Rarely does a day go by when we don't hear another horror story reported in the news
about an unethical attorney. No wonder lawyers are the butt of so many jokes. Some of
them are actually funny and I laugh at them, too, even though I am one of "them".
The sad thing is that in so many of the stories and jokes you hear, there is at least
a grain of truth - sometimes a whole mountain of disturbing truths. The good thing is
that most attorneys do not fit the scumbag stereotype the newscasters and comedians
often portray them as being.
To counter this perception, a number of lawyers have taken it upon themselves to
promote ethics, professionalism, and scholarship in the legal profession. To this
end, the late former Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Warren Burger and four other
American attorneys went to London in the 1980's to learn the English legal system
hands-on. They brought the concept of the English Inns of Court across the Atlantic.
Chief Justice Burger's vision of a system of judges and experienced lawyers mentoring
and guiding less experienced members of the profession developed into the American
Inns of Court.
Much of our system of law comes from the English, including the concept of "the rule
of law". What this means is that we are governed by laws, which are the rules of the
land. The first settlers at Jamestown brought with them what is known as the common
law of England, which was the basis of the first American laws.
Back in medieval days, Henry III banned law schools in London. At the same time, the
Catholic Church banned religious leaders from teaching law. In response to these
restrictions, lawyers created hostels or "inns" where students could live and learn
with experienced barristers. These ultimately evolved into the famous English Inns
Today, the Inns no longer train England's barristers and solicitors. Instead, they
are a place of fellowship, dedicated to the pursuit of civility and professionalism
among members of the legal system. The Inns are not social clubs, a lecture series,
an apprenticeship system, a fraternity, or an expanded law school program. Although
the American Inns of Court may be some of all of these things, its main goals are to
promote civility, professionalism, and ethics among members of the legal system.
Today, there are over 350 active Inns in the United States with over 85,000 members
nationwide. High on the list of priorities of the American Inns is the mentoring of
newer lawyers by more experienced attorneys in an amicable setting. This is similar
to the way the original Inns of Court nurtured new members of the legal profession in
Membership is composed of four levels:
1. Masters of the Bench - Judges, experienced lawyers, and law professors;
2. Barristers - Lawyers with some experience, but who do not meet the minimum
requirements for Masters designation;
3. Associates - New lawyers who do not meet the minimum requirements for the
Barrister level; and
4. Pupils - Third year law students.
The membership in each Inn is ideally kept in the range of a hundred. This is large
enough to have a good variety of experiences and viewpoints, but small enough for the
members to become a convivial mentoring group.
Most Inns specialize in a particular type of law. For example, I was one of the
founders of the Arthur L. Moller - David B. Foltz, Jr. Inn in Houston which
specializes in bankruptcy law. I also belong to the Burta Rhoads Raborn Family Law
Inn of Court, another area where I am Board Certified by the State of Texas. There is
a third Inn of Court in Houston, the Garland R. Walker Inn, which encompasses all
other areas of the law.
I feel strongly that every experienced attorney has the obligation to help those who
are starting in the profession. My goal is not to just pass on my expertise and
knowledge in this field of bankruptcy law, but to also pass on my sense of ethics and
fairness. I feel that the rule of law needs to be administered justly. That involves
not just the judges and courts, but also the attorneys that represent the disputing
parties. My involvement in the Bankruptcy Inn and Family Law Inn is one way to
advance these beliefs.