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New at the top

New at the Top: Linda Lipsen of the American Association for Justice

HANDOUT PHOTO: Linda Lipsen is the new chief excutive officer for the American Association for Justice. (Courtesy of American Association for Justice) StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on Thu May 6 19:29:02 2010
HANDOUT PHOTO: Linda Lipsen is the new chief excutive officer for the American Association for Justice. (Courtesy of American Association for Justice) StaffPhoto imported to Merlin on Thu May 6 19:29:02 2010 (Courtesy Of American Association - Courtesy Of American Association)
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Monday, May 10, 2010

I've always had a dislike for bullies -- whether it was on the soccer field or in class. Everyone needs to be given a chance. That passion has guided me through my career. I had the privilege and fortune to always be in jobs where I feel like I am helping.

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I started out working on Capitol Hill. I was a director of a clearinghouse on women's issues, which acted as a resource center for Congress. This was during fights about discrimination in employment when women were making half the amount as men for the same jobs.

I was in charge of preparing the bill as it proceeded to the floor. We ended up getting a bill passed that ruled discrimination on the basis of pregnancy as sex discrimination.

I realized I had to do even more to have more tools available to me. I went to law school, which allowed me to represent different individuals.

I've always had a heart for making a difference for people who are in some sort of crisis. Representing the trial lawyers helps me make a systemic difference so that the crisis never happens again to another single person -- whether it involves negligence in hospitals or people who have lost their life savings from negligence from a financial institution. That's what always drives me.

I worked at a law firm as an antitrust plaintiff lawyer representing small businesses that felt they were being dealt a harsh blow by a large business. I also had the chance to lead the legislative department at the publisher of Consumer Reports that worked on a variety of issues, from health care to insurance reform and transportation issues.

Eventually I was asked to lead the legislative department for the trial lawyers.

Here you had a group of people who are dedicated to helping people in crisis who, through no fault of their own, were injured or killed because of a dangerous product or some negligently provided service.

After the Sept. 11 attacks, policymakers were discussing what to do about airlines that were afraid to fly. Seeing that more focus needed to be on the victims' families, I went to Congress and recommended that they pass a comprehensive compensation scheme for the victims of that horrible attack on our country. The association helped come up with the design for how that compensation would be set up. It passed at record speed.

We've been successful. Sometimes you lose a few, but I think that in the end, I strive for us to be very fact-driven. I make sure that we tell Congress as much as possible what the justice system does for people.

I'm excited about telling a story about the justice system. It's a rich story of which the public is not fully aware. What would your car be like without the civil justice system? No air bags, no seat belts and possibly defective tires. The public is looking for accountability. They deserve a fair shake.

-- Interview with Vanessa Mizell

Please send nominations for New at the Top to newatthetop@washpost.com.

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