From The President

Message from President William J. Murphy 

Welcome to the website of the American College of Trial Lawyers – and for our new inductees – welcome to the College! As I write this message, I am reminded of the quote often attributed to Sir Isaac Newton: “We can see further by standing on the shoulders of giants.” In assuming my role as President, I am humbled as I look back to the giants of the legal profession who founded the College, and who led it through the civil rights and women’s rights eras, and I am grateful for the leadership of the more recent Past Presidents and current Fellows who continue to guide us through the political turmoil our nation faces, the current challenges to the rule of law and our independent judiciary, and our recognized need for the legal profession to adapt to a changing world of technology. I am grateful to our current Regents and our Past Presidents for entrusting to me and the other members of our Executive Committee the leadership of this great organization.

Founded in 1950, I am pleased to report that 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.” As we look forward to the College’s 75th anniversary in 2025, we will be working this year on a strategic planning retreat with input from the College’s present and future leaders to make sure that the College remains a vital organization – attuned to the needs of our Fellows and responsive to the ideals of our system of justice.

The College continues to invite only 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 or judges who have observed them in trial and thought them to possess the highest skills, ethics and collegiality, and passed the word along. 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 among the best of the lawyers trying cases in a given state or province. Our ranks include members of the plaintiff and defense bar in civil proceedings of all types, 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. I am pleased to note that I am following in the footsteps of our immediate Past President, Susan J. Harriman, the third outstanding woman trial lawyer to lead the College. When my term is completed, our President-Elect, Richard H. Deane, Jr., stands ready to become the College’s first Black President. To remain relevant and vital, the College adheres to a Statement on Diversity, noting: “Under a singular standard of excellence that values and appreciates differences in its membership, the College endeavors to identify talented and accomplished trial lawyers as possible Fellows, including women and persons of color, varying ethnicities, disabilities, and sexual orientation.”

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, through several general committees, and many of the state and province committees, endeavors to promote and enhance the level of trial advocacy through mentoring programs for law students and younger lawyers, trial training seminars, including its one day “boot camps” for young lawyers, and its successful diversity trial advocacy program. For the past few years, the College has produced a fabulous podcast “Trial Tested,” in which prominent attorneys and significant figures in the world of law address the cases and issues that have shaped our profession. This website contains a wealth of materials that Fellows can use in designing and implementing their own trial training and practice materials for their law firms, or local law schools or organizations.

The College also utilizes its committees, awards and programs to help fulfill its mission. For example, the Judicial Independence Committee 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. At times that committee, the College and local state and province committees, have alerted the bar and the general public to unwarranted attacks on the role of judges who seek to resolve controversies over matters of public interest while maintaining their independence from political influence. 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 current best practices. We anticipate that this committee will be addressing the uses and potential misuses of Artificial Intelligence in court proceedings. The College’s Emil Gumpert Award recognizes and helps to fund local programs that provide legal assistance to underserved communities and that help maintain and improve the administration of justice. Our new Task Force on Civics Education is partnering with the National Constitution Center to bring programs on civics education to high schools and colleges throughout the country. The Task Force is looking for volunteers among the Fellows.   

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. At our Spring Meeting in Key Biscayne in 2023, the renowned civil rights attorney Fred Gray accepted our second Thurgood Marshall Award. For the last two summers, the College has 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. Many Fellows volunteered to serve as mentors to these interns, and the College and its Foundation have provided stipends to these young lawyers. We hope to illuminate the path for these students of color and from under-represented communities as they become the lawyers and leaders of their generation.

In the wake of the COVID pandemic, virtual depositions, and even trials, have become the new norm. In September 2020 and February 2021, the College was required to hold virtual national meetings. Since then, we have been grateful for the opportunity to meet again in person. Our recent in-person Spring and Annual Meetings have been successful, but we have learned valuable lessons from the virtual meeting experience, and now embrace a hybrid model, having in-person meetings and conferences for those who can attend, while offering Fellows the ability to view our speakers through our website shortly following the live presentations. This 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 see the presentations of our phenomenal speakers, who are always the highlight of our national gatherings.

In summary, the College offers many opportunities for Fellows to serve and contribute. For those of you who are new inductees, if you are interested in the work of the College, do not hesitate to volunteer. Our general committees offer opportunities to work with like-minded Fellows on every sort of topic related to trial practice in addition to those mentioned above – from the rules of civil and criminal procedure and evidence, to access to justice in the U.S. and Canada, to the mentoring of law students and young lawyers through our advocacy training programs and trial and moot court competitions, and even to opportunities to teach and interact with trial practitioners overseas. If you examine the contents of this website and are interested in what you see, let us know. The College’s able staff will see that you are placed on a committee. The same opportunity to participate in the work of the College is provided through our state and province committees. Not only are they involved in the development of numerous local programs and projects, they are the lifeblood of the College’s ability to identify future Fellows, from all backgrounds, geographic locations, and all areas of trial practice. The members of the state and province committees help us to ensure that the College will remain vital and that the ACTL will continue to be the preeminent organization of trial lawyers in the United States and Canada.

I am honored to be the 74th President of the College, and my wife Pat and I will be excited to meet as many Fellows as we can in the coming year – to make new friends and to renew old friendships at many state, province and regional meetings and dinners. Pat and I have cherished the opportunity to make so many friends through the College during the 20 plus years since my induction. I hope that your participation in the work and the fellowship of the College will be as memorable and rewarding for all of you as it has been for Pat and me. In the words of our founder Emil Gumpert – “Long and happy may be our years together.”