Eric Cramer Named Public Justice President
In college, Public Justice Board President Eric Cramer tried to figure out the best way for him to contribute to the greater good; he considered becoming a historian or a political scientist. “I wanted to improve the world,” he recalls. “For me, I decided that being a lawyer would be a more effective way to do that.”
Cramer, an accomplished attorney in the antitrust field and chairman of the Philadelphia-headquartered firm Berger Montague, has held a number of impressive roles in his time since leaving college, ranging from Vice President of the Board of Directors of the American Antitrust Institute and a past President of COSAL (Committee to Support the Antitrust Laws), to serving on the American Bar Association’s Antitrust Section Transition Report Task Force delivered to the incoming second Obama Administration in 2012.
But when asked what experiences particularly prepared him for his tenure as Board president, the first thing that comes to mind goes back to that time in college. Cramer worked as a canvasser for the New Jersey Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), knocking doors and raising money for various causes. “In the year between college and law school, I helped run a canvass in New Brunswick. And I think that experience of going door to door and asking people to support a cause, and for money, was one of the most difficult jobs I ever had,” he says.
Canvassing is a difficult job; it’s numbers-driven, and requires you to be a people person, enough so that you can convince suspicious people poking their heads out from behind their front doors to listen to you long enough to donate. Cramer was the state’s top canvasser, winning awards for two years in a row. “That was good experience for being a lawyer and for being an executive,” says Cramer. “And right now, in the midst of a pandemic, where we really need people to step up and support the organization, I think that background and experience is going to come to bear.”
Cramer’s passion for changing the world for the better guided his legal practice, right from the start of his career. “I always found it incredible that for 350 bucks as a filing fee, I could file something and some large corporation has to come an answer for its conduct,” Cramer says. He remembers an early case before he started his accomplished career in antitrust representing prisoners who, as part of Cold War experiments, were subjected to radiation. “My career as a litigator is fighting against entrenched power on behalf of people who, unless they join as a collective, don’t have power.”
The principle of representing those in the legal system who otherwise would have limited recourse for justice was central for Cramer then, and continues to be, in his current work on antitrust litigation. In a current case, Cramer is representing a group of mixed martial arts fighters against the UFC. “These are people who literally put their physical safety on the line every time they go out and fight,” says Cramer. “And the organization that they fight for is a monopoly and taking advantage of them.”
Cramer sees crossover in his own work, the work of his firm, and the work of Public Justice. He admires Public Justice’s willingness to take on cases and clients across a variety of issue areas. One issue area he cares deeply about, in particular, is Public Justice’s Access to Justice work, which, Cramer says, makes his own work possible. He sees Public Justice’s advocacy as helping “my clients and other lawyers who are representing people who use the courts as the only way to have their voices heard.”
Cramer first came across Public Justice over a decade ago, after being introduced to the organization by Board Member and past President Steve Fineman, who encouraged Cramer to join the Class Action Preservation Project; soon after, he joined the Board. “I found the organization to be inspiring in a lot of ways, and so, I just got more and more involved,” Cramer says. “Those involved in the organization, both the staff and the board, are such incredible people. It draws you in, both for the mission of the organization and to be with and learn from such extraordinary people.”
In this current moment, where the world at large is defined by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Cramer is excited to lead Public Justice forward through the chaos. In addition to his time as a canvasser, he cites his current role as Chairman of Berger Montague, which he’s served as since January of 2019, as another guiding experience. “As an executive of a law firm with four offices and 120 employees and 65 lawyers, I’ve been learning to lead and manage for over a year and a half, including taking the entire firm remote,” says Cramer.
In the meantime, Cramer plans to encourage shorter meetings and more check-ins to preserve a sense of connectedness. He also hopes to continue the board’s growth by expanding the support base beyond trial lawyers, inspired by the success of the Public Justice Food Project to connect with movements and non-lawyer supporters. “[Trial lawyers] are the backbone of the organization, both on the Board and its members and its sponsors, but the organization has grown so much, and it’s doing so many more things, that I really do think that we could expand our base of support to be like other public interest organizations that have lots of non-lawyer members,” he says. “I think that’s an exciting opportunity, I think it’s an untapped resource.”
At the end of his career, Cramer hopes he can say he’s been a mentor to other lawyers and staff. ”I hope I’ve given opportunities to women and minorities who wouldn’t otherwise have had those opportunities. And not just diversity for diversity’s sake, but also to take the equity and inclusion parts of that seriously, and to make people feel that they can make a career and a mark, in my firm and in Public Justice and in the legal profession.” He also, of course, hopes to have made an impact on his clients’ livelihoods. “I really do feel like workers who are exploited by concentrations of commercial power just have very few other outlets or ways of achieving justice and appropriate compensation and better working conditions,” he says. “Using the antitrust laws to try to better people’s lives is something I hope I will have achieved by the end of my career.”
When Cramer isn’t trying to make the world a better place, he enjoys spending time with his family, something that’s become much easier since the start of the pandemic; he and his wife went from empty nesters to a full house. He also enjoys both playing and watching sports (Philadelphia sports, to be specific).