History of the American Inns of Court

The bench and the bar have mutual interest in addressing the issue of civility and ethics in lawyer to lawyer and lawyer to judge relations. Over the years, this issue has been addressed, in part, by various codes of conduct. In addition to the codes of conduct, the American Inns of Court are a collective effort to improve the quality of legal professionalism in the United States.

The American Inns of Court are the fastest growing legal movement in the country. Today, there are over three hundred American Inns of Court in all fifty states and the District of Columbia. Over 25,000 judges, lawyers, law professors, and law students are currently members of American Inns of Court. Inn of Court members include forty percent of all federal judges and more than fifteen hundred state court judges.

We pattern American Inns of Court after the English Inns of Court, which began in 1292 when King Edward I directed his chief justice to satisfy a growing need for skilled advocates at the Royal Court in Westminster. The English Inns of Court grew in number and importance during the Middle Ages. They emphasized the value of learning the craft of lawyering from those individuals already established in the profession. Their collegial environment fostered common goals and nurtured professional ideals and ethics.

In 1977, Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and other American lawyers and judges spent two weeks in England as part of the Anglo-American Exchange. They were particularly impressed by the collegial approach of the English Inns of Court and by the way the Inns passed on the standards of decorum, civility, ethics, and professionalism necessary for a properly functioning bar to new lawyers. Following his return, Chief Justice Burger authorized a pilot program that could be adapted to the realities of law practice in the United States.

Chief Justice Burger, former Solicitor General Rex Lee, and Senior United States District Judge A. Sherman Christensen founded the first American Inn of Court in 1980. The Inn was affiliated with the J. Reuben Clark School of Law at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. The number of American Inns increased slowly at first, but the growth of the movement began to accelerate in 1985 with the establishment of the American Inns of Court Foundation.

The Chester Bedell American Inn of Court, Florida's first Inn and the fourteenth in the nation, was founded in 1985 in Jacksonville. Although actually the twelfth in operation, the number twelve had already been reserved, and the Bedell Inn's founders were loath to be named thirteen. The Pinellas Inn of Court (now the Barney Masterson Inn of Court) was formed in 1988 and was Florida's fifth Inn. There are currently three Inns in the Sixth Judicial Circuit. The Canakaris American Inn of Court, also in Pinellas County, was founded in 1993 and is a family law inn. The Allgood-Altman American Inn of Court, the only Pasco County inn, was formed in 1995. As of the year 2000, there were twenty-nine inns operating across the state of Florida; and, in 2008 that number has grown to thirty-six inns.

Mission on the American Inns of Court

American Inns of Court are designed to improve the skills, the professionalism, and the legal ethics with which the bench and the bar perform their functions. They help lawyers become more effective advocates, with a keener ethical awareness, by providing them with opportunity to learn side-by-side with the most experienced judges and lawyers in their communities. The objectives of each inn are as follows:

  • To establish a society of judges, lawyers, legal educators, law students, and others to promote excellence in the legal advocacy in accordance with the Professional Creed of the American Inns of Court; 
  • To foster a greater understanding of and appreciation for the adversary system of dispute resolution in American law, with particular emphasis on ethics, civility, professionalism, and legal skills; 
  • To provide significant education experiences that will improve and enhance the abilities of lawyers as counselors and as advocates and of judges as adjudicators and as judicial administrators;
  • To promote interaction and collegiality among all legal professionals in order to minimize misapprehensions, misconceptions, and failures of communication that obstruct the effective practice of law;
  • To facilitate the development of law students, recent law school graduates, and less experienced lawyers as skilled participants in the American court system;
  • To preserve and transmit ethical values from one generation of legal professionals to the next; and 
  • To build upon the genius and strengths of the common law and the English Inns of Court and to renew and inspire joy and zest in legal advocacy as a service worthy of constant effort and learning.