Reflections on the Genesis of an Innovative Productive and Prospering Inn

September/October 2015

By Senior Judge William B. Enright

Editor's Note: This article is a condensed and modified version of a speech Judge William B. Enright made to the Louis M. Welsh American Inn of Court on June 18, 1998 at the San Diego County Bar Association.

I appreciate this opportunity to reflect on the early days of the American Inns of Court movement; to relive my associations with many dedicated, highly motivated professionals who contributed to the premier [American] Inn of Court program in San Diego; and to share my point of view of the development of a mentoring program that is a most stabilizing force for the whole legal profession.

On December 7, 1983, District Judge Sherman Christensen of Utah visited San Diego to discuss Chief Justice Warren Burger's suggestion that advocacy skills and the traditions of the bar might be passed on and enhanced by an organization comparable to the Inns of Court established in England. Judge Christensen quickly established the first Inn on American soil, in Provo, Utah, in February 1980; chartered a second Inn in Salt Lake City in 1982; and immediately turned his considerable energy to grow a nationwide program. Although I did not know Judge Christensen at the time, I soon came to regard him as a gentle, wise, and good man of the highest caliber. I have no greater respect for any person I've ever met than Sherm Christensen. He was a saint.

Judge Howard Turrentine, then 69 and in his last month as Chief Judge of our District Court, turned to me to fill out a group of young, energetic attorneys to explore the possibilities of such a project in San Diego. I enlisted three giants of our Bar-Craig Higgs, a fine litigator; Gary Bailey, the innovator behind the San Diego Inn of Court Society training program; and Bob Steiner, a member on the Board of Governors of the State Bar of California. All five members of this ad hoc committee had served as presidents of the San Diego County Bar Association-a tight-knit, active bar with a long history of accomplishing great work in our community.

Judge Christensen outlined the history, the organization, and the role of such an Inn patterned after the English model. He talked about planting a seed with a new generation of litigators.

After listening to Judge Christensen's ideas, I believed San Diego could create the best Inn in the country-one that would permit a lasting, permanent mechanism to pass on to young trial lawyers the highest standards and best technical skills that we in the profession value so much. At the follow-up meetings, our self-appointed executive committee agreed that this profession had given us so much personal satisfaction, and that this project offered an opportunity to pass on our experiences to those who will follow. We hoped to deal with not only performance skills, but also those ethical standards that are so necessary to the adversary system and effective working of the administration of justice. We envisioned an educational and collegial experience that young attorneys would never forget and that would assist them immeasurably throughout the balance of their professional careers.

A few months later, on February 16, 1984, our ad hoc committee proposed to Judge Christensen the formation of our Inn. Though the concept in San Diego deviated from the Utah model, we earned Christensen's blessing for an innovative format. He quoted the Chinese proverb to "let a thousand flowers bloom" and provisionally approved the charter for the ninth Inn in the country. Judge Christensen believed that Justice Burger welcomed experimentation.

Our formal charter was granted the following year, on March 28, 1985. Three decades later, I conclude that the American Inn of Court is the finest program of my career-it makes me very proud to be a lawyer-to be a part of the rich tradition of lawyering. From my perspective (others may have different points of view), I credit the enduring success of the program in San Diego to the following unique features.

I did not share the Devitt Committee's assessment of the poor quality of trial advocacy in the federal courts or its recommendation to provide further practical education in the law schools. I believed in the dedication, talent, and skill of the local bar, as exemplified by our small executive committee. We believed that the experienced, senior lawyers in this community could meet the goals of the Inn to improve civility, skills, and ethics. We envisioned a program taught by trial lawyers, not law professors; we planned to bring senior lawyers to young lawyers, not to law students. We drew upon the working backbone of our local bar as the nucleus of our group, from those litigators who competently tried cases and were able to communicate advocacy skills in the best possible way. As Hal Christensen, a founding member of the first Inn, stated, the essence of the American Inns of Court is "to create an oral tradition based on example." Our programs would teach trial skills by demonstration, by doing, with discussion and interchange between members in order to promote, elevate, and maintain professional standards. The essence of the approach is "Tell me and I forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand."

Our charter group of Masters included Larry Irving, Dick Huffman, Gerry Lewis, Charlie Froehlich-who would all later serve the judicial branch-as well as creative geniuses such as Nelson Brav, Dan Broderick, Jim Eckmann, Lou Goebel, Jerry McMahon, Milt Silverman, Nancy Vaughan, who would continue to labor in the courtroom-an arena of combat, of vigorous advocacy-that crucible of truth. As different from the handful of other Inns, our instructors were not professors or deans from law schools. Our faculty would be the trial Bar-"where the rubber meets the road."

For the Barristers, we invited lawyers with five years' experience who were dedicated to improving their competency in the courtroom. They represent the potential leadership for the future. Barristers serve two-year terms, then rotate out. In that approach we abided the advice of Rudi Brewster-then a creative and effective civil litigator who soon joined me as a trusted colleague on the federal bench and later served as our Inn's second president-you've got to be "like a shark who keeps moving in order to live." We rotated people and programs to grow anew, to survive, and to invigorate our Inn.

We decided not to involve law students. Third-year students might be distracted by their studies. The mortality rate on the California Bar exam was at least fifty percent. We felt those graduates who were a year past the bar, those who had chosen a career path in litigation, those who would not be departing for other areas and not practicing with us here in San Diego, would most appreciate the one-on-one time with trial lawyers in their prime. We invited new admittees as our Associates. Many were sole practitioners who lacked mentors. Others were from mid-sized firms that lacked the resources of a large firm to provide organized training.

Our five-person executive committee, I'm sorry to say, was dictatorial-a ramrod; we intended to build a hands-on organization that would become the model for the country. We compelled attendance. At the orientation at the beginning of each year in my courtroom, I terrified people with the cold-blooded caution that this wonderful opportunity was not a casual CEB course. The fundamental focus of that session, because of the high quality of the membership, the one-on-one concept, and the unique opportunities afforded new members, is that attendance is absolutely critical. I then specifically said that anyone who could not keep that commitment once a month, please let me know, and stand aside so that someone else can fill that spot. It was a real bedrock discussion, that attendance is the one absolute essential to their acceptance to the Inn.

I took the same "Prussian" approach with senior members. Each summer, I phoned the senior membership to get an earnest commitment to the program, that they will be active teachers, participate in the demonstration, not just window dressing-each given the chance to pass or take a sabbatical. We began each year with a senior luncheon to plan innovative programs, to assign teams, to bond. Membership was yeoman's service. Our Inn was not a letterhead organization.

We elected not to have a dinner. Our meetings would begin at 5:30 p.m.-after the pressurized and coercive work in front of judge and jury but before martinis. After the demonstration, the frank discussion, and lively interchange, we would end at 7:30 p.m.-firmly, promptly; it was important to get home to your family. We would break in summer, follow the school calendar. We hoped to achieve a close personal, social, and professional association that would enhance the performance skills and standards of the bar.

The cement of our model was the informal breakfast meeting. Nancy Vaughan suggested each team meet monthly in small groups to provide close contact between the generations. These interim meetings have no agenda. They allow the young lawyers to ask ethical questions that they would not ask the senior members in a full room, in the open market. The young people can learn from the seniors, rub shoulders with legends.

Finally, to memorialize our unique model, we referred to our Inn, not by number, but by name. We honored Lou Welsh-a pioneer in lawyer training who hired young lawyers, immediately out of school, and did so much for their careers.  Thirty years later, the Welsh AIC is his lasting monument, and his legacy will live on after we are all gone.

On January 31, 1985, we commemorated our first year with a dinner. Our 30 members paid tribute to our guest of honor, Judge Welsh. That annual tradition continues. As shown in the attached photograph, taken on January 29, 2015, the annual dinner now brings together San Diego's five thriving Inns. It is a very fine place to be.

In closing, the Inns have allowed me to give something back to the profession that has been so generous to me. Judges risk becoming isolated and insulated from the profession. The Inns ensure that senior members of the bench and bar are refreshed and renewed by the vigor and youth of the newly admitted trial lawyers-to regain that enthusiasm, that idealism of youth. I see that in the Welsh Inn-it means a great deal to the senior members-to give of yourself, your integrity, to share the pride of the profession. It allows the leaders of the trial bar to have an influence beyond our time. I quote my mentor, the great Joe Ball, a superb lawyer who served as a beacon and inspiration for my career. "Show me the idol of a man and I'll show you the direction of his life." I believe that to be true. Our stellar model for an Inn has been a tide that raises all boats. My association with the American Inns of Court has been the happiest, most satisfying experience of my sixty-year professional career.

Senior Judge William B. Enright is a U.S. District Judge for the Southern District of California. He is a Chancellor of the Louis M. Welsh AIC in San Diego, California.

© 2015 SENIOR JUDGE WILLIAM B. ENRIGHT. This article was originally published in the September/October 2015 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.