Nancy Winkler, the 2013-14 president of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association, said that keeping an eye on legislation as well as the upcoming elections for the governor of Pennsylvania and for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court will be among her top priorities.
The PTLA's first job is to ensure that injured individuals have access to the courts, Winkler said. She also said bills come out all of the time that affect PTLA's clients, and the organization needs to monitor such legislation to ensure that the injured are "given their fair shake."
Dealing with the political arena is one of the difficult aspects of presidency, according to Thomas J. Duffy, the immediate past-president of the PTLA and the founding member of Duffy + Partners. He said Winkler will have to begin preparing for the two seats that will open up on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2015 as well as planning who the PTLA will support in the governor's race next year.
Winkler agreed that political challenges lie ahead. She said PTLA members will want to support a candidate for governor who is "less conservative and open to individual rights."
As far as the Supreme Court, she said the "complexion of the court" could change drastically depending upon how the seats are filled, and for that reason, the PTLA will be watching the Supreme Court election closely.
Due to the changing political landscape, Winkler said enhancing communication with members is a priority in order to keep them informed about issues that may arise. She said she has already taken steps to improve communication by broadcasting videos to members and clients after board meetings about the PTLA's concerns.
In addition, Winkler said she hopes to improve communication with the general public by letting people know about things that are of great importance to the clients of trial lawyers in order to change how this segment of the bar is perceived.
"The image of the trial lawyer has been very disparaged by big business," Winkler said. "The work we do is really admirable."
Over the past 26 years of her career, Winkler has represented victims of "catastrophic" injuries in products liability, medical malpractice, automobile/trucking accidents and other personal injury matters. She said she became involved in the PTLA because she viewed the organization as a group of strong lawyers. Further, Winkler said involvement in organizations that give back is part of the culture of her law firm.
Presidency is becoming the standard at Winkler's law firm, Eisenberg, Rothweiler, Winkler, Eisenberg & Jeck. Two other partners have served as president of the PTLA, and now Winkler, also a partner, is stepping into the role.
Winkler joins her partners, Stewart J. Eisenberg and Kenneth M. Rothweiler, who have both served as presidents of the PTLA as well as the Pennsylvania Association for Justice, in a position that she described as "an honor." She said her focus for her upcoming term is to be "ever-vigilant" and "watchful" of tort reforms.
When she was a young lawyer, Winkler said she looked up to the PTLA. She said she was educated by the organization, and the PTLA plans on continuing to educate lawyers with their luncheon lecture series, which offers members one-hour credits at an "affordable price."
Continuing to have a "vibrant membership" in the PTLA is important to Winkler. She said she has been reaching out to parts of the PTLA's membership, such as small firms and solo practitioners, that might not always have their needs met. She said providing a forum for small firms and solo practitioners to communicate provides those members with the resources they need, and she plans on continuing that type of forum on a regular basis.
Winkler said the PTLA's constant goal is to help expand diversity.
The organization will be working hard to take steps to continue to increase diversity in firms and within the PTLA's leadership, Winkler said. The PTLA has established a diversity committee to help them in their efforts, she said.
As the fourth woman to serve as president of the PTLA, Winkler said she hopes her election demonstrates that leadership in society is already becoming more diverse. Women are emerging as leaders, and she said she can serve as an example to young women.
"I think it's really important for female leaders to give a message to other young leaders that you can raise a family, and have a career and be a leader of an organization," Winkler said. "You just have to find something you feel passionate [about] and try to have folks around you that are supportive."
Duffy said Winkler's passion for the PTLA is what truly makes her "spectacular."
Winkler does not have an agenda or self-interest, Duffy said, and she always puts the organization first.
"She's a true believer in what the trial lawyers are doing," Duffy said. "She believes that we are much more than" an organization.
In addition to her leadership experience within the organization in the years leading up to her presidency, Winkler is "extremely experienced" and "extremely bright," Duffy said. For those reasons, Duffy said he pushed the board to have Winkler serve as his vice president, and the board unanimously agreed.
What sets Winkler apart from past presidents is that she is very deliberate, Duffy said, joking that she may have a clearer and broader vision than he did as president.
Winkler's term as PTLA president began in July and will continue until July 2014, at which time President-Elect Lawrence R. Cohan is set to assume the role of president. •