In honor of the 40th anniversary of the founding of the American Inns of Court (AIC), BYU Law students and faculty gathered for a forum featuring Judge J. Clifford Wallace of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit and Dr. Mark W. Cannon, former Counselor to Chief Justice Warren E. Burger of the United States Supreme Court (1972-1985). Shawn Nevers, deputy director of the Howard W. Hunter Law Library moderated the discussion which traced the timeline of important events associated with the inauguration and growth of the AIC and emphasized the impact the organization continues to have on the American legal profession.
In 1977, Chief Justice Burger expressed concern that the American Bar was lacking in professionalism, civility, and quality work product. “What is imperatively needed,” he said, “is more emphasis on professional ethics, manners, and deportment in the classroom and in the practice.” Chief Justice Burger had long respected the system of training barristers in Great Britain, known as the Inns of Court, and he and colleagues from the Anglo-American Exchange of Lawyers began to contemplate the possibility of bringing a similar experience to America.
Judge Wallace and Dr. Cannon were both involved in the early stages of the AIC, and each discussed their role and the important part that BYU Law played. “Justice Burger attended BYU Law’s dedication in 1975,” said Dr. Cannon. “He thought very highly of the University.” In 1979, Burger returned to Utah with Cannon who arranged a meeting with Rex E. Lee, then dean of BYU Law, and Dallin H. Oaks then president of BYU, to discuss the idea of testing a pilot Inn at BYU. “The day of the meeting,” Dr. Cannon remembered, “I woke up with the feeling that it was time to have an initial Inn of Court and that BYU was the perfect university to start it. Chief Justice Burger had been feeling the same way.” After the meeting, Lee recommended that Judge Sherman Christiansen be given the task of developing a charter program. On February 2, 1980, the first American Inn of Court was launched in Provo and included students from BYU Law.
“From the beginning we knew we needed to lay the groundwork,” said Judge Wallace reflecting on the events leading up to the founding of the AIC. Wallace recounted that much of his involvement in the early years included the challenging task of “getting converts,” from other law schools and law firms. “They couldn’t see in their own minds what could be done,” he said. Eventually his hard work began to pay off and within three years, additional Inns had formed in Utah, Mississippi, Hawaii, New York, and Washington D.C. There are now 400 chartered American Inns of Court in 48 states with 30,000 active members. Six of the nine current supreme court justices are among the 135,000 alumni of AIC. “Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come,” said Wallace.
The AIC consists of lawyers, judges, law professors, and law students who meet regularly in order to build and strengthen professional relationships, discuss current legal issues, and share advice and mentoring. Since its initial launch in Provo, Utah, the AIC has continued to promote the highest levels of ethics, integrity, and civility within the legal profession and to bridge the gap between formal legal education and legal practice.