From The President

Jeffrey S. Leon's Outlook For The Year, 2018-2019

The American College of Trial Lawyers was founded in 1950 as an organization to recognize the very best trial lawyers in the United States and Canada.  Our membership is composed of civil trial lawyers (both plaintiff and defendant), criminal defense lawyers, public interest lawyers, state and federal prosecutors, provincial crown attorneys and public defenders.  The College is an invitation-only organization.  Fellows of the College must have demonstrated their abilities in actual trial practice.  There is an intensive vetting process to ensure this is the case.  Fellowship may be offered to trial lawyers who have distinguished themselves in trial practice for at least fifteen years and who are recognized as leaders of the trial bar in their local communities.  The College looks for trial lawyers who are considered by other trial lawyers and judges to be the best in their states or provinces, lawyers whose ethical and moral standards are impeccable and lawyers who have demonstrated civility in their practice and who share that important quality of collegiality. 

The College is the only organization in which all Justices of the United States Supreme Court and all Justices of the Supreme Court of Canada are Honorary Fellows.  The College is privileged to be able to make this statement and is honored by the fact that every Justice has elected to accept Honorary Fellowship and address the College at one of our National Meetings. Honorary Fellowship has also been bestowed on a number of distinguished jurists and barristers outside of North America.

The College takes considerable pride in its Fellows. The Past Presidents of the College include many outstanding trial lawyers, including former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell and former U.S. Attorney Griffin Bell.  Our Fellows are frequently involved in the most significant litigation in the United States and Canada.  They are also involved in many cases involving issues of public importance. Our Fellows also make important contributions to access to justice through pro bono litigation.  This includes the ongoing effort to assist U.S. Veterans faced with inexcusable delays in the appeal process from the denial of disability benefits and our recently created program, Access to Justice Distinguished Pro Bono Fellows, involving Fellows paired with partner/host organizations to facilitate the provision of pro bono services.  The College has also demonstrated its commitment to facilitate its fellows creating access to justice through the inauguration of the Beverley McLachlin Access to Justice Award, named in honor of the recently retired Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada, to be presented when appropriate to individuals who have made an outstanding contribution to access to justice in the United States or Canada. 

The College also publishes White Papers with recommendations for improvements to the civil and criminal justice systems in the United States and Canada, and most recently, to improve the process used by colleges and universities to resolve allegations of campus sexual assault.  Our involvement in all of these areas continues through public discussions and participation in governmental and court proposed initiatives.  Where appropriate, we also speak publicly on important issues of the day, including the preservation of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary. 

From the outset in 1950, the mission of the College has been three-fold.  We strive to maintain and improve:

  • The standards of trial practice;
  • The administration of justice; and
  • The ethics of the legal profession.

By way of example, the College has circulated widely our Code of Pretrial and Trial Conduct, which has both American and Canadian versions.  We are committed to publicizing those aspirational standards of conduct and disseminating those standards not only through our publications, but also through video vignettes and a teaching syllabus to promote the teaching of our Codes to law schools, inns of court and local bar associations. The Codes are also available on this website.

On the international scene, our fellows have travelled, at their own expense, to Palau, Guam and in November of this year, the British Virgin Islands to teach trial advocacy and ethics and to promote civility and collegiality in the practice of law.

Among other initiatives, the College recognizes the need for our Fellows to create opportunities to have younger lawyers get meaningful trial experience in order to maintain trials as a vibrant means of resolving disputes in a strong justice system under the rule of law. 

The College has recently created a Task Force for Boot Camp Trial Training Programs in order to expand our previous good work in teaching young lawyers trial skills through practical training.

The College is an organization steeped in tradition and also determined to pursue our mission consistent with modern and contemporary definitions of what constitutes a trial lawyer.  We pursue this mission through more than thirty General Committees and sixty-two State and Province Committees in the United States and Canada.  In 2018-2019, the College will be active on many fronts, including:

  • Preserving the independence of the judiciary;
  • Maintaining the jury trial as a fundamental part of the democratic system of government;
  • Encouraging young lawyers and law students to pursue their work within a framework of high ethical standards and civility;
  • Teaching trial skills to public interest lawyers and younger lawyers;
  • Participating in the rule making processes of the U.S. Federal Courts and Canadian Courts through independent research, the production of written commentaries and attendance at advisory and other committee meetings;
  • Being active with younger lawyers and in our law schools through teaching the next generation of trial lawyers the importance of trial skills, ethics, professionalism and collegiality in the practice of law;
  • Funding national trial and moot court competitions in the United States and Canada;
  • Presenting at two Annual National Meetings with the highest quality of speakers to inform our members and their spouses and guests on important topical issues vital to our own mission, to the legal profession and to society at large;
  • Conducting educational and social programs at the national, regional and local levels to promote collegiality and "to have fun."

And there is much, much more.  Various other programs are being undertaken at regional and local levels to deal with pressing legal problems and other issues that affect the administration of justice and the rule of law locally, nationally and internationally.  The College is proud of the vast array of activities undertaken with the hard work of our fellows and will continue to fully support such initiatives.

With the generosity of College Fellows, the Foundation of the American College of Trial Lawyers funds an annual $100,000 prize awarded to a unique or a merging program designed to improve the administration of justice.  This award is named in honor of the founder of the College, Emil Gumpert. Applications are available on this website. The Foundation also makes other grants to support other organizations, programs and initiatives that seek to improve the administration of justice. The Canadian Fellows have recently established the Canadian Foundation of the American College of Trial Lawyers and are working hard to raise funds that will be available by way of grants to worthwhile Canadian initiatives.

The College seeks to communicate with its Fellows through this website, the eBulletin and the Journal, so that Fellows can be informed of, and take pride in, what we do.  We are also continuing with our important initiative to improve the diversity of our organization to be inclusive of all trial lawyers deserving of membership.  While there may be fewer trials taking place in both the United States and Canada, we must maintain our focus.  We seek out qualified candidates and nominate and consider candidates from all areas of trial practice while maintaining our high standards for fellowship.  I urge each one of you to make it your personal responsibility to identify potentially qualified trial lawyers and to bring them to the attention of your State or Province Committee.  The ongoing strength and relevance of our organization depends on it.

I also urge each one of you to get involved in the College:

  • Attend National Meetings;
  • Attend activities at the regional and local level;
  • Contribute to your State or Province Committee; and
  • Join one of our general committees and participate in that committee's important work.

We need your help and involvement. Find an area that interests you and let me know at leonj@bennettjones.com.  We will get you involved. 

It is a great privilege and honor to serve as President of the College (the second Canadian President) this year.  Carol and I are committed and excited to have this opportunity to serve the College and travel across our great countries.  

We look forward to seeing you on our travels, to meeting old friends and to making new friends.  Indeed, in the words of President John F. Kennedy when addressing the Canadian Parliament on the relationship between Canada and the United States:

Geography has made us neighbors. History has made us friends. Economics has made us partners. And necessity has made us allies… What unites us is far greater than what divides us.

We hope to see you soon.