Founder Dallin H. Oaks’ Visit Spurs Call to Join of Utah-born American Inns of Court Movement


by Isaac D. Paxman
Did you know that the American Inns of Court (“AIC”) movement was born here in Utah? Designed to enhance the skills, professionalism, and ethics of the bar and bench, the movement has swept the country, impacting over a hundred thousand attorneys and judges over the last three decades.
Dallin H. Oaks Addresses First Inn
On January 24, 2012, Dallin H. Oaks, who helped found the AIC movement, dined with and addressed the first American Inn at an evening event held in his honor at the courtroom of the Utah Supreme Court in Salt Lake City, Utah.
Utah Chief Justice Christine M. Durham introduced Elder Oaks, as he is now known in his calling as a member of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Chief Justice Durham, a long-time member of the A. Sherman Christensen American Inn of Court I, served with then-Justice Oaks on Utah’s highest court almost thirty years ago. She recalled the keen intellect, engaging stories, and warm humor Oaks brought to his interactions with fellow justices. Oaks, in turn, spoke highly of Chief Justice Durham as both judge and administrator, noting that the court was good before she arrived, but notably better after her arrival.
Oaks then recounted for those in attendance how he became involved with the founding of the AIC movement.
Oaks was president of Brigham Young University when he received a phone call announcing that Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, was vacationing in Utah and wanted to meet with Oaks and Rex E. Lee, dean of the law school at BYU. Although both Oaks and Lee had clerked for justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, Oaks noted that neither had met Burger previously.
On an August morning in 1979, Oaks and Lee drove to a spot near the Upper Provo River. As they arrived at a cabin owned by O.C. Tanner, Burger greeted them in shorts, a tank top, and sandals. It is an image that Oaks said he can recall as though it was yesterday. “His distinction was far greater than his appearance,” quipped Oaks. As the Chief Justice bustled in and out of the kitchen, making and serving breakfast, Oaks and Lee still had no inkling of the reason for the unusual invitation.
After the meal, however, Burger confided that he was concerned about the trial skills of American attorneys. He was impressed with the English system, with its Inns of Court and the mentoring that occurred there, and wondered if BYU would launch a pilot program designed to capture some of the benefits of the English model. According to Oaks, Burger chose BYU because of his high regard for Dean Rex E. Lee, former U.S. Assistant Attorney General, and because he knew that Oaks, another U.S. Supreme Court law clerk, was its president. Burger “had all the authority he needed in that room” to get an immediate decision from the university, noted Oaks. Oaks and Lee accepted the invitation, and shortly thereafter a pilot program was underway.

After speaking about his involvement with the founding of the AIC movement, Oaks spoke fondly of his four “fathers in the law,” including U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren, for whom he clerked, and described a significant lesson learned from each of them. His points regarding Chief Justice Warren were particularly applicable to members of our legal community. During his clerkship, Oaks learned to separate his affection for the person – and respect for his or her office – from differing views with the person. Near the end of his clerkship, Oaks realized he had disagreed with Warren’s votes roughly 60% of the time – a percentage Oaks found remarkably high, given that many of the votes had no direct tie to judicial activism or any other philosophical leaning. Yet throughout his clerkship and afterward, Oaks felt both deep affection for Warren, who was good and kind to Oaks and his family, and high regard for his office. Oaks declared that our “commonwealth” would be better off if all understood and implemented this principle.

Oaks then outlined some notable features of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church & School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 132 S.Ct. 694 (2012), a case holding that federal discrimination laws do not apply to a church’s hiring and firing of ministers. Then he opened the floor to questions. When an Inn member asked for advice to anyone striving to excel at their profession but also to be a good spouse and parent, Oaks struck a tone of lighthearted reassurance: “Just muddle through it,” he urged. “Speaking from my own experience, it will work out all right.”
Oaks stayed afterward to greet all who wished to meet him.1
Other Utahns’ Involvement in Founding the AIC
Listening to Oaks caused me to reflect on his and other Utahns’ involvement with the founding of the AIC and on the ways the movement has enriched my life and practice.
Soon after the breakfast meeting described by Oaks, A. Sherman Christensen, a federal district judge in Salt Lake City, was tapped to head the pilot program. Judge Christensen, in turn, assembled a small group of attorneys, judges, and BYU law professors and law students to lend a hand. Among the initial participants were some prominent members of our legal communities today, including Ralph L. Dewsnup and M. Dayle Jeffs. See Ralph L. Dewsnup, the Genesis, The Bencher (September/October 2004); see also J. Clifford Wallace, Birth of the American Inns of Court, 25 Berkeley J. Int’l L. 101 (2007).
The initial group came up with the basic plan of monthly instructive meetings that were designed to be much more than just another method of delivering CLE credit. See Dewsnup, supra at 6.
About a year after the Inn at BYU was launched, an Inn connected with the University of Utah was formed in Salt Lake City. See id. at 8. And soon thereafter, Inns were created in Mississippi and Hawaii. See id. at 9. This rapid growth prompted Chief Justice Burger to assemble an ad hoc committee of the United States Judicial Conference, comprised largely of Utah attorneys and judges, to solidify the movement. See id. at 10. The committee met in Washington, DC, where the movement was formally organized into a nonprofit entity. See id. Over time, the AIC has grown to include more than 29,000 members (and over 100,000 alumni) in over 400 chapters nationwide.
My experience with the AIC and the British Inns
My experience with the AIC began in law school in the late 1990s. I have remained an active member since then, participating in Inns in three cities, as I’ve moved about.
In the summer of 2003, I was chosen by the AIC to participate in a three-month-long immersion experience with the English Inns of Court, mostly shadowing barristers and judges. While there, I became enthralled with the English Inns of Court, and my grasp of the mission of the AIC deepened.
For centuries, every aspiring barrister in England has been required to associate with one of the four English Inns of Court to be called to the bar. Barristers’ chambers (similar to our firms) are located primarily on the Inns of Court properties near the Royal Courts of Justice in London. The area where I spent most of my time is paved by cobblestone and lit at night by gas street lanterns. Film crews use the spot for period pieces.
Within the area is the Temple Church, as seen in the movie The Da Vinci Code, with Knights Templar entombed in its floor. The church was originally built in the 12th century, and by the early 15th century, Inns of Court had been formed in the surrounding area. Eventually, the king granted use of the church to two of the Inns, known as the Inner Temple and Middle Temple Inns, in exchange for the Inns’ agreement to support and maintain the church. Today, you can hear the boys’ choir practicing in the church as you head from the Inns of Court to the Royal Courts of Justice across the street. A church and choir supported by members of the bar across the street from royal courts? Yes, this is a world apart. Oh and did I mention that barristers wear wigs and robes?
Also captivating are the dining halls. Picture the Hogwarts dining hall from the Harry Potter movies (without the ghosts and gimmicks) and you’ve got the basic image. The deep history of the halls is illustrated by the fact that in 1601, the tables in Middle Temple’s dining hall were pushed aside for the premiere of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, attended by the queen. Over 400 years later, I got the chance to watch the same play in the same hall.
Originally, the English Inns of Court were actual inns, where members of the legal community could stay while learning the ropes of their profession. The sharing of meals and quarters by members of the legal community undoubtedly ensured a large amount of informal mentoring and contributed to the sense of collegiality among barristers. Shakespeare himself captured this culture when he wrote: “Do as the adversaries in the law, Strive mightily, and eat and drink as friends.” William Shakespeare, The Taming of the Shrew, Act 1, Sc. 2.
While Inn members no longer reside onsite today, they do still take meals in the dining halls, and they also participate regularly in educational and other events sponsored by their respective Inns, including occasional multiple-day training sessions for younger barristers that include an overnight stay (albeit at locations away from the Inns). And the Inn environment still signifies the collegiality and civility the legal profession can and ought to encourage.
American Inns promote these same ideals through their monthly dinners and presentations. Through these events, I have gleaned practice-tip gems and gained a connection with fellow attorneys and with judges that I have felt through no other aspect of my professional life. Beyond that, I have experienced what I think Judge Christensen was describing when he said he wanted the AIC to “renew and inspire joy and zest in trial practice.…” See Dewsnup, supra at 6.
A call to join the AIC
Through my Inn membership, I’ve met people from various parts of the country who are passionate about this movement. In Denver recently, I heard an attorney tell how her AIC pupillage (a presentation group, typically consisting of a dozen or fewer persons) met often throughout the year for lunch and special events. With emotion, she revealed that her pupillage became her primary source of support when one of her children died. Some pupillages gather at a judge’s home or chambers to plan their presentations. Around the country, people have embraced this movement as their own and have adapted it to their needs and circumstances.
Here in Utah, we have Inns in Provo, Salt Lake City (two Inns), and Ogden, as well as an Inn covering Washington and Iron Counties. But we could have more than that. Idaho, with about half the population of Utah, has six Inns to Utah’s five. There are states, albeit populous ones, with over thirty Inns.
It seems to me that the Wasatch front could benefit from additional Inns, perhaps specialty ones, like exist elsewhere for family law, intellectual property, and other practice areas. And perhaps there are geographical areas that could start their first Inns.
I call on more members of the Utah bar and bench to join the AIC. Let’s ensure that Utah’s present-day embrace of the AIC aligns fully with its role in founding the movement. T
I am confident that if you join, you will be amply rewarded, even as you help others enjoy more fully their lives in the law. Dayle Jeffs recently said that his participation in the AIC has easily been the most satisfying part of his professional life. If you know anything of this man’s legendary career and the breadth of his service to the bar and to the courts, you know that is saying something.
1. The above portion of this article is adapted from an article slated for the May/June 2012 issue of The Bencher, the flagship magazine of the American Inns of Court.

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