplishments in years to come.