The mission of the American Inns of Court is “to foster excellence in professionalism, ethics, civility and legal skills.” Therefore, their essential purpose is to promote attorney professionalism and integrity.
The seven Colorado chapters of the Inns of Court maintain a robust presence in the legal community. They offer a representative cross-section of the legal professionals in our community, including private and public attorneys, judges from state and federal courts and local law students and professors. I feel privileged and honored to have been a member of the William E. Doyle Inn of Court since I was a law student. My membership has helped me throughout my varied legal career. Despite the collective enthusiasm for the Inns of Court and their enduring popularity in Colorado, many lawyers remain unfamiliar with the Inns of Court’s mission, why they exist and what distinguishes them from other voluntary legal associations, such as local and specialty bar associations.
This year, the American Inns of Court is celebrating 35 years of dedication to professionalism, ethics, civility and excellence. In order to fully appreciate their purpose, one must understand their history. The history of the American Inns of Court, like the history of our legal system, ultimately begins in the United Kingdom. There, solicitors and barristers are tantamount to attorneys in the United States. Whereas solicitors primarily perform transactional work and maintain client contact during litigation, barristers, also known as “advocates,” are the only lawyers allowed to advocate for clients in court. Solicitors hire barristers to work on a case when it is time to appear before a judge.
While solicitors and barristers are both lawyers, they go through separate schools, training schemes and requirements before they can obtain permission to practice their profession. Solicitors follow a route to practicing law that resembles the one found in the United States: They must go through law school and pass a comprehensive licensing exam. Aspiring barristers, on the other hand, not only study law and take exams in programs separate from those of solicitors, they must also associate with one of four “Inns” in London where they are mentored and immersed in the art of advocacy. Participation includes, but is not limited to, mandatory lunches, dinners, study sessions and other programs. The Inns are centuries-old institutions. Each one is housed in a grandiose building with an immaculate garden. In London, these are the epicenters of barrister life.
Upon getting “called to the bar,” barristers maintain a lifelong relationship with their Inn and are expected to go there for lunches, formal dinners and seminars. They are also expected to perpetuate the generations-old tradition of mentoring new and future barristers.
Using this as a paradigm, the American Inns of Court formed and subsequently grew to comprise hundreds of local chapters across the country. While membership in the American Inns of Court is strictly voluntary, the Inns here are philosophically similar to those on the other side of the Atlantic. For example, American Inn members meet regularly (typically monthly) to mingle, dine and engage in programming pertaining to professionalism or the law. Inn chapters also emulate the U.K. Inns of Court by fostering mentorship and promoting open dialogue about the practice of law and professionalism. Inns further support these notions by grouping their chapters into smaller subgroups, or “pupilage groups,” which contain judges, senior attorneys, junior attorneys and students. Each pupilage group is responsible for organizing the presentation for one of the monthly meetings.
The Inns of Court have much in common with local and specialty bars, such as networking and dynamic programming. However, Inns are unique in that the membership of one Inn does not change dramatically from year to the next. Their overarching purpose is to encourage from a holistic standpoint the high caliber of professionalism inherent in their members. The monthly meetings and consistent membership rosters also promote a higher level of engagement and more intimate dialogue amongst member attorneys.
I have been a member of my Inn for many years, and I strongly believe in the mission of the Inns of Courts. Nonetheless, I find it difficult to articulate why the Inns of Court are so special and unique.
Attending an Inn of Court meeting is quite the cathartic experience. No matter how trying my day is, no matter how seemingly impenetrable the traffic is on my way to the meeting, nothing can put a damper on the elation that I feel as I walk through the doors of the University Club for an Inn meeting. At the end of the night, attorneys leave with a renewed passion for the law. They are reminded of why they became lawyers in the first place and learn to overlook the wearisome aspects of practice, like endless emails and paperwork. The Inns allow lawyers to look at the bigger picture of the legal profession and to reflect on its defining purpose — to advocate for clients and to be their voice.
At each meeting’s conclusion, my faith in the law and our profession is restored. The Inns serve as a reminder that our country’s legal institution still impacts our clients and our society as profoundly as it did in England at the time of the signing of the Magna Carta 800 years ago. D
Becky Bye has been a member of the William E. Doyle Inn of Court since 2003 and currently serves on its Executive Council. She is also on the Editorial Board for the American Inns of Court’s magazine, The Bencher. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The American Bar Association’s “Magna Carta: Enduring Legacy 1215-2015” traveling exhibit will be on display at the Ralph L. Carr Colorado Judicial Center from November 9-20, 2015: