Message from President Susan J. Harriman
Welcome to the website of the American College of Trial Lawyers (“the College”). Founded in 1950, the College remains fully committed today to its Mission Statement: “to maintain and improve the standards of trial practice, professionalism, ethics, and the administration of justice through education and public statements on important legal issues relating to its mission. The College strongly supports the independence of the judiciary, trial by jury, respect for the rule of law, access to justice, and fair and just representation of all parties to legal proceedings.”
The College invites the best trial lawyers of the United States and Canada to become Fellows. No one can “apply” to become a Fellow. Candidates are nominated without their knowledge by Fellows who have observed them in trial and judged them to be of the highest skill, ethics and collegiality. Membership is limited to those lawyers who are eminently qualified and are considered by their peers, after thorough investigation, to be an outstanding trial lawyer and the best in a state or province. Our ranks include plaintiff and defense civil lawyers, state and federal prosecutors, criminal defense lawyers, government lawyers and public interest lawyers. As our profession has become more diverse in terms of race and gender, so too has the College as we continue to welcome the best trial lawyers from both countries.
Throughout the year, the College serves its mission through approximately 40 general committees and 62 state and province committees across the United States and Canada. College committees regularly publish white papers and develop materials designed to help lawyers hone their skills as effective trial advocates. The College has prepared video vignettes and a teaching syllabus for use in teaching advocacy and legal ethics. We invite our Fellows to take advantage of our library of resource materials as they prepare programs for their law firms, clients, or local bar associations.
The College continues to utilize its committees, awards and programs to fulfill its mission. For example, the committee on Judicial Independence monitors developments related to the independence of the judiciary and has issued public statements to educate the public on the role of the judiciary in protecting the rule of law. The Advocacy in the 21st Century Committee continually examines the use of remote video in pretrial, trial, and appellate proceedings so that it can modify the documents written and published during the COVID-19 pandemic to reflect best practices. This set of guidelines can be found on our website.
In the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd, the College created a new award - the Thurgood Marshall Equality and Justice Award - to honor persons who have fought for equality and justice in all forms, including but not limited to race, gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation. We were honored to grant the inaugural award to the late Congressman John R. Lewis, whose family accepted the award on his behalf at our 2021 Annual Meeting in Chicago. We also have a Diversity in the Courtroom program, which we launched in the Spring of 2022, providing a terrific opportunity to teach and mentor the next generation of diverse, trial advocates. This past Summer, the College partnered with Just The Beginning—A Pipeline Organization to help place first-generation law students in paid summer judicial internships with judges around the United States. Our Fellows volunteered to serve as mentors to these interns. We hope to illuminate the path for these students of color and from under-represented communities as they become lawyers and leaders.
Like the legal profession and society as a whole, in the last couple of years, the College has found itself adjusting to a new set of rules on how we live and operate. Since March of 2020, virtual depositions, and even trials, have become the new norm. In September 2020 and February 2021, the College held virtual national meetings. The first virtual Annual Meeting had more than 650 Fellows registered—more than any other national meeting in the history of the College. We have learned a valuable lesson from that meeting and now embrace a hybrid model, having in-person meetings and conferences for those who can attend, while simultaneously offering Fellows the ability to join us virtually. The hybrid model gives us the best of both worlds. We gather in person to strengthen the friendships and fellowship that are a mainstay of this College, while enabling our colleagues, who cannot attend in person because of work conflicts, health, financial or other reasons, to listen to the phenomenal speakers, who are always the highlight of our meetings.
The College offers many opportunities for Fellows to serve and contribute. At my first meeting of the College, another new inductee turned to me and said, “You know, my dad always told me that the more you put into an organization, the more you get out of it.” How true. I hope you will take those words to heart and seek the opportunity to become involved if you are not already doing so. The general committees offer many opportunities to participate, the competitions offer opportunities to judge and mentor law students, and state committees offer participation in a myriad of projects.
I am excited and honored to be the 73rd President of the College and its third woman President. Typically, as we age, we tend to make fewer true new “friends” – but what’s typical does not apply to members of the College. The most wonderful aspect of being a Fellow is the friendships that are formed. I feel fortunate that the College has given me the opportunity to make new friends throughout the United States and Canada – friendships that ignore geographic borders and political differences. I look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones in the coming year.