Richard Burbidge, ’72, is currently serving as vice president of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers (the Academy), a “by invitation only” organization of the finest trial lawyers in the country. The Academy is limited to 500 active trial lawyers in the U.S.A. and enjoys membership of Fellows in 32 foreign countries who are leading trial lawyers. The Academy’s goals include promoting reforms in the law, facilitating the administration of justice, promoting the rule of law internationally, and elevating the standards of integrity, honor and courtesy in the legal profession.
In the interview below, Burbidge, the Managing Partner of the Salt Lake City firm Burbidge Mitchell & Gross, describes his responsibilities in the Academy, discusses the organization’s efforts to meet its goals by undertaking and supporting its own programs and promoting programs consistent with its goals that are undertaken by sister organizations, describes an address he recently delivered as dean of the organization, and relates how the practice of law has changed in the four decades since he graduated from the College of Law.
Q: First, congratulations! Maybe we could start by asking you to describe your role as dean (and now vice president); and second, the process by which you became dean.
I am the second dean from Utah in the International Academy of Trial Lawyers (the Academy). The first was David K. Watkiss who served as dean in 1983. I served from February 2013 to February 2014, and am now the Academy’s vice president. The role of the dean is primarily to serve on the executive committee for the Academy and to deliver the Dean’s Address at the annual meeting at the conclusion of the dean’s one-year term.
Q: We also understand that you recently delivered a major speech in Hawaii in recognition as the dean. Can you provide us with an overview of the subject?
I delivered the Dean’s Address under the title of “Who We Are And What We Leave Behind” in Kona, Hawaii on February 24, 2014. The general subject matter of the address was a compilation of my thoughts and observations concerning what I have been doing as a trial lawyer for the last 40-plus years, what vital role the Trial Bar plays in the judiciary, and the critical role the judiciary plays in a constitutional democracy.
Q: Can you list a few of the activities the organization has undertaken in order to meet its goals of promoting reforms in the law, facilitating the administration of justice, promoting the rule of law internationally, and elevating the standards of integrity, honor and courtesy in the legal profession?
Among others, the Academy undertook a groundbreaking initiative 20 years ago with the People’s Republic of China to help them establish a legal system. To that end, the Academy initiated the “China program” wherein lawyers from China are brought to the United States at Academy expense, educated in extensive seminars about the American legal system, including uniform laws. The Chinese delegates then spend two weeks at a Fellow’s home and get a two-week crash course on American jurisprudence by meeting with judges, observing American legal proceedings and otherwise immersing themselves in our system of justice.
The Academy has initiated a number of collaborative efforts with Bar Associations from around the world. Specifically, in addition to China, the Academy has collaborative efforts in Northern Ireland, the Republic of Ireland, Italy, and have just initiated a collaborative effort in Israel. The collaborative effort in Ireland has been cited as instrumental in initiating exchanges between the Bars of Northern Ireland and the Republic, and elements of reciprocity between those two Bars.
The Academy programs sponsored include the American Board of Trial Advocates Civil Trial Bar Roundtable which organizes collaborative efforts of leading plaintiff and defense trial Bars, the International Conference on Judicial Training, the National Judicial College and the National Center for State Courts
Q: And because many of our readers are students or recent graduates, we would be remiss if we didn’t how the legal profession changed since you entered practice in 1972?
In a word we spend more time in discovery than in trying lawsuits. Litigation has been bogged down with paper wars and has moved away from the object of that discovery, namely the trial. Like everything else in the modern world it has also become exponentially more expensive.
On a more positive note, I think the collegiality and the camaraderie has improved substantially, especially of late with initiatives in civility. Unfortunately, the dearth of trials and citizen participation coincides with a diminishing emphasis on civic education in middle and high schools. Jury trials and the participation in the judicial system is an essential element of our constitutional democracy and it is concerning that its use is waning.