From The President

Samuel H. Franklin's Outlook For The Year

The American College of Trial Lawyers was founded in 1950 as an organization to recognize the very best of the courtroom bar.  The College has never limited the term “trial lawyers” – and our membership is composed of civil lawyers from both sides of the “v.”, criminal lawyers, public interest lawyers, state and federal prosecutors and public defenders.  The primary constant is that Fellows of the College must have proven themselves in actual trial practice.  There is an intensive vetting process to assure this.  Membership is by invitation only, to persons who have distinguished themselves in trial practice for at least 15 years and who are recognized leaders in their local communities.  The College looks for lawyers who are considered by other lawyers and judges to be the best in their states or provinces, lawyers whose ethical and moral standards are the highest, and lawyers who share the intangible 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 members.  The College is privileged to be able to make this statement because every Justice has elected to accept Honorary Fellowship in the College and to address the College at one of its national meetings.  The Past Presidents of the College include some outstanding lawyers, including former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell and former U.S. Attorney Griffin Bell.  We have also bestowed Honorary Fellowship on a number of distinguished jurists and barristers outside North America.

Fellows of the College make us all proud.  In many major cases or issues of public importance, one will often find Fellows involved.  And Fellows are doing great work in our pro bono efforts, such as the effort to assist our Veterans faced with inexcusable delays in the appeal process from denial of disability benefit claims.  This last year, the College published a White Paper making recommendations to improve the process used by colleges and universities to resolve allegations of campus sexual assault and we continue to be involved in the public discussions on this topic.

From its founding in 1950 through today, the three-fold mission of the College has been to maintain and improve:

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

As an example of this mission, only a few years after the College was founded, its Code of Trial Conduct (which set out aspirational standards of conduct) was first cited as authority in a 1954 court opinion.  The current revised and expanded version of the Code, the Code of Pretrial and Trial Conduct, as well as its Canadian counterpart, is available on this website.  The College has also prepared video vignettes and a teaching syllabus to assist in teaching the Code to law schools, Inns of Court and local bar associations.

The College serves its mission every day through more than 30 general committees and 61 state and province committees in the United States and Canada.  In 2017-18, the College will be active on many fronts:

  • Preserving the independence of the judiciary;
  • Maintaining the jury trial as a fundamental part of our democratic system of government;
  • Encouraging young lawyers and law students to pursue their work within a framework of high ethical standards;
  • Teaching trial skills to local public interest lawyers;
  • Participating in the rule-making processes of the federal courts through independent research, the production of written comments and attendance at Advisory Committee meetings;
  • Funding and staffing national trial and moot court competitions;
  • Presenting each year two national programs of the highest quality;

And there is much, much more.

Thanks to the generosity of College Fellows, the Foundation of the American College of Trial Lawyers funds an annual $100,000 prize which is awarded typically to a unique or emerging program designed to improve the administration of justice.  The award is named in honor of the founder of the College, Emil Gumpert.  Each year the Emil Gumpert Award Committee thoroughly reviews applications and makes a recommendation to the Foundation Trustees.  Applications are readily available online through the College website.

We continue to implement recommendations originating from our intensive 2015 Strategic Planning process, including the redevelopment of our website, consistent focus upon improvement in our diversity efforts and regular review and analysis of all financial aspects of the operation of the College.  One thing we learned is that in addition to searching for those qualified candidates who are diverse, we must identify, evaluate and invite younger trial lawyers – our Fellowship is aging, and the number of Fellows below age 50 has significantly declined over the last fifteen years. 

I was fortunate to be inducted 25 years ago, at a relatively young age, giving me the chance for many years to benefit from our Fellows.  Some of the Alabama Fellows noticed, and took an interest and their time, to bring me to the attention of the State Committee.  We know today there are fewer trials, we maybe do not know the trial lawyers around our state or province as well; but there are qualified candidates we are missing.  Please be vigilant, and return what someone did for each of us – stay vigilant, start the process for a nominee and let’s mine the fields, without lowering our standards one bit, and move along those qualified candidates.

Betty and are I most honored and very excited to have this opportunity to serve the College.  We look forward to our travels and to seeing our College friends, while making many new ones.