Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) Re-cap

Each November, the National Association of Trial Lawyer Executives (NATLE) and the American Association for Justice (AAJ) hold their annual Governmental Affairs Conference – commonly known as the GAC.  This year, we sent our new Public Affairs Director, Todd Hauptman, to get the scoop on all things political, as we continue to develop our own strategy, here at TLABC.

This is what he had to say…

 

In his own words – Todd Hauptman 

 

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Have you ever imagined attending a conference full of the nerdiest individuals in your profession? The National Association of Trial Lawyers Executives (NATLE) Government Affairs conference was certainly that for me.  I recently attended their conference in Seattle that hosted public affairs professionals for Trial Lawyers Associations from across the United States.  I was the only Canadian in attendance so I felt as though I was representing an entire country.  While the conference had a number of detailed and engaging presentations, the most beneficial part of me was the networking.

The network was helpful to not only learn best practices from other TLAs in their advocacy efforts to their elected officials, but also to better understand working within an association environment like ours.  I spoke and spent time with colleagues from Ohio to Rhode Island to San Francisco and grew to appreciate each of their passion and determination.  Many of these folks have been passionately fighting for access to justice issues for decades and they continue to do so.  By having conversations with these folks, there is so much insight and experience to glean from. The most significant lesson from these political nerds was the importance of being determined in building solid, long term relationships with each and every one of the elected officials in our area.  While there will be wins and losses in the fight for our public policy agenda, it is essential to look at the long game. I had the opportunity to see some of them in action on the phone with decision makers and they get things done for their members.  These relationships took time to develop into a place where there can be mutual benefits.  This may be the most significant lesson but there are others.

These relationships were built through a deliberate strategy that involved targeted political donations, delivering volunteer resources for campaigns and helping legislators push their agenda forward.  While this is certainly in an American context, there are lessons for Canadians to learn.  Certainly our donation limits are a lot less than the United Stations, money still talks in politics.  It is important to donate to candidates in a strategic fashion.  Strategic donations matters because the candidates need to know where their resources for their campaign came from. The NATLE conference reinforced for me the importance of finding common ground on our agenda and the legislator’s priorities. The issues that NATLE and TLABC are working towards should have support from all parties no matter where they are on the political spectrum.  It was helpful to know that the strategies and approaches that TLABC is pursuing are on the right track.

The connections and relationships developed at NATLE will not only be once a year but in fact, I have a few meetings by phone or online with various colleagues to discuss mutual strategy.  These ongoing relationships will be fruitful not just in my role but for TLABC as we move forward with our public policy agenda.

Finally, it is critical to note that like all of our NATLE friends, we must continue to be seen and heard by our MLAs.  As a TLABC member over the holiday season, go to your MLA’s seasonal open house and have a friendly chat about the issues important to us, such as legal aid and wrongful death legislation.  Be a friendly face that your MLA begins to know and appreciate seeing.  While we may disagree on some issues, we can be allies on others.

Caps Punish Victims

Say No To Capping Our Rights!

Being injured can change your life and the lives of those around you. The path to recovery is often long, difficult and expensive. Currently, in BC, everyone, and every incident is treated and assessed uniquely.

However, ICBC and the provincial government want to change that and restrict the rights of drivers, passengers, cyclists and pedestrians in BC by introducing injury caps. This will reduce our ability to be treated as individuals, and to seek out help when navigating the daunting process of an injury claim.

Stand with us to ensure our rights don’t get capped.

Contact your MLA

R.O.A.D. BC is a coalition of British Columbians who are committed to protecting the rights of anyone who becomes injured on our roads. We are made up of individuals and associations all across British Columbia who believe the best way to reduce accidents and protect victims is through established, inalienable rights – not arbitrary decisions that turn real people into a statistic.

Visit the site for more information and join on Facebook & Twitter!

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An Overview of the NATLE GAC

Well, he’s only been here a month, but our new CEO, Shawn Mitchell, has been working tirelessly to acclimatize and immerse himself in the TLABC issues, culture and team.

A bonus to having new eyes in the boardroom is, of course, fresh perspective.
TLABC, as an association, is proud to be founded on principle, and in many ways -tradition.  Tradition is a wonderful thing, but it’s always good to take a step back and see what’s working and what might benefit from a little restructuring.

Shawn comes to us with a wealth of leadership experience that will no doubt be indispensable as we move forward and it has been a real pleasure getting to know him.

In this spirit, Shawn attended one of our favourite events last week, along with incoming President Sonny Parhar and Director of Communications Bentley Doyle The National Association of Trial Lawyers Executives (NATLE) Governmental Affairs Conference (GAC) – this year held in Louisville, Kentucky.

Here’s what he had to say… 

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Intro

I’ve just gotten back from the National Association of Trial Lawyers Executives (NATLE) Governmental Affairs Conference. What members of the association lovingly refer to as the GAC (say: gack). The location of the conference changes every year — this year’s was held in Louisville, Kentucky.

Attended by 100 TLA CEOs, their presidents and government affairs-aligned senior staff, the GAC was a great opportunity to network, learn how other TLAs go about their business, and attend a range of sessions focused on the challenge of lobbying government (both state and federal).

There were a total of 22 presentations and round tables, covering a range of topics and issues, during the three-day event. A sampling:

    • Learning the language of the conservative culture (presented by Judge Kenneth Starr — yes, THAT Kenneth Starr)
    • Effective polling
    • Creative ways to build relationships with lawmakers
    • Engaging leaders and members in the legislative process — making it meaningful and creating evangelists
    • Workers’ compensation trends to watch
    • Self-driving vehicles
    • Subrogation for dummies
    • Managing member expectations in the legislative arena

Taken from these and other sessions in which I participated, a few thoughts …

Trumped

Almost without exception, American TLAs spent the last eight years doubling down on their relationships with Democrats and largely turning their backs on Republicans. After the election results in 2016, most woke up terrified and unsure of what the future held for them when it came to advancing a legislative agenda on behalf of their members. Much of the conference was about sharing best practices on how to “speak Republican.”

Born to lobby

I was also struck by the very different posture or business orientation of the American TLAs, compared to (what I am coming to understand about) Canadian TLAs. Even small associations are heavily invested in ongoing lobbying on a range of issues. The eye opener here for me was both the difference and the potential for us to explore being more invested in this activity beyond ad hoc campaigns.

Everything is poll-itical

Given the extent to which TLAs are involved in lobbying, it follows that they are also becoming increasingly invested in polling and “testing the message.” There were a number of sessions on this topic, linking polling research to focus groups and the importance of not saying anything publicly on an issue until you’d tested your ideas and language in the field. Here again, at TLABC we have not had a history of behaving this way, but certainly we have seen the benefit of it most recently in the guidance we gained while positioning ourselves regarding no-fault and fixing the financial imbalance at ICBC.

No such thing as being too social

Our neighbours to the south are also heavily invested in social media, using Facebook and Twitter to cultivate audiences in support of different positions they are lobbying for at the state or federal levels of government. The insight here is that we at TLABC need to keep doing what we are doing — social media is a powerful, cost-effective engagement tool.

(Think James Carville, here) It’s about the membership, stupid!

One area where I believe we at TLABC still have lots of room to grow is on member engagement. American TLAs work very hard to be highly responsive to their members’ concerns and to engage them in the association’s work — beyond just the board and executive. They also have communication strategies that are focused on demonstrating the value that members receive from their TLA. This is something that TLABC does not do enough of.

Wrap up

Finally, there were some specific legal issues that were discussed where there is some real concern amongst our American colleagues… the emergence of “robot cars” and the implications this might have on liability and personal injury, and the continuing saga that is ABS (Alternative Business Structures). While we are currently focused, rightly, on fixing ICBC, additional time and energy on moving our way through these issue areas may also have merit.

Overall, it was an excellent way for me to continue my orientation and onboarding at TLABC. And, as always, I’m happy to hear your thoughts on this post or anything else you might like to fire my way.

To reach CEO Shawn Mitchell, please email him at shawn@tlabc.org 

Please continue to connect with us by following us on Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIN & @tla_bc on Twitter. 

American Museum of Tort Law: An Important Showcase – (PART 2)

Landmark Tort Cases Highlighted in Little Connecticut
Special Entry for the Verdict, edition #154 – FALL 2017 – By Bentley Doyle

[Read Part One here]

Cases of enormous importance – giant landmark rulings – are highlighted in wee little Winsted – a tiny town in northern Connecticut, home to fewer than 10,000 residents, one of them being Mr. Nader (Ralph Nader) himself. He grew up there. His education and quest for fairness began naturally. His mother Rose was a well-known activist from Winsted. She made her views known through newspaper opinion pages and beyond. Her pioneering ways clearly made an impression on her son Ralph, and the fact this museum – evidently the only law museum operating in the US – was established in their town is a fitting feat indeed.

Advocates for the preservation of tort law will appreciate each exhibit and every bit of this American treasure. The museum, its staff and creators deserve praise for bringing it to life. Its conception was courageous. Its realization, an inspiration. It seems to have been built with equal parts of inspirational wisdom and aspirational desire. It is a museum of colour and strength that converges on the importance of accountability in law and in life, imbued with words and illustrations describing landmark rulings that were themselves the result of critically important legal efforts to make society a safer place – then, now and in the future.

The museum begins with key milestones of American history, outlining the fact that America adopted the English legal system, but that early US judges were uncomfortable over a system of liability without fault, which led the US to develop the idea of negligence in wrongdoings, i.e. torts. Obligations to pay or restore followed. Compensation for workers initially required them to prove that an injurious accident was the employer’s fault, but by 1911, as noted in the exhibits, some states began to pass compensation legislation that awarded limited monetary damages to injured workers regardless of fault. Obligations on businesses “and other defendants” – including state and local governments – expanded in the 1940s through 1960s, and strict liability followed in some cases, as did courts holding wrongdoers accountable for physical, economic and emotional harm. The roots of comparative and contributory fault/negligence took hold in the 1970s, but it was during the 1980s that businesses began to lobby against the tort system, and were successful in doing so. The museum’s resources point out that the business lobby overpowered its opponents in the political arena, which led to legislative restrictions that imposed arbitrary dollar limits on jury awards and unjustly restricted punitive damages. Social policies in the 1990s led governments to sue businesses (e.g. big tobacco companies were held accountable for the health costs created by their products).

The museum beautifully illustrates several ground-breaking legal precedents, such as the 1963 California strict liability case of Greenman v. Yuba Power Products, which established that a manufacturer of a flawed product is responsible for injuries caused by the product even if the manufacturer was not negligent in manufacturing it. Other cases highlighted (incidentally, I was told the illustrations were created by Matt Wuerker of Politico fame) include: the car accident case of Hoffman v. Jones (Florida 1973), the medical malpractice case of Canterbury v. Spence (Washington, DC 1972) and the car manufacturing case of MacPherson v. Buick (New York 1916). As the museum attests, the cases are the building blocks of righting wrongs in the United States, and the law evolves to meet the ever-changing needs of society.

Museum-goers get to watch a highly informative 11-minute film that clearly demonstrates the importance of tort law. From there, in the adjacent room ahead, several cases are described in key detail, each either famous, infamous or somewhere in between. Vitally important issues revolving around privacy rights, defamation and product liability (e.g. dangerous children’s toys) are skillfully referenced and displayed. The museum includes key praise for lawyer Edward M. Swartz (1934 – 2010) who wrote about hazards with toys and, as Nader says: “litigated and advocated for toy safety in the halls of Congress, before government agencies and through massive public education campaigns.”

The infamous McDonalds coffee case is deftly explained and explored, the injustice being what happened to the victim on many levels, all due to the wrongdoings of McDonalds and the arrogance and apathy the mega-corporation applied from the start. The light is shone on big tobacco, too. And a cherry red Chevrolet Corvair is the focal point of the last big display room, though the equally infamous Ford Pinto is also forced to a stop in the museum’s depictions.

Both my brother and I were impressed by everything the museum brought to light. The idea to make a stop there was mine, and I am grateful he played along, and I’m grateful to the people who put their hearts and souls into making the museum an important physical location for people to gain an education and appreciate the importance of civil law.

Justice has a place. 

ThisSaysItAllAMTL

American Museum of Tort Law: An Important Showcase – (PART 1)

Landmark Tort Cases Highlighted in Little Connecticut
Special Entry for the Verdict, edition #154 – FALL 2017 – By Bentley Doyle

Lawyers and laypeople north and south of the border, make sure to put Winsted, Connecticut on your list of places to visit when embarking on a vacation in New England, and specifically the American Museum of Tort Law. It is far more about people than the profession. As a matter of fact, people are the entire point. The museum would not have been constructed, let alone conceived of, if it weren’t for people and those who care about protecting them and preserving their right to justice.

It was the first stop on a seven-day swing through Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Maine. This was not incidental. We flew to Hartford, then by design drove our rental car north to Winsted, setting off a great journey that began with a look at the importance of law and the enormous ways it has shaped society.

On this day, our day, my brother Dave and I were fortunate to meet both the museum’s Director of Engagement, Joan Bowman, and the Executive Director, Richard Newman (a past-president of the Connecticut Trial Lawyers Association). It was a thrill to chat with them and to find out we have some mutual acquaintances scattered throughout the United States, primarily due to our experiences as members and associates of the US-based National Association of Trial Lawyer Executives (NATLE) and the American Association for Justice (AAJ). Richard had recently been in Boston for AAJ’s annual general meeting and summer convention, an event I’ve participated at several times, mainly as a member of NATLE. But, even closer to home, i.e. to the American Museum of Tort Law, we have a connection in common to the museum’s creator, consumer advocate Ralph Nader, famed for being the author of Unsafe at Any Speed – an expose of the deadly dangers of the Corvair automobile, and internationally renowned for his life’s work of holding reckless corporations accountable for the products they create. He is also a former candidate for the US Presidency (and wouldn’t that be a great thing right now, a time when more than ever the US needs a good, smart and thoughtful person in the White House).

Nader is famous for what he has done throughout the past 50 years, but it was events 20 years ago that made things personal for me. We – the Trial Lawyers Association of BC – brought Mr. Nader to British Columbia three times due to a big battle in our province to oppose no-fault auto insurance. The first two occasions had him making public appearances and doing media interviews to counter the spin created by proponents of no-fault back in that day. Nader was then – as he has demonstrated many times before and since – simultaneously brilliant and selfless. He warned of the dehumanizing effects of no-fault insurance, a scheme he said treated people like property rather than as human beings.

I had the honour of driving Mr. Nader to and from events in and around Vancouver, including picking him up at the airport with a highly enthused team of TLABC reps along for the ride. I was terrified, of course. I mean, being a young-in at the wheel chauffeuring the sophisticated author of 1965’s Unsafe at Any Speed… well, it certainly wasn’t sans stress, albeit the experience was also exhilarating. The third time Nader came to Vancouver was to join us in celebrating the defeat of no-fault plans that had been threatening to upend the legal rights of individuals. That occasion was 20 years ago this August. I was honoured to drive him back to the airport, just him and I in the car, and I handed him a personal card of thanks when we parted. It is remarkable to be in the presence of a man with so much professional success to his name and to see him also be so humble. The Nader experience that year had another highlight. He had asked us, in advance of arriving, to set up a speaking engagement for him to make a presentation to the law students at the University of British Columbia. The school’s faculty of law was happy to oblige, of course. The room was packed, as you’d expect. A few of us from TLABC had the good fortune of being on hand for this special event. Nader’s passion for legal efforts conducted for public good was never more clear than on this day. He spoke with larger-than-life enthusiasm, wisdom, grace and humour. His prior efforts in sounding warnings against no-fault had been superb, no question, but this occasion was a convergence of everything he stood for and still stands for to this day. He had the time and the perfect place to talk about the importance of tort law. It was majestic. The law students were spellbound.

Today, with the American Museum of Tort Law that he created now two years old, Mr. Nader continues to lead America as a voice for safety, fairness and accountability. An American gem – the man and his museum.

For certain, the museum does justice to justice. If you get your chance, a couple hours there will do it justice. Lawyers, you will be even prouder of your noble profession. Laypeople, you will gain an understanding of why tort law and the principle of accountability are both so relevant to your lives.    (Stay tuned for PART 2)

More to come… stay tuned for our next post!

@tla_bc

Guest Post – (Borrowed with permission from our friends at Access Pro Bono)

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In a recent series, APB profiled some of the wonderful volunteers who make APB so vital to access to justice in BC. Today’s profiled volunteer is Mosope Fagbongbe, who also happens to be one of our new, engaged members!

Mosope has been very interested in becoming more involved with TLABC and we thank her for that – some of you may have met her at the TLABC Holiday Bash at the Vancouver Rowing Club on December 5th, where she had generously volunteered to help us out!

[4th APB volunteer profile for GivingTuesday: Mosope Fagbongbe]

Mosope website

Mosope is an exceptional volunteer who commits her time to no less than three of our pro bono programs: the Wills Clinic Project, the Civil Chambers Program and the Summary Legal Advice Program.

Mosope practiced law in Nigeria briefly before moving to teaching and legal research with a specialty in public law. She earned Masters and Doctoral degrees in Canada, and has worn many hats at different times as a lawyer, researcher, teacher, trainer, human rights activist and advocate. She was a sessional lecturer at UBC Law, and recently qualified to pursue a legal practice in BC. She volunteers with other social justice groups as well as APB, mostly serving vulnerable people like seniors and women in dangerous situations.

Mosope’s dedication, hard work and positive attitude make her a highly valued member of our volunteer family.

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– See more at: http://www.accessprobono.ca/news/2014/4th-apb-volunteer-profile-givingtuesday-mosope-fagbongbe#sthash.Im34tDId.dpuf

The Best Things In Life Are Free… But Justice Comes at a Cost

By Megan Ejack, Development Director (From Issue #138 of ‘the Verdict’)

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As we know, the social expectation that access to justice as a basic human right is being challenged.  A fundamental pillar of our Canadian, democratic society is simply not what it should be.  In short, the system is failing.  Court dates are being postponed (or even cancelled,) jobs are being cut, funding has disappeared and the number of self-represented litigants has increased dramatically.  Many who seek justice simply don’t stand a chance.  We’ve used the slogan, “Takes Longer, Costs More,” and it couldn’t be more true.  With the evolution of mindless rhetoric in lieu of action, the future of our Canadian justice system continues to look bleak. It’s happening all over- the UK, Australia, the United States and here in Canada, not to mention the obvious atrocities in ‘less-fortunate’ parts of the world.  Chris Merritt, from the Australian said recently, “Access to justice is not some sort of luxury government can allocate…” – and yet this seems to be so.

So what do we do about it?

Well, let’s look at the trend… when our oil and gas supply is threatened, costs rise and when our fresh water began to dwindle, we bottled it and were convinced to purchase it at an amplified price.  Frivolous nonsense dominates the airwaves, animals disappear from the books, (as is the case with the Western Black Rhino recently,) and our government seems more occupied with the allegations of fraudulent expense claims than with addressing cuts to our education, health, arts and justice systems.  (Don’t get me started about what makes the news these days.)

Sounds hopeless? But there is always hope.

The hope lies in the fact that we live in a society where we are allowed to band together, speak the truth, and fight for our fundamental human rights.  We have associations like TLABC and the CBA and other forces, like the Public Affairs Committee (PAC), the Legal Aid Action Committee (LAAC), Access Pro Bono, and many others, who recognize the work that needs to be done and who work on getting the message out to our citizens.  This message needs to be one of action, and of hope, so let’s get to work.

The best things in life may be free, but the things in life that keep us free, shouldn’t come at such a cost.

(And if all else fails, perhaps we’ll need to bottle our lawyers like we have with our water.)

To make a contribution or to learn more, please contact Megan Ejack, Development Director – megan@tlabc.org or call 604-682-5343 1 888 558-5222.