The Inns of Court

April 28th, 2015 Posted in From Our Alumni

By Patty Gelb

IMG_9521You might think “Lawyers and Judges in Love” is a new hit comedy series on television or the title of a new Broadway play. While it is a catchy title and has potential for those categories, it was actually the title of the last of a series of educational programs held at The University of Toledo’s College of Law by the local division of the American Inns of Court.

What are the American Inns of Court you may ask? It is a professional association comprised of more than 25,000 attorneys, legal scholars, judges and law students. The goals of this organization are to promote professionalism, skills and ethical standards among the legal community.

The concept for such an organization in America was created by the Chief Justice of the United States, Warren Burger, in the late 1970s. He saw the opportunity to begin an organization that was similar to the English Inns of Court which was established in the mid-13th century. The English Inns of Court was originally developed to help answer the problem of legal education, and today in the United Kingdom all barristers must be affiliated with the Inns.

IMG_9525There are now over 350 chartered American Inns of Court that are all locally operated, and the chapter that serves the Northwest Ohio region is the Morrison R. Waite Inns of Court. It was named in honor of Morrison Remick Waite, who served as the seventh Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1874 to 1888. And in case you’re wondering, Waite High School in East Toledo is also named in his honor.

“The Inns of Court [local chapter] from the start has been connected to The University of Toledo law school,” said Daniel J. Steinbock, dean of the College of Law and Harold A. Anderson Professor of Law and Values. “The pupils, as they are called, come from the law school. That was envisioned from the beginning. It is an introduction to the kind of professional organizations that lawyers belong to.”

Steinbock feels the Inns of Court help expose the students to notions of professionalism and ethical conduct in the practice of law and how those ideas are viewed and carried out by practicing lawyers. He also shared that it is an excellent networking opportunity for students.

“It is a chance (for students) to get to meet people and get to know them as mentors,” he said. “If they stay in Toledo, it is a leg up in terms of knowing people in law practice in Toledo. Toledo has a very collegial bar and personal connections are important. This is a way to begin to develop them.”

The organization is divided into four categories of membership: Masters of the Bench (or Benchers), Barristers, Associates and Pupils. The Benchers are the senior members and include some of the top legal professionals in the United States. Following the Benchers in progression are Barristers, then, for people right out of law school, Associates. Law student members are called Pupils. The dues structure is set so that Benchers subsidize the other categories of membership.

The local chapter of the Inns of Court meets four or five times during the school year and will usually attract 40 to 45 people per meeting.

“We have an extraordinarily close relationship to the law school,” said John N. MacKay, a lawyer at Shumaker Loop & Kendrick and president of the Morrison R. Waite American Inn of Court. “Most of the chapters of the Inns of Court likewise have close relationships with law schools. We try to reach into the law school for those students who want to come out and meet informally with lawyers and judges who are practicing here in town.”

Judge Stephen A. Yarbrough (Marketing, ‘68; M.B.A, ‘69; Law, ’73) of the Sixth District Court of Appeals in Lucas County is president-elect of the Inn and explained that their local goals are collegiality, professionalism and development of the students by allowing the students mentoring opportunities.

IMG_9530“We present programs that have both humor and a serious side,” said Yarbrough. “We come to the University each year and interview and try to recruit students who would have some interest. We have four or five dinners a year that have programs associated with them and we want the students to participate.”

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Mary Ann Whipple, previously held the position of president of the Inns, but now her focus is on developing the programs for the meetings. It is her creative skills that comes up with the entertaining and educational themes like “Lawyers and Judges in Love.”

“The format is we are doing the ‘Mary Springer Show,’” said Whipple. “We have four acts in the show. Each group comes out and we have four characters that deal with an ethically compromised or challenged situation involving lawyers in love. After each short skit we will do some discussion.”

The program had improvisations acting out the situations that are based on real-life examples of reported cases and then the floor was opened for discussion. Judge Whipple asked the audience questions like “is this proper and if not, why not?” There was a discussion of the topic with the citation of the Rules of Professional Responsibly for Lawyers. The presentation made a real-world issue into a fun and educational topic and discussion among top local legal professionals and students from the College of Law.

IMG_9532One of the skit participants was third-year law student and Pupil of the local Inns of Court, Krys Beech. She feels being a part of the Inns is a great opportunity for her.

“I think it is wonderful,” said Beech. “It is a little intimidating when you first walk in, especially if you haven’t done a lot in the community. There are a lot of people here you don’t know, but it is excellent because you are kind of thrust in the middle of all of these attorneys and judges who are practicing at different levels and in different areas. You have the opportunity to talk to them and gain something from their wisdom.”

And the skit was a hit among the attendees.

“It was actually very good,” said Steinbock. “It made a lot of real points but it did it in an entertaining way.”

The Inns of Court is an important tool for the College of Law to offer opportunities to its students.

“I truly think this organization improves the level of practice in our community,” said Whipple. “I think helping law students interact with lawyers that have been out there, sometimes for years, sometimes for not that many years, helps them become better lawyers.”

If you are interested in learning more about the Morrison R. Waite Inn of Court, click here to be directed to their website.

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