History of ABOTA

The American Board of Trial Advocates was formed in 1958 in Los Angeles, California, becoming the first legal association to combine both plaintiff and defense lawyers with one common goal—the preservation of the 7th Amendment guaranteeing the right to a civil trial by jury.

The formation of ABOTA had a specific purpose. In the late 1950s, the civil jury system was under attack by the governor of California. In addition, the courthouses were clogged as it could take as long as two years to get a case heard. Plus the governor was advocating a commission system to hear workman’s compensation, liability and other civil cases.

It was under this dark cloud—the potential death knell for the civil jury trial system—that the seeds were sown for ABOTA. In 1958, throughout the Los Angeles area, a handful of trial attorneys were beginning to talk of the need for an organization specifically tailored for them: A forum to speak out with a collective voice in preserving the American jury system.

Los Angeles attorney Mark P. Robinson, Sr., who became ABOTA’s first president, said that ABOTA would be more than just protecting the jury system. He described the original vision as a way to certify competent jury trial attorneys similar to the Inn of Court system in England. ABOTA would certify the best lawyers and help the public in terms of efficiency.

Robinson’s vision included the element of developing the collegiality among members that is so apparent today. Future generations of ABOTA leaders have cultivated that vision.

“It doesn’t matter whether you’re in Omaha or New York City, [ABOTA members] share a common bond,” said 1994 National President Robert C. Baker. “ABOTA is different because its trial lawyers who have actually gone before juries, tried lawsuits.”

The idea caught fire. After several informal meetings over the next few months, the groundwork for ABOTA was formed. The organization’s early leaders considered keeping it strictly for Los Angeles attorneys, but many believed the association should be national in scope. The founders felt a group that could credibly offer help in reducing some of the pressures in the courts, and for an organization that provided a system to certify the real trial specialists by setting standards for our members.

Robinson became ABOTA’s first President. In the ensuing years, chapters grew strong and dynamic throughout California. After 10 years a chapter was chartered outside the state and ABOTA began expanding across the country.

Today, ABOTA is a nationwide organization of skilled practicing trial attorneys who care passionately about the American trial system. The organization’s influence now extends through its 96 chapters in all 50 states. It is the premier lawyers’ organization in the United States; selection for membership into ABOTA carries with it considerable prestige among attorneys, judges and legislators.

ABOTA has played an important role in legal and political affairs for nearly six decades. Over the years, political leaders have asked members for advice about pending legislation regarding the legal system, members have served as judges pro-tem to help ease court room backlog during the vacation season, and seminars and law school scholarship programs have proliferated.

The same forces are at work today as they were in the late 1950’s—those who want to dismantle the civil jury system— and the attacks are far less subtle. ABOTA remains devoted to its very purpose for existence.

As was promised in the ABOTA Constitution, ABOTA will continue to push for preservation of the jury system and for improving the public image of lawyers.