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No joke . . . Trial lawyers consider name change

Hillary Wicai Jul 14, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: I could trot out a bunch of lawyer jokes to set up this next story. But none of them would be as funny as the actual truth. The Association of Trial Lawyers of America has decided to change its name. We’ll let Marketplace’s Hillary Wicai deliver the set up and the punchline.

HILLARY WICAI: Google “lawyer jokes” and seven-million-plus entries pop up. Like the one that goes, “It was so cold last winter, I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.”

Chris Mather is a spokesperson for the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. She says millions of lawyer jokes are not why the group wants to change to become the American Association for Justice.

CHRIS MATHER: When we use our name we want to remind people what is at stake and what we’re fighting for . . .

Branding experts say it’s good to focus on mission. Greg Cordell recently worked with a head-hunting company on its image.

GREG CORDELL: We changed the name of their company to Find Great People. And, you know, their business has more than doubled since then.

Name changes are a Washington tradition. The Chemical Manufacturers Association became the American Chemistry Council.

Bruce Freed is with the Center for Political Accountability. He says PHRMA’s name was originally the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association of America; they were viewed as greedy.

BRUCE FREED: So PHRMA changed its name to the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America to try to emphasize the research, the good that they do. I don’t think it’s really helped them that much in terms of their public image.

If nothing else, the Lawyers’ name change gives their arch rival — the US Chamber of Commerce — an easy target. The Chamber’s Lisa Rickard says her group will run print ads next week featuring a leopard with a paint can.

LISA RICKARD: You can have the same leopard and give it new spots but it’s still the same leopard.

The Trial Lawyers’ annual meeting starts tomorrow. They’ll vote on the name change next week.

In Washington, I’m Hillary Wicai for Marketplace.

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