History

FOREIGN ADVENTURES

It is customary for our officers and directors, in planning future conventions, to make preliminary trips to the countries involved. They enlist leading lawyers to serve as hosts and guest speakers. In this way, those speakers learn of the Academy, meet the Fellows, and demonstrate their own qualifications for membership. Our Fellows who travel the world independently of the Academy tours often seek out the prominent advocates through their own contacts, and suggest those men as candidates if they meet the qualifications for admission. The International Fellows in turn bring in others.

Through all these methods, the Academy now has achieved the admission to membership, in its International roster, of distinguished Fellows from 36 different nations. The importance of that membership, and their special problems, caused the Board in June of 1983 to amend the By-laws to create a new office: "Secretary of International Relations." President David Harney appointed Director Jorge de Presno of Mexico to serve as the first Secretary until the next election date. He was then formally elected to the office at the annual meeting in March, 1984.

THE ACADEMY FOUNDATION

The Board has not yet solved the problem of bringing International members to the annual convention. For many, the cost of the long trip to the United States is prohibitive. Philanthropy will certainly be required. A possible source of funding may be the International Academy of Trial Lawyers Foundation, a California non-profit corporation, created through the energy, goodwill, and charitable donations of Fellows Mortimer Rosecan of Missouri and Jim Ackerman of California. It is separate from, but allied with, the Academy. Many Fellows have already made contributions to enlarge its treasury. The Foundation is history in the making. It began in 1983, and has not yet fully established the pathways it will travel in advancing the science of jurisprudence and the calling of advocacy. Perhaps 10 years from now, Fellow Rosecan can write the first history of how the Foundation began and how it grew.

FUTURE AFTER 35

There are other changes to be noted as the Academy reaches its 35th Anniversary year. The Charter limit on directorships was broad: not less than five, nor more than 40. In practice, the founders fixed the number at 25 for the beginning years. As membership grew, the number was increased to 30, and with further growth the maximum of 40 was reached. Effort is made to include on the Board representatives of all the different interests and viewpoints of the whole membership. All past Presidents are encouraged to attend Board meetings to share their experience.

The original limit on membership was a maximum of 500 Fellows. That limit was changed over time to 500 exclusive of Associate, Honorary and International members. Membership is diverse. Every state is now represented on the Board. Every sub-specialty of trial practice has a representative. In the first year, the members were almost entirely plaintiff's personal injury lawyers. In recent years, the membership mix has been about 30% who are exclusively plaintiff's lawyers in all the divisions of product liability, malpractice, air crash, admiralty, railroad and vehicular injury; about 35% who are primarily civil defense lawyers in those areas; and the remaining 35% who are lawyers who go both ways in tort cases, criminal case prosecution and defense lawyers, antitrust and corporate dispute lawyers, and advocates in all the other areas of present-day litigation.

Members come in all sizes, shapes, range of voice, racial origin, religious persuasion, and-in recent years-both sexes. Although much of this History speaks of trial men, that is only a reflection of the fact that women in the past have not chosen to become trial lawyers. Times have changed. In the past decade a high proportion of the winners of the best advocate plaque in the IATL Student Advocacy Program have been young women. One reason there are few who have yet achieved admission to the Academy is the requirement of a 12-year proof period of outstanding advocacy. Women have not been in the field, or stayed in the field, long enough to produce many candidates as of now, but the future will surely see growth to fully proportionate representation in the chosen 500.

The early growth of the membership roster was kept deliberately slow. Admission procedures have been modified to increase preliminary screening and investigation. Independent evaluations by trial judges are mandatory. The number of active members from one firm is limited to two (2). It took 15 years for membership to pass the 350 mark. After 20 years, the target limit was in sight, and there was agitation by some officers and directors to increase the limit to 750. The idea resurfaces from time to time, buttressed by the argument that the total number of trial lawyers has increased. There has been only limited support for expansion. During the '80's, the roster has remained steady, at full capacity, with new growth offset by the inevitable loss of older members.

THE "500" LIMIT

It is true that the 35 years encompassed in this History have seen an awesome growth in the amount and diversity of litigation, the number of lawyers, the number of courts and judges, and the volume of reported opinions. Still, despite the doubling and redoubling of the number of trial lawyers, the Academy stands on its original limit of 500. Other honor societies have not done so, expanding their size in proportion to the expansion of the whole trial bar.

It seems obvious that the greater the number, the less the distinction, and the smaller the number, the greater the honor. The Academy will keep its limit. The qualification for membership must remain impeccable character, ultimate integrity and demonstrated skill and ability in advocacy to a degree not simply excellent, but exceptional.

The quality that distinguished the past Fellows of the Academy, and continues to distinguish the present Fellows, is the quality of creativity. Creative talent is a rare quality. It distinguishes the true leader from the multitudes who can only copy, imitate and merchandise. As the veterans pass on, the Academy of the future will be challenged to find new Fellows who have the same creative vision, the same passion for justice, and the same love of the law.

They will be there to be found, and in the next century, their historian can repeat the words written by Francis Hare some 15 years ago:

"A candidate's eminence must have been achieved as a bona fide trial lawyer, not through general social or professional prominence or popularity. The members of the Academy are chosen from the very finest trial advocates in this country and those lands whose jurisprudence meets our standards of justice. But it also happens that great trial lawyers got that way because they have qualities of universal excellence, including charm and the social graces. This is sheer serendipity. A gentleman usually makes a better barrister than the other kind, and success generally comes to men possessing the character and personality that will wear well over years of association. Thus it is, that while the list was filled by selecting the all-time, all great advocates, the result is a group of scholars and gentlemen."

As of now, add "and ladies."

May that future historian add:

"We have kept the flame."

           
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