Stephanie Malone leads the state’s largest voluntary statewide legal organization representing Arkansas’ trial bar. She has previously worked for the Fort Smith Regional Chamber of Commerce, the e-Magination Group and the Fort Chaffee Redevelopment Authority. From 2009 to 2015, Malone, a Rogers native, served as a Republican member of the Arkansas House.
Malone graduated from Rogers High School and then the University of Arkansas, where she received a journalism degree. She became the CEO of the Arkansas Trial Lawyers Association on April 1.
Are trial lawyers expecting any particular type of litigation to flow from the pandemic?
There are so many issues related to this crisis that we do not have much clarity, so it’s hard to predict. Our membership understands that a national emergency of this magnitude could certainly bring about litigation, but it is just too early to say at this point. Our members, like everyone else, are focused on caring for their families and their communities right now.
What challenges has the pandemic brought to trial lawyers?
Our attorneys have experienced the same challenges as so many other small-business owners. Our offices have been closed to the public and courthouses are shut down. As attorneys, we respect the privacy and delicate nature of confidentiality with our clients. That is most efficiently addressed with private, face-to-face meetings. It has been hard to meet clients face to face, but our membership is resourceful and has been able to find creative communication avenues and use new technologies.
Ultimately, lawyers are the first stop for everyday Arkansans when they feel they have been hurt or wronged in some way. They spend a lot of time listening to people and hearing their stories and, when merited, finding a way to help. This aspect of practicing law has not changed, even during the pandemic.
Do you think legislators will use the pandemic as an opening for tort reform?
As an organization, we have always been most concerned about certain corporate special interests who want to limit access to help and justice through the courts for everyday Arkansans. While there may be some who want to revisit this, most are rightfully focused on serving constituents facing unprecedented situations.
Arkansas juries are fair-minded and conservative with awards. They want families to receive justice when someone has wronged or hurt them. I think most legislators also understand that any changes to this kind of constitutional right require a vote by the people.
What makes a great trial lawyer?
I am not an attorney or legal scholar, but I can tell you that great trial lawyers are great people first. Arkansas has a rich history of outstanding and distinguished attorneys who have been dedicated to making sure every citizen in the state receives fair access to the judicial branch of government. Great attorneys are great people who care about others, love their communities and want to make Arkansas a fair place.
What do you want to accomplish as executive director?
As a former Republican member of the Arkansas House, I am committed to strengthening our relationships within the Legislature. It will be the key to our success. Our members are small-business owners and generous members of their communities. They help real Arkansas families facing tragedy and crisis. I admire their hard work, and I want the association to properly reflect who they are. Our agenda is not partisan. We believe in a fair and level playing field for everyone, and trials by jury are where that happens.