Although DRI was formally organized as the Defense Research Institute in 1960 its antecedents go back to the end of World War II in 1945.
Defense lawyers recognized the growing danger and the harmful impact that excessive awards would have on the civil justice system, but they were not effectively organized to counter the plaintiff bar’s activities. By the early 1950s, it was apparent that conscientious and able defense of cases in court was not enough.
What was really needed was a comprehensive and continuing education program that would provide in-depth treatment and solid legal research on topics related to the defense of civil actions.
By 1952, the International Association of Insurance Counsel (IAIC), realized that the most effective means of countering the inroads of plaintiffs’ groups would be through a massive, many-sided program of information and education. The groups’ leaders slowly began to accept the fact that they should form a separate organization with its own professional staff to pursue their informational and educational goals.
In January 1960, at its annual meeting in Scottsdale, Arizona, the IAIC made some key decisions. First, the group’s leaders agreed that they were unwilling to change the essential character of their organization; it would continue to limit its membership to a fixed number of skilled and experienced defense lawyers. Second, it decided to form a separate and more broad-based organization to be named the Defense Research Institute—DRI was born. Third, it appointed a special committee of IAIC members to implement the organization of DRI.
For DRI’s first project, the IAIC leaders decided to immediately begin producing a monthly newsletter that would track developments in civil litigation of special interest to defense lawyers, and that this newsletter would be named For TheDefense. The first issue of FTD, consisting of eight pages, was published in March 1960 and has continued as DRI’s flagship publication to this day.
Growth was rapid. By the end of 1961, the organization consisted of 2,020 individual defense lawyers and182 insurance companies. By the end of 1970, it had grown to 5,451 individuals, 241 insurance companies, 126 other corporations.
Recognizing the virtual impossibility of directing a national program from a central headquarters alone, the DRI leaders soon looked to the formation of a network of state and local-based defense lawyers. First, DRI appointed a total of seventy-eight state and area chairs from every part of the nation. Then, it turned its attention to the state and local defense organizations (SLDOs).
A giant step to gain defense coordination and cooperation was taken in April 1969 when representatives of SLDOs gathered at the first National Conference of Defense Bar Leaders. The meeting, sponsored by DRI and the Illinois Defense Counsel, was the first in a series of annual conferences. (It continued every year until 1996, when it was replaced by the first DRI Annual Meeting.)
The need for seminars and other continuing legal education activities as a means of delivering important information to the defense lawyer and his or her client was recognized in the 1960s by DRI leaders. They formed the Law Institutes Committee (now known simply as the Law Institute) in 1965. Yet, few seminars were actually held until 1976.
It was not until the mid-1980s, however, that DRI began fulfilling its mandate to offer Defense Practice Seminars to its members several times each year on topics that were both “cutting edge” and traditional—how to be a more effective defense litigator.
In June 1984, DRI moved its headquarters from Milwaukee to Chicago and was seen by many as a positive strengthening of DRI as an independent lawyers’ association. The move to Chicago gave DRI a more centrally located headquarters with greater access to air transportation which facilitated meetings of DRI leaders from around the country.
The 1980s witnessed a surge from the leaders of DRI and the state and local defense organizations for fundamental change in the nature and governance of DRI. DRI leaders wanted a strong dynamic national association of defense lawyers that would truly be the voice of the defense bar and able to pursue whatever policies and projects deemed most appropriate for the advancement of defense lawyers. These DRI advocates sought to provide SLDOs with more representation in the DRI leadership and confirm that DRI was a membership organization that would have national meetings open to all members and possess autonomous, independent leadership by the DRI Board of Directors.
In 1992 DRI finally reached the first step to administrative independence after some 32 years of existence. It consummated an agreement with its founder, the International Association of Defense Counsel, whereby, among other things, self-rule was promised. The independence, achieved when the 1992 agreement was ratified in 1995, resulted in numerous administrative and governance changes in the way that DRI would function and elect its leaders.
The mission statement, approved by the Board of Directors in 1995, provides:
The Defense Research Institute is the national membership organization of all lawyers involved in the defense of civil litigation. DRI is committed to:
1) enhancing the skills, effectiveness, and professionalism of defense lawyers;
2) anticipating and addressing issues germane to defense lawyers and the civil justice system;
3) promoting appreciation of the role of the defense lawyer; and
4) improving the civil justice system and preserving the civil jury.
Accompany the mission statement, in 1995 were five significant roles to be played by DRI as the basis for its future agenda:
Education: To teach and educate and to improve the skills of the defense law practitioner. To that end, DRI has dedicated itself to producing the highest quality practice seminars and publications for the defense lawyer.
Justice: To strive for improvement in the civil justice system, by participating in the debate over issues such as pre-discovery disclosure, retention of the civil jury trial, and punitive damages.
Balance: To be a counterpoint to the Association of Trial Lawyers of America. DRI would seek balance in the justice system in the minds of potential jurors and on all fields where disputes are resolved.
Economics: To assist its members to deal with the economic realities of the law practice, including the competitive legal marketplace.
Professionalism and Service: DRI should urge its members to practice ethically and responsibly, keeping in mind the lawyer’s responsibilities that go beyond the interest of the client to the good of American society generally.
These inspiring statements of mission and roles indicate that a new activism would emphasize DRI’s positions on matters of public policy and define the role of the defense lawyer on a national level.
In 2012, DRI created the Center for Law and Public Policy. The Center through scholarship, legal expertise and advocacy, provides the most effective voice for the defense bar in the national discussion of substantive law, constitutional issues, and the integrity of the civil justice system. It is a voice that is heard through published research materials, extensive amicus briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court, the DRI National Poll on the Civil Justice System, practical tools and resources for DRI members, objective counsel to policy makers, and creative public education initiatives.