The ABA Judicial Division Turns 100: The Rise of Judicial Education

Vol. 53 No. 2

Peter M. Koelling is the director and chief counsel of the ABA Judicial Division. Koelling was a law clerk for the Texas Supreme Court, was in private practice, and has worked in court administration in Texas, Washington, and Colorado. He also holds a Ph.D. from Northern Illinois University.


In the 1960s, the Judicial Administration Division (JAD) hired a director by the name of Ernie Friesen. Ernie was in many ways the godfather of the court management movement. He, along with Ed Gallas and Nesta Gallas, wrote the first book on the subject of court management in 1971. He also later became the director of the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. As a young professor, Ernie studied how judges used pretrial conferences to manage their cases. He was interested in how some judges had more timely dockets than others. He found that those courts that effectively used the pretrial conference to set schedules and focus the issues did a better job of moving cases. That is what sparked his interest in judicial administration and why he became director of the JAD.

As director, Ernie determined that some courts did certain things really well, and other courts were trying innovative practices, but there really was no way to share the information about these best practices. The Judges’ Journal was started in 1962 so that judges could learn what was happening in other jurisdictions and adopt the ideas that worked. But merely sharing ideas was not enough. Ernie was also a pioneer in the area of judicial education. Part of his role as director was to support “the Joint Committee for the Effective Administration of Justice.” This committee was composed of representatives of the JAD, the American Judicature Society, and the Institute of Judicial Administration from New York University’s law school. Under the chairmanship of Supreme Court Justice Tom C. Clark, this committee began looking into the need for and the creation of judicial education.

In many European countries, judges are trained from the ground up, and few ever practice law. These judges become part of a bureaucratic structure right out of school, where they receive training and a career path taking them to higher and higher courts. By contrast, the American system requires that a judge first practice law, and many states have a minimum requirement that a lawyer practice 10 years before he or she can become a trial court judge and even longer for appellate courts. As important as this experience is, it does not fully prepare a person to take the bench. There is a profound difference between the role of advocate and the role of adjudicator.

Justice Clark observed that, like today, taking the bench, new judges immediately became manager of the court, its staff, and assigned cases, yet at that time judges were not provided any tools to “come up to speed” on this new role. The Joint Committee began to consider the need for training that was unique for the judiciary. They saw the need for training for new judges and believed that even an experienced judge could learn something from other judges and experts in the field. Frankly, some of the committee members were skeptical about it; they thought that judges would not attend classes because no judge would want to admit that he or she needed training.

Despite the skepticism, the Joint Committee determined that there was a need to create a National Judicial College. Ernie Friesen left the JAD and took on the role of the first dean of the College. In 1963, the National Judicial College was created and the first training program was made available. The College could accommodate only 83 students for that first session. Proving the skeptics wrong, there were more than 300 applicants for those slots. From that humble beginning the College grew and continues to provide training, and today offers more than 90 courses attended by more than 4,000 judges, with many more taking online courses and webinars. The College was operated by the ABA until 1978, when the College became a separate § 501(c)(3) educational corporation. The members of that corporation are the Board of Governors of the ABA, which selects the trustees of the College and continue to give substantial monetary support.

This legacy of learning continues throughout the state judicial systems and in the Judicial Division (JD) today. Most states require continuing education hours for all lawyers, and a number require that judges take a minimum number of judicial education hours designed specifically for the judiciary. The JD offers numerous courses at the ABA Midyear Meeting, the ABA Annual Meeting, and online. We continue to publish The Judges’ Journal and the JD Record to share ideas and explore best practices. The need to continue to train and learn is recognized as an important goal of the JD.

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