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
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
“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
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.