Why the ALA was formed

The Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) was the brainchild of a number of lawyers around Australia who acted for plaintiffs in personal injury and public interest litigation. Its origins were reflected in its original name, the Australian Plaintiff Lawyers Association (APLA).

The lawyers who came together to establish the APLA in 1994 shared a belief that there was a glaring imbalance in the resources available to defendants in civil litigation and their lawyers on the one hand, compared with the resources available to plaintiffs and their lawyers on the other. It was recognised that this imbalance produced particular unfairness for injured people and their lawyers who were professionally and geographically scattered, in suburban, regional and country areas. They believed that this inequality could be ameliorated by an organisation which brought together lawyers who predominantly acted for plaintiffs. Through conferences and seminars, an expert database and a regular publication focused on the needs of lawyers who act for the little people, rather than corporations, governments, large institutions and insurance companies, they could share knowledge, experience and expertise. In doing so they could better represent ordinary Australians. Hence the motto which APLA adopted from its inception, ‘lawyers for the people’.

The Association was modelled on the Association of Trial Lawyers of America (ATLA, now the American Association for Justice — AAJ) and the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL) in the United Kingdom. Indeed the growth of APLA in the first few years was accelerated by the presence and presentations of internationally acclaimed litigation specialists from both APIL and ATLA at our own national conferences. In those days such conferences were open only to APLA members. At the Association’s inaugural national conference at Noosa in October 1996 the drawcards included Howard Twiggs, the President of ATLA which even then had over 55,000 members and was one of the most powerful lobby groups in Washington, as well as specialist litigators including Richard Lawrence from Cincinnati and David Baum from San Francisco.

The APLA, the precursor to the Australian Lawyers Alliance, was formed not only to promote the interests of personal injury plaintiffs and their lawyers, but also to protect them from the looming clouds of tort reform. Even in the mid-1990s it was recognised that there was a risk that the precious common law rights, accrued over decades, of people injured by the fault of others, might be curtailed or even eliminated by legislation which served short-term political purposes and was driven by powerful lobby groups such as the insurance industry. In the mid-1990s the founders of the APLA recognised that this had already occurred in many states in the US.

As the new century approached and the forces of tort reform gathered strength, the APLA’s modest initial bi-monthly publication, The APLA Update, morphed into a more formidable journal, Plaintiff, now Precedent. Through this journal, distributed to all members of the Association, the first signs of legislative interference in the rights of ordinary Australians were identified and opposition to them co-ordinated. Indeed one of the most important functions of this nascent organisation was to organise for submissions to be made to state, territory and federal governments on a whole range of proposals which adversely affected common law and other rights of the individual. These included comprehensive submissions to the Negligence Review Panel (the Ipp Inquiry) in its Review of the Law of Negligence. Although the Association’s efforts did not prevent tort reform they undoubtedly ameliorated the impact of some of the more egregious proposals.

In the 21st century the APLA adapted to a changing legal landscape by broadening its membership and the focus of its activities, rebranding itself as the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) to better reflect its growth from an organisation predominantly representing the rights of plaintiffs in personal injury litigation to an alliance of lawyers and other professionals dedicated more generally to protecting and promoting justice, freedom and the rights of individual. Nevertheless, the core values which inspired that small group from all parts of Australia to form the APLA in the early 1990s remain today as they were then, namely concern for access to justice, now in a broader context, by ’lawyers for the people’.

Written by Peter Semmler QC, APLA National President 1994–1998.