The National Civil Justice Institute is a national legal nonprofit created by pioneering members of the trial bar and dedicated to ensuring access to justice for ordinary citizens. Through its activities, the Institute works to give lawyers, judges, legal educators and the public a balanced view of the issues affecting the U.S. civil justice system.
Throughout its history, NCJI has tailored its activities to the changing needs of the judiciary and the legal academic community, with emphases on adding balance to the often-lopsided debates on the U.S. civil justice system and supporting the principle of judicial independence. These activities have included:
- The annual Chief Justice Earl Warren Conferences (held between 1972 and 1989), in which jurists, academics, practitioners and other experts participated every year;
- Diverse publications, including (in the early-1970s) a series of films about the U.S. justice system; the quarterly Civil Justice Digest (1994-2003); and occasional books, monographs and reports on such diverse subjects as the American jury system, health care and the law, injury prevention in the workplace, the safety of the blood supply, the firearm industry, court system funding, and others;
- Support for academic research through grants to scholars working in areas of interest to the consumer bar;
- Law school symposia for legal academics on medical malpractice and mandatory arbitration;
- Recognition of achievements of law professors and students through awards in the areas of health care law, environmental law, and teaching trial advocacy; and
- The annual Forum for State Appellate Court Judges (see below).
The Judges Forum
The centerpiece of NCJI’s present program is the annual Forum for State Appellate Court Judges – a full–day educational program open only to judges, which was first held in 1992. The Forum provides a direct, intensive substantive experience, with original papers written by prominent academics, commentary by experts from both sides of the courtroom, and group discussion sessions. Judges attend as guests of the Institute, at no cost to themselves or their courts. The Forum is an opportunity for judges, legal scholars, and practicing attorneys to come together for an open conversation about major issues affecting civil justice in America. Each Forum’s papers – and its subsequently published reports – are available for free downloading, providing continuing resources for the judiciary, academics, and practitioners. The Forum is the consumer bar‘s most significant outreach to the judiciary.
Our past forums have covered some of the most important issues that judges and the consumer bar face. Past topics have included separation of powers, the civil jury, secrecy in the courts, judicial independence, federalism, mandatory arbitration, rulemaking and electronic discovery, judicial selection, summary judgment, the preemption doctrine, and the decline of jury trial. Selected Forum topics have also been reprised at several regional forums held in conjunction with the American Judges Association and other judicial organizations.
The Forum is accredited by all state mandatory CLE authorities, and we are told that the program “continues to give” long after judges return home from it. Typically, over 80% of the judges who attend the Forum rate it as “excellent” or “very good” on our evaluation forms. More specific written comments by judges are equally encouraging. Some examples:
- “The Forum is really the only place and time most judges have an opportunity to think about and discuss these topics in depth.”
- “Each year I return to my court more knowledgeable about ‘hot topics’ in the law.”
- “The seminars have consistently been the best of all the CLE programs I have attended during my 32 years on the bench.”
- Even a prominent defense lawyer who served as one of our faculty members wrote that “I was tremendously impressed! . . . I understand now . . . why the Institute‘s programs have such a good reputation. I found myself thinking about things I have ignored or taken for granted for years.”
- “The Institute is the best program I attend as a judge.”
- “I thought the conference. . .was wonderful and insightful. The opportunity for discussion with other judges from across the country left me with the utmost confidence that our judicial system is in most capable hands.”
Another important form of validation is the increasing frequency with which courts and academics cite NCJI Forum materials in court decisions and journal articles.
NCJI‘s work is supported by its members, who are called “Fellows.” Some of our Fellows have been associated with the organization since its inception, and some are of the second or even third generation of the modern American trial lawyers. But in the fifty-plus years of NCJI’s existence, the Institute‘s membership and leadership have also come to reflect the increasing diversity of the nationwide consumer bar. It includes younger lawyers, women, minorities, and others historically less well represented in bar leadership roles. This diversity has strengthened our programs and has helped the Institute‘s work evolve.
Joining and Supporting NCJI
Every member of the bar who is in good standing and who supports a strong American civil justice system is invited to become an NCJI Fellow. There are several classes of membership with varying benefits. Dues start as low as $95 per year for lawyers who have been in practice for five years or less. There are also opportunities to support NCJI’s activities beyond the regular dues structure through tax-deductible contributions. (NCJI is a §501(c)(3) organization.)
To inquire about becoming a Fellow or supporting NCJI in other ways, please contact our Executive Director, Mary Collishaw, by email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or phone (202-944-2841) or click here to join online.