The American College of Trial Lawyers, founded in 1950, recognizes the very best of the trial bars of the United States and Canada. The College’s Fellows are chosen strictly by invitation and only after a rigorous, confidential investigation. Fellowship is limited to one percent of the lawyers in any individual State or Province. In practice, far less than one percent ever qualifies for this honor. In order to qualify for consideration, a lawyer must have practiced as a trial lawyer for at least 15 years. Fellowship is limited to those lawyers who have shown themselves to be not only skilled trial lawyers but who are also recognized by the lawyers they handle cases with and against and the judge before whom they practice as among the very best in their jurisdiction. Personal integrity, ethics, collegiality and community standing are also key factors in evaluating lawyers for Fellowship. As our bylaws state, “Membership should be limited to those trial lawyers who are unquestionably and eminently qualified.” As Past President of the College Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. stated in 1975, “Unique among the many organizations of the legal profession, the College is prestigious because of its smallness and selectivity based on merit. In a country which recognizes in no official way the historical English distinction between barristers and solicitors, there was a public need for an organization that stimulated and recognized high competency in courtroom advocacy…. The filling of this need has been the goal, and indeed the achievement of the College.”
The College is the only organization in which every Justice of the United States and Canadian Supreme Courts has traveled to and addressed national College meetings to accept Honorary Fellowship. Past Presidents of the College include such outstanding lawyers as former Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell and former U.S. Attorney General Griffin Bell. We have also bestowed Honorary Fellowship to a number of distinguished barristers and jurists outside North America, including The Rt. Hon. Baroness Margaret Thatcher, The Rt. Hon. The Lord Nicolas Phillips, The Rt. Hon. The Lord Nicolas Browne-Wilkinson and former Deputy Chief Justice Dikgang Moseneke of the Constitutional Court of South Africa.
Since 1950 the mission of the College has remained the same. 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
There are many examples of how the College furthers this mission. One is the adoption of the Code of Trial Conduct and a Code of Pretrial Conduct. The Codes were amended in 2004 and 2009. Chief Justice of the United States William Rehnquist wrote the preface for the 2004 edition. Current Chief Justice of the U.S. John Roberts did the same for the 2009 edition. As Chief Justice Roberts stated in that preface, “I commend the American College of Trial Lawyers for its leadership in defining and refining the standards of professionalism that are vital to our system of justice.” The codes are available on the College website. The College also provides instructional materials including video vignettes for teaching in CLE activities and just as importantly in law schools to properly prepare the next generation of trial lawyers.
• Preserving the independence of the judiciary;
• Maintaining the jury trial as a fundamental part of our democratic system of government;
• Becoming active in our law schools through teaching the next generation of lawyers the importance of trial skills but equally the importance of ethics, professionalism and collegiality in the practice of law;
• Teaching trial skills to public interest lawyers;
• Participating in the rule-making process of the federal courts through independent research, the production of written comments and attendance at the Advisory Committee meetings;
• Funding the national trial and moot court law school competitions in the U.S. and Canada;
• Presenting at two national meetings the highest quality speakers to inform the College on issues vital to the mission of the College.
Recently and under the leadership of Past President Michael W. Smith, the College has been instrumental in a case that has been filed by Fellows of the College to request the U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims to intervene and stop the shameful delay in processing appeals in cases involving our disabled veterans. In Delaware, Fellows, at the request of the State’s Chief Justice, led an extensive review of each of the constitutional courts. Reforms were recommended and are in the process of making that system better for the bench, bar and, most importantly, the citizens. There are projects like this going on in every region of the College. The strength of the College continues to be the Fellows in each State and Province and their willingness to find solutions to difficult legal problems and, thereby, improve the administration of justice and the rule of law locally, nationally and internationally. We are proud of their efforts and will continue to support these projects.
It is my great privilege and honor to serve as President of the College for this year. I hope that as I travel to many of the States and Provinces that Fellows with ideas on how to advance our mission will tell me about those ideas. Those ideas about how to improve the administration of justice from the best of the trial bar is what will keep the College the dynamic and important organization - that “unique” organization that Justice Powell recognized many years ago.