by Susan Josephs
Linda Lipsen first became a “fighter” in middle school, when classmates threw pennies at her for celebrating the Jewish holidays. “This was a very anti-Semitic school and I had an innate sense that I needed to stick up for myself,” she says.
Armed with a lifelong “dislike of bullies,” Lipsen currently fights for the legal rights of others as the CEO of the American Association for Justice (AAJ), a Washington, D.C.-based trade association dedicated to assuring that individuals get a fair shake in our nation’s court rooms when they are injured or their family members are killed due to corporate malfeasance or negligence. Since 2010, she has led the world’s largest network of trial lawyers and devoted countless hours to protecting consumers, “so that they are able to rebuild their lives when they are injured by dangerous and defective products.”
“Every day, I feel like I get to make a difference by encouraging lawmakers to support a system of justice for all, not just the moneyed few,” she says. In addition, the association educates attorneys to represent individuals who need champions and a voice. She creates a collaborative environment for her 102-person staff.
A highly influential lobbyist for the AAJ since 1993, Lipsen has repeatedly fought off all efforts to undermine the rights of individuals and has successfully advocated for groundbreaking congressional legislation, such as the establishment of the September 11 Victims Compensation Fund to assist the families of those killed in the 2001 terrorist attacks. She helped create the largest pro bono program for victims of terrorism. Her members represented over 3000 victims and family members, free of charge.
“I feel it’s my responsibility to help other women find prominent seats at the table.”
Passionate about cultivating women’s leadership, she has also empowered female attorneys from across the country to bring the stories of their clients’ lives to Congress through “Women’s Lobby Days” events. “I feel it’s my responsibility to help other women find prominent seats at the table,” she says.
Raised in Washington, D.C., Lipsen grew up in a culturally Jewish household. She traces her political instincts to her father, who served as President Lyndon Johnson’s chief advance man, and her mother, who became the legislative director for Carl Albert, the Speaker of the House during the Watergate scandal. She also credits her success to her aunt Esther Coopersmith, a legendary political fundraiser. “I’d help her with events that brought politicians and journalists to her home which exposed me to the great conversations of the day,” she recalls.
With dreams of becoming an investigative reporter, Lipsen studied journalism at the University of Wisconsin but found her real calling in policy and advocacy related work. She became director of the Congressional Clearinghouse on Women’s Rights and worked for three years to help pass legislation to protect women in the work place. “I didn’t know anything about congressional procedures at first but I was lucky to have a mom who could answer all my questions.”
After earning a law degree from the Antioch School of Law, Lipsen honed her advocacy skills at Consumers Union, where she spent 10 years directing the legislative program. Determined to “improve the consumer marketplace,” she focused on health care reform and issues affecting the civil justice system. She successfully lobbied to strengthen supplemental insurance policies for the elderly. Always, “I have felt so lucky to walk the halls of Congress and encourage legislators to act on behalf of ordinary people,” she says.
Married to Stephen Stoltz and the mother of Adam, 26, and Amanda, 22, Lipsen hopes she has exposed her children to her career in the way “my parents exposed me. And after all these years, I still feel excited by what I do,” she says, “especially when the impossible becomes possible.”