Law School

From GW Encyclopedia

Collage of images for 100th anniversary of Law School, 1965


Law School

The George Washington University Law School is the oldest law school in the District of Columbia. Originally established in 1826 by vote of the Board of Trustees of Columbian College (now The George Washington University), classes were discontinued just one year later due to insufficient enrollment and lack of financial support. In 1865, the Trustees recommended the reestablishment of the Law School, and classes began in the Old Trinity Episcopal Church on Fifth Street between D and E. The Law School was to occupy this space until 1884. The Department of Law offered the degree of bachelor of laws, which required two years of study.

Sixty graduates, from 22 of the then 37 states, received degrees in 1867. The School continued to have a student body and a faculty that reflected its location at the heart of the seat of the nation's government. Supreme Court Justices David J. Brewer and John Marshall Harlan were among the many prominent members of the bench and bar who were on the Law School faculty. In 1872, the Trustees adopted a resolution to establish a one-year postgraduate course in legal practice. That same year, Lydia S. Hall and Belva Ann Lockwood graduated from the National University Law School, the school's first female graduates. (The National University Law School, which held an important place in legal education in the District since 1869, was merged into The George Washington University Law School in 1954.)

In 1877, one year after the first such program was adopted in the United States, the Law School instituted a course leading to the degree of Master of Laws. In 1891, the Intellectual Property and Patent Law Program was initiated, with the first course in Patent Law taught by the Commissioner of Patents.

The George Washington Law Alumni Association was established in 1912, and in 1914 the Department of Law became the Law School. In 1924, Stockton Hall was constructed on 20th Street. Designed to house the Law School in total when it was built, Stockton Hall now is one of four buildings that adjoin to form the Law School complex occupying the block on 20th Street between G and H Streets, across from the World Bank and just four blocks from the White House.

In 1936 the Law School was made a graduate school and the degree of Juris Doctor was established. A baccalaureate degree was a prerequisite for admission to the J.D. degree program. As its contribution to the war effort, GW maintained the third floor of Stockton Hall during 1941 for use by the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps in testing fabrics for tropical use. In 1946, the Law School began accepting foreign attorneys into specially designed programs, and in 1948, Law School enrollment surpassed the one thousand mark. After merging with the National University Law School in 1954, the name changed to the National Law Center in 1959.

In 1965 the International and Comparative Law Program was established. Two years later, the Law School library was able to consolidate its growing collection in the newly completed Jacob Burns Law Library. In 1970, the Environmental Law Program was introduced. The Law School's Enrichment Program, which has annually brought such illustrious speakers as Supreme Court Justices Scalia, O'Connor, Kennedy, and Ginsburg, and many others to the school, was established in 1981.

In 1984, Lerner Hall was completed and dedicated in a ceremony addressed by Chief Justice Warren Burger. In 2000, the Law School began a major building and renovation scheme to create an integrated, modern learning facility. The National Law Center became the School of Law in 1996.

Law School Selected Chronology

Established in 1865 as a formal program of two years of legal study, The George Washington University Law School is the oldest law school in the District of Columbia. In 1877, it became one of the first in the United States to offer a course leading to a master of laws degree; the course was extended to three years in 1898. The addition of the degree of Doctor of Juridical Science in 1940 signaled the expansion of the Law School's course and seminar offerings, and since 1954 programs of special research and study have enriched the basic curriculum.

1826: The Board of Trustees approved the organization of a Law Department within the Columbian College and adopted by-laws. The first two professors elected by the Trustees were Judge William Cranch, Chief Judge of the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, and William Thomas Carroll.

1827: Law classes were discontinued due to insufficient student enrollment and a lack of financial support. The Law School would not reopen until 1865.

1864: The Trustee Committee's recommendation for the reestablishment of the Law School was accepted and the Board of Trustees appointed the Hon. Samuel Tyler Professor of Law.

1865: Law School classes began in the Old Trinity Episcopal Church on Fifth Street between D and E Streets.

1866: The Law School was divided into two classes--Junior and Senior. The Course of Recitations embraced the important departments of Common Law and its Commentaries; of Criminal, Commercial, and Admiralty Jurisprudence; and of Evidence and Pleading. The Lectures related to special topics, such as Medical Jurisprudence, bearing directly on the studies in the classroom.

1867: During the first Law School Graduation, sixty graduates, from 22 of the then-37 states, received degrees.

1870: The case method of instruction was introduced to Columbian Law School.

1872: A resolution was adopted by the Board of Trustees establishing a one year postgraduate course in legal practice. The professor of the postgraduate course also presided over the Moot Court.

  • Lydia S. Hall and Belva Ann Lockwood graduated from the National University Law School -- the school's first female graduates.

1877: At the June 20th Trustees meeting President Welling proposed the establishment of a third year of legal training, to be considered a post-graduate course.

1878: The American Bar Association was organized.

1884: The Law School moved to the Columbian University Building at Fifteenth and H Streets.

1891: The Intellectual Property and Patent Law Program was initiated.

1898: The three year legal program took effect with the 1898-1899 first year class.

  • The Board of Trustees approved the requirement that examinations be given in all courses.

  • A new Law School building was erected adjacent to the Columbia University Building.

1899: A special course in Patent Law and Patent Law Practice began in the Law School. Only members of the Bar or graduates in Law were eligible for the degree of Master of Laws.

1902: Emma R. Bailey received the first earned law degree, a Master of Laws, from Columbian University.

1904: Columbian University became The George Washington University by an Act of Congress.

1908: The requirements for the LL.B. were increased to 14 hours per week for full-day work; after 1909-10, candidates must have had two years of college for admission to the Law Department.

1910: The Law School faculty requested permission to make a separate incorporation of the Law School as a Corporation under the University Charter. This request was refused by the Board.

1912: The George Washington Law Alumni Association was formed.

1914: The Department of Law was renamed the Law School.

1923: Law School candidates were required to have completed at least one year of college work.

1924: A new Law School building was constructed on the corner of 20th Street between G and H and named Stockton Hall, which has been occupied since 1925.

1932: The George Washington Law Review began publication.

1936: As of September, a Baccalaureate Degree was a pre-requisite for admission to the GW Law School.

  • The GW Law School was made a graduate school, and the Degree of Juris Doctor was established.

1941: As its contribution to the war effort, GW maintained the third floor of Stockton Hall for the use of the U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps in testing fabrics for tropical use.

1942: To meet the demands of the Second World War the Law School expanded its work to three semesters--fall, winter, and summer terms and candidates for the Bachelor of Laws degree were admitted after completing only half their work for their Bachelor's Degree.

1946: The Law School began accepting foreign attorneys into specially designated programs.

1948: During the 1940s the enrollment at the GW Law School surpassed the one thousand mark.

1954: The merger between the National University Law School and George Washington University was approved by the GW Trustees to be effective August 31st. National University, founded in 1869, had a long history concerned with legal education in the District.

1959: Approval was given by the Trustees for the establishment of the National Law Center. This included the Law School, a Graduate School of Public Law and related educational, research, and publication activities.

1965: The Board of Trustees approved October 11 as Founder's Day for the Law School.

1967: The Jacob Burns Law Library was completed.

1969: The National Law Center instituted the Community Legal Clinics Program.

1970: The Environmental Law Program was introduced in September.

1981: The National Law Center established the Enrichment Program to enhance the extracurricular intellectual life of the Law School.

1982: A summer law program focusing on private international law and comparative law was instituted in London at Oxford University.

1984: The Lerner Law Building was completed and opened to student use. It was officially dedicated on January 23rd in a ceremony in the Jacob Burns Moot Court of Lerner Hall.

1996: The National Law Center, which had brought together the divisions within the GW Law School, was officially renamed The George Washington University Law School.

1998: Michael K. Young begins as Dean of the GW Law School.

1999: The GW Law School announces plans to expand its property and refurbish existing buildings to accommodate the growing number of students and their library needs. Plans scheduled to be completed early in the new century.

2005: Frederick M. Lawrence begins as Dean of the GW Law School.

Deans of the Law School

Walter S. Cox 1895-1902
Charles W. Needham 1902-1903
Henry St. George Tucker 1903-1907
William Reynolds Vance 1907-1910
Ernest G. Lorenzen 1910-1911
Charles Noble Gregory 1911-1914
Everett Fraser 1914-1917
Merton L. Ferson 1917-1924
William Van Vleck 1924-1948
Oswald Symister Colclough 1949, Nominated as Dean
Oswald Symister Colclough 1950 - 1954
John Theodore Fey 1954 - 1957
Charles Bernard Nutting 1960 - 1962
Robert Kramer 1962 - 1980
Jerome Aure Barron 1980 - 1989
Jack Harlan Friedenthal 1989 -1998
Michael K. Young 1998 - 2004
Roger Trangsrud, Interim Dean 2004-2005
Frederick M. Lawrence 2005 -

The Law School as Adapted From Strength To Strength: A History of The George Washington University

Sparking reader interest in the GW law school’s first hundred years would put a strain on any narrator. The early history is touched upon here, but even a fast-forward narration can’t match for reader appeal the exciting events of the past 30 years.

Vignettes offer fascinating, if sometimes lurid, glimpses of what it meant to be associated - in recent times - with the National Law Center. Here, for example, at the height of the Vietnam War is law professor Monroe Friedman burning his draft card on the back steps of Lisner to the cheers of anti-war demonstrators. Here is law professor John Banzhaf remarking calmly: “It doesn’t surprise me” on hearing that three of his students have won a public interest suit forcing Spiro Agnew, a sitting vice president, to pay back $270,000 to the citizens of Maryland for kickbacks he received. Also, there was the spectacle of Chief Justice Warren Burger weighing into the battle to “save the GW night school” in 1984. During Watergate, on the lurid side, no fewer than seven GW law alumni figured in the hearings. Some were heroes, like tough-minded special prosecutor Leon Jaworski; or Alexander Butterfield, who disclosed the existence of the Nixon tapes; or Acting FBI Director L. Patrick Gray, who turned over FBI files on Watergate to a bean-spilling John Dean. (From that point on, the end was in sight.) Maybe others were not so heroic, like special counsel Charles Colson Jr., stonewaller and master of denial, and James McCord, Jr., the security coordinator for CREEP (Committee to Re-elect the President) who was arrested with four others for the Watergate break-in.

But if guilt by association is hard to swallow, self-esteem by association is more palatable. Thus, developments on GW’s law school front have always been attended by certain degree of boosterism, some of it self generated, but much of it well deserved. On one hand, for example, alumni at the school’s 50th anniversary could read in a commemorative pamphlet how “a vast army of alumni spreading over the face of the nation and extending to the islands of the seas has gone forth to carry the word that their Alma Mater is teaching the science of law in a scholarly manner.”

The writer got the last four words right, certainly: “in a scholarly manner.” The GW law faculty, even in their early years, produced some noteworthy scholarly “firsts.” In 1877, they offered the nation’s first graduate-level program for a Master of Laws degree. In the late 19th century, they reportedly invented the first moot court, or trial practice as they called it, offering students the sort of simulated courtroom experience that is still widely imitated. And if not first, certainly right up there (by 1915), the school had designated a portion of its faculty to do research in addition to teaching.

The False Start, 1826-27

Legal education at GW (it was Columbian College then) got off to a rocky start in 1826. Its two professors could hardly be called a “faculty” when William Cranch, chief justice of the U.S. Circuit Court, gave his inaugural lecture in the courtroom at City Hall on June 12. Cranch and a law clerk named William Carroll were the school’s only professors of law, and their paychecks ran out a year later.

Only from 1865 can today’s National Law Center date an unbroken continuum. But the date of origin, 1865, nonetheless marks the law school as the oldest in the District of Columbia.

The Gender Issue

In its beginnings, and until the turn of the century, the school quietly went about preparing anyone who’d had a year or two of college for the bar exam. Anyone, that is, except women and blacks. The law faculty in 1883 found that legal training for women was “not required by public want,” a view perhaps inspired by the 1880 census count of only 75 women lawyers in the entire country.

Earlier, in 1869, the law school reportedly rejected the application of longtime Washington feminist Belva Ann Lockwood, who later received her law degree at the now-defunct National University, which GW took over in 1954. A reporter for the Washington News, describing Lockwood as “irrepressible,” noted with a touch of 19th-century sexism that “the idea of female students met with approbation from many of the sterner sex, who are doubtless contemplating what pleasures they will have in going through the mazes of legal disquisitions in the company of the fair and lovely characters whose presence in the schoolroom will be so comforting.”

Not until the eve of World War I were women admitted to the law school. On February 10, 1914, the law faculty solemnly resolved that women be permitted to register “on the same terms that men are admitted, provided their admission be approved by the president of the University.” Marion Clark was the first woman to graduate with a GW LL.B., in 1916. Subsequent developments corrected these deficiencies in dramatic ways. Sixty-seven years later, alumna Teresa Moran Schwartz, NLC class of ‘71, became the center’s first associate dean of students.

In 1960, Patricia Roberts Harris, the daughter of a dining car waiter, received her J.D. and won the John Bell Larner Award for graduating first in her class. Her rise after GW was steep. She worked in the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice and then became dean of students at the Howard University Law School. Between 1965 and 1967, she served as United States Ambassador to Luxemburg. Returning to Howard, she taught law and then in 1969 became dean. After a stint in private practice, she served in President Jimmy Carter’s cabinet, first as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development and later as Secretary of Health and Human Services. After an unsuccessful attempt to become Washington’s mayor, she returned to GW and served with great distinction as a professor in the National Law Center. It was a career filled with accomplishment, but one cut short by her death on March 23, 1985.

Faculty And Students

Of timeless concern to all educational institutions is the visibility of their faculty, their ability to draw the big names, who in turn will attract students by promising intellectual contact with the most distinguished members of their calling. Capitalizing on its location, the law school found no shortage of legal luminaries to grace its lecture halls in the late 19th century. Some still have name recognition- three Supreme Court justices (Harlan, Brewer, and Strong); the former diplomat Caleb Cushing, who negotiated our first treaty with China; legal historian Francis Wharton; and such prominent political figures as George Ticknor Curtis and Henry St. George Tucker.

Faculty of the National Law Center today may be less interested in big-name recognition than in renown gained for innovating, specializing, and carving out a national reputation for legal activism, a pursuit enhanced by an equally activist student body. Though faculty have sometimes engaged their students in spirited disagreement, they have always listened.

A good example of constructive listening came in the turbulent ‘60s when student discourse elsewhere on campus ranged from uncivil to riotous. At a time when faculty and administrators often exchanged indignities with student activists chanting “student power” and making “non-negotiable demands,” relative calm appears to have prevailed at the law school. Though GW law students were as reformist as any, law professor James Starrs credits their willingness to work within, rather than disrupt, “the system” with making some much-needed changes. Led by third-year law student Larry Adlerstein (whom Starrs called a “true free spirit”), students and faculty nudged one another to make revisions in the curriculum, evaluate courses, hold student forums, and become active in good causes. Adlerstein’s campaign to persuade faculty to switch from the LL.B. to the Juris Doctorate degree bore fruit in November 1967 when the faculty in closed session so resolved.

Legal Activism in the ‘60s and ‘70s

John Banzhaf’s “Bandits,” whose acronymic forays into legal activism included SOUP, PUMP, CRASH, TUBE, and ASH (Students Opposing Unfair Practices, Protesting Unfair Marketing Practices, Citizens to Restrict Airline Smoking Hazards, Terminating Unfair Broadcasting Exercises, and Action on Smoking and Health, respectively), knowingly or not, built on a GW tradition of community betterment that dates from 1914, when the law school established its first legal aid society. When Nancy Puffenbarger published an account of GW’s newest phase of legal activism (GWU Magazine, Spring 1970), she provided a veritable reader’s guide to the school’s incredibly diverse array of student-professor outreach bent on righting the wrongs of the societal status quo.

While many radicalized students of the late ‘60s sought to lobotomize their universities from within, the school’s activists looked outward with a view to accomplishing what might be called surgical reconstruction. Students in Professor Banzhaf’s class on unfair trade practices, to quote Puffenbarger, “attacked consumer abuses ranging from false weighing of canned string beans to unfair broadcasting practices.” Banzhaf was not alone. Professors Arthur Miller, Donald Rothschild, Monroe Friedman, Robert Dixon, James Starrs, and Jerome Barron all engaged their students in one or more external enterprises. The work of Eric Sirulnik, who directed a wide array of community legal clinics, was critical in this regard.

By 1970, Starrs was quoted as saying, “I’ve never seen, in any university I’ve been in, such a willingness to allow diversity in its faculty and programs. It’s way ahead of Harvard in its poverty program. GW was first with its housing programs, its Students-in-Court Program, and the like.” When Starrs was interviewed, more than 200 GW law student volunteers were getting an astonishing variety of practical experience in the school’s Legal Aid Bureau. They had choices-they could participate in a juvenile court program, answer legal questions from prisoners, give lectures at nearby high schools, counsel indigents, assist poverty lawyers, track abusive police practices, or deal with violations of civil rights.

Above all, activism in the late ‘60s energized the curriculum, multiplying courses, programs, and clinics almost faster than they could be named. Ralph Nader guest lectured at GW, and Dean Robert Kramer noted that private lawyers wrote to him almost daily offering to give courses. Commenting on the phenomenon, Kramer said, “ I don’t think there’s a better location in the world for a law school. We can offer an incredible number of courses. We have a strong, young faculty who can be satisfied here.”

Ten years later, in 1980, with the fires of activism still burning, the school opened one of three clinics in the country dealing with immigration. Afghanis seeking asylum, aliens facing deportation, and (for third-year students) the possibility of representing clients at hearings before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, all spoke to the now well-established impulse to meet contemporary problems with timely legal education and practice. Three years later, GW’s new Consumer Litigation Center was training students to try cases of product misrepresentation, or, when the law proved helpless, catch the public’s attention by airing “consumer cases” in the media. That same year, two law professors, two students, and an alumnus, working with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), won a court injunction to stop the Drug Enforcement Administration from spraying paraquat on national forest lands.

In the near neighborhood, meanwhile, one of the school’s clinics made headlines in The Washington Star, (January 3, 1979) for achieving a near monopoly in advising the city’s poor on what to do about their financial problems. The lead paragraph put it succinctly: “One lawyer and nine law students, charging $6 per case, have cornered a major share of the market of personal bankruptcy cases in the District of Columbia.” Clinic head Richard Willis explained that while his students handled no business bankruptcies, they had thus far helped 52 individuals “who have gone way over their heads and need to get out of a cycle of bad debts.”

The Night School Controversy

Divisive issues, while they sometimes put student and faculty at odds, occasionally brought alumni and trustees into the fray. Such was the “night school” controversy.

This debate wasn’t really about closing down evening classes, although it veered in that direction. It was about whether part-time students should meet the same academic standards as full-time students. Because the standards were allegedly lower for part-time admittees-and most of them attended evening classes-the controversy was misperceived as an attack on the “night school,” rather than as an effort to upgrade standards.

Long smoldering, the debate over the future of GW’s “evening division” first surfaced in 1978 when a self study headed by Professor Glen Weston refuted a nationwide study that characterized law schools with evening divisions as inherently second-rank, less prestigious than those without. Weston countered that while “evening programs” elsewhere might be substandard, GW’s attracted students who were mature, ambitious, and highly motivated. And in keeping with the times, he noted they also offered opportunities for minority students to enter the profession. Nor were evening students, as some charged, more prone to lapses in professional ethics. Weston wrote: “We have had our Charles Colson (evening), but Georgetown has had its John Dean (day)...of instances that have come to my attention of disbarment, suspension, or conviction of our graduates in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia, four have involved day graduates and two have involved evening students.” Moreover, if the school dropped its night students, Weston warned, it would have to recruit 300 more day students and raise tuition by about $1,000 a year. The controversy subsided, but only briefly.

In January 1980, The Hatchet reported that although faculty denied it, evening courses were seen to be inferior. Professor Harold Green, whose faculty committee was urging an end to them, pointed to the difficulty of recruiting top-flight faculty and of placing night students with major law firms. The perception of inferiority was “deplorable,” he said, “but a very real one.” Only six of the top 60 law schools still had evening programs.

Weston’s defense apparently failed to convince the faculty. Six years later, they voted overwhelmingly to phase out admissions to the evening division J.D. program. Their decision evoked a storm of protest. An apparent attack on the “night school” brought more than a thousand letters from outraged alumni, spirited testimonials, and angry charges of elitism. The trustees split openly on the issue, and Dean Jerome Barron, caught in the middle, allowed cautiously to The Hatchet that he was “open-minded on it.” Only gradually did the key issue become clear. It was not whether night classes would continue--they would--but whether uniform standards should be applied to all applicants-they should. Once the parties realized that the question was one of standards and not whether classes should meet before or after sunset, they easily “compromised” in favor of uniform standards.

The Race Issue

Nobody said much about the unblinking whiteness of GW’s student (and faculty) population when it began to be noticeable in the ‘40s and ‘50s. Some, like law applicant Daniel Inouye, discovered how fully segregated GW was only after he was admitted. Reminiscing quietly in his Senate office, Inouye told how he had applied to GW’s law school in 1950 more for its location than its reputation. Hawaii was not yet a state, and, though inclined toward a political career, he had no plans for entering Congress. When he found out the campus was segregated, he said his first impulse was to leave. When he asked the dean for an explanation, he was told that the donors whose gifts built the dormitories had stipulated they be segregated. In a later, more enlightened era, Inouye became a trustee of the University. In 1968, GW and New York University received the first Office of Economic Opportunity grants to set up poverty law programs. That same year, as the wave of student activism crested-the National Law Center undertook a vigorous campaign to recruit minorities.

Three years later, its 61 black students placed it second only to Harvard in numbers. Successful recruitment, however, came not without attendant controversy.

In 1974, black students filed a complaint with the D.C. Human Rights Commission, charging they had been victimized by discriminatory grading practices; failing grades among blacks had been disproportionately high. Specifically, the complaint alluded to “professors who are known by all black be biased in their appraisal of blacks’ academic work.” Dean Edward Potts flatly denied the charge, stating, “I do not know of any member of this faculty who would discriminate against blacks in grading,” and cited the “anonymous” grading system as proof against its occurring. The complaint went on to recount student efforts to get statistics on grading disparities-statistics which Potts said were not available. If disparities did exist, Potts suggested they lay in the somewhat lower admission standards for disadvantaged minorities. “I don’t feel defensive about our [recruiting] program,” he said. “It’s been a damned honest effort to provide an opportunity to those who would not have had a chance.” A year later the complaint was quietly dropped.

In early 1979, a stalled dean search outside the University led Elliott to appoint Professor Jerome Barron as dean, an insider whose appointment, though confirmed by the search committee and subsequently by the faculty, raised charges that the president had acted “autocratically.” Those who complained made clear their quarrel was not with Barron, for whom, The Hatchet reported, they had “the greatest personal respect,” but with the administration. Faculty fussing aside it was Barron who led the school through its stormy “night school” controversy and presided over its major expansion of physical plant.

The National Law Center

Christened in 1959, the National Law Center was an idea looking for a home. President Marvin’s original plan had a certain grandeur. On May 10, 1949, when he told the law alumni his plans for a National Law Center, the president said he envisioned building eight- stories tall covering an entire city block. Academically, his plans envisioned an aggregation of “judges, lawyers of all specialties, teachers, and both graduate and undergraduate law students, who would come together to work on problems not only affecting the entire profession, but also the welfare of the nation.” Early planners admitted from the outset that the “financial aspects” had not yet been worked out. It took Marvin four years to initiate a fund-raising campaign, but once it started he promised construction would begin in 1955.

Time passed and funding efforts lagged. In May 1960, Dean Charles Nutting predicted completion by 1965, the law school’s centennial year. Explaining past delays, Nutting noted how steeply construction costs had risen. Marvin’s 1949 estimate of $4.5 million, he noted, was now closer to $10 million. Twenty years later, when Lloyd Elliott decided to set aside Marvin’s plans altogether, the guesstimate had climbed to $25 million. Had it been built , the center building would have been located “in the area bordered by Pennsylvania Avenue.”

When Elliott decided instead to build brackets on Stockton Hall, faculty were quick to claim they had been left out of the planning process. Albeit briefly, they joined in one of those time-honored disputes as to where the line should be drawn between faculty consultation and final decision making. Only briefly, however. Faced with Elliott’s fait accompli, they and the Student Bar Association promptly came forward with a “needs list” (more offices, library reading space, carpeting, etc.).

Building plans finally came to fruition in the spring of 1984. Where Bacon Hall had once leaned comfortably against the north side of Stockton, the Theodore Lerner building opened for classes at the corner of H and 20th. It provided eight new classrooms, a moot courtroom, and space for the dean’s executive suite. At the south end of Stockton, meanwhile, the new Jacob Burns Law Library was already in use. A Washington Post architecture critic dubbed the ensemble “the most progressive piece of architecture and urban design commissioned by GW since the building boom began there a decade ago.” To some, such flattery seemed a bit qualified, but others might recall that Stockton Hall, now sandwiched north and south by $16 million worth of new architecture, had been the second building erected on the G Street campus back in 1925.

In 1994, the law school campus received another edifice--the old president’s house at 2003 G St. The building housed the law school admission offices and the Environmental Lawyer. Across the street, at 2000 G Street, was a town house that served as the headquarters for GW’s legal clinics. Two doors down, another town house served as the headquarters for GW’s law review. Students also benefited from renovated and spectacularly comfortable lounges in which to study and from an increased number of study spaces in the library. The law school had become a well-appointed place.

Although scholarly pre-eminence may excite less notice than flashy clinical programs, the National Law Center so dominates certain specialized fields that GW has become, for many aspiring attorneys, their school of choice. Its law program in government procurement, for example, is one of a kind and, not surprisingly, given the National Law Center’s Washington location, constitutes one of the center’s four major degree programs. Co-directed by Frederick Lees and Joshua Schwartz, the program has its own mini-center, which publishes standard works for teaching and reference in the government procurement field.

Not unique, but certainly one of the first, Professor Arnold Rietze’s environmental law program is now in its 25th year. Rietze, who joined the faculty in 1967 and whose research focuses on the legal means of dealing with polluted air, water, and hazardous waste, has been credited with creating at GW one of the most comprehensive environmental law programs in the country; it attracts some of the best-qualified students in the field. Also bidding for the nation’s “most comprehensive” is the National Law Center’s program in international and comparative law. Headed by Thomas Buergenthal, former dean of American University’s law school, the program offers more than 20 courses in the field. Buergenthal, who joined the law faculty in 1967, holds the Lobingier professorship. A Holocaust survivor, he has been a prominent writer and advocate for the protection of international human rights. As an activist, he served as a judge and later as president of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. He was also a member of the Truth Commission on El Salvador. The program he heads encourages students to exploit the abundance of professional opportunities that beckon them from dozens of nearby international agencies.

The Intellectual Property Law Program, the National Law Center’s fourth major program, is the nation’s largest. It can claim ancestry from a single class in patent law first taught at GW in 1891 by the commissioner of patents. Today, because protecting intellectual property is no longer just a matter of domestic concern, its director, Harold Wegner, routinely places students in overseas research positions and is himself active in United Nations’ efforts to create a model global patent law.

Among more than 60 full-time faculty, three are former law school deans and six hold endowed professorships. Jerome Barron, who fits both categories, is a national authority on First Amendment law and, in company with fellow law professor Thomas Dienes, publishes widely in the fields of civil rights and constitutional law. Thomas Morgan, former dean of Emory Law School and one-time president of the Association of American Law Schools, holds a professorship in anti-trust law and has published a widely used casebook in professional responsibility. Professors William Painter, David Seidelson, and Stephen Saltzburg hold other endowed professorships. Saltzburg also runs the center’s trial advocacy program.

Specialists, many of whose casebooks are required reading for law students around the country, include David Sharpe (admiralty law), Leroy Merrifield and Charles Craver (labor law), Lewis Solomon (corporations, trusts, and federal taxation), Andrew Spanogole (consumer protection), Peter Raven-Hansen (national security law), and Ira Lupu, who publishes on legal issues relating to the religious establishment. The National Law Center’s present dean, Jack Friedenthal, is well known for treatises on evidence and civil procedure. For live audiences beyond the classroom, Professor Mary Cheh projects the familiar presence of a regular commentator on national public television and radio, and James Starrs appears in the media whenever controversial forensic evidence comes under public scrutiny.

Because distinction has a price tag, the center owes much to the generosity of its alumni. Jacob Burns, LL.B ‘24, LL.D. ‘70, who was a wealthy New York attorney, over the years gave more than $7 million to his alma mater. A former trustee of the University, he was long active in law school affairs. The Jacob Burns Law Library now houses a research collection of approximately 400,000 volumes.

Other benefactors include Lyle and Freda Alverson, whose bequest of $7.5 million, arriving in 1986, provided enough endowment to fund three junior faculty positions and four endowed chairs. Following his graduation in 1918, Lyle Alverson joined other young idealists, like William C. Bullitt and John Foster Dulles, to make up part of Woodrow Wilson’s entourage during the Paris peace negotiations. Subsequently, Alverson prospered in the investment business in New York, and for many years during his retirement, headed the Sun Coast chapter of the GW law school alumni association. The Class of 1950 produced another generous benefactor in the person of Theodore Lerner, whose career as a real estate developer in suburban Maryland and Virginia produced the gift that built Lerner Hall. Dedicated in 1984, it was the center’s first new classroom building to be erected on campus since the completion of Stockton Hall nearly a half century earlier.

An Obsession With Ratings

Practicing attorneys are supposed to be competitive, but perhaps no less so than law schools’ preoccupation with where they rank with respect to rivals. Sometimes they just have to settle for being “among” the “best.” Here are some samplings in GW’s favor:

1900: GW draws prestige from becoming a charter member of the American Association of Law Schools.

1933: GW law school is rated as Class A by the Council on Legal Education of the American Bar Association, putting it in company with those of Harvard, Yale, Columbia, and Michigan, (GW is still admitting persons with two years of college, but boasts that 60 percent have B.A.s)

1978: A survey by the National Law Journal places GW 14th nationwide, a ranking based on selectivity. Only 21.69 percent of its applicants are admitted.

1983: GW law graduates are ranked “superior” in a survey conducted by University of Florida Law Professor Scott Van Alstyne, who used such criteria as selective admissions, college grades, standardized test scores, faculty salaries, and funding. (Van Alstyne tried to have the last word. He gave the “superior” rating to graduates of 36 schools, but dismissed the idea that schools could be ranked “like a 10 football poll.” Taken as a group, he wrote, the top 36 “all produce superior lawyers.”)

1987: National Law Center graduates outdistance all others--including those from Georgetown, American, Harvard--in passing the Maryland Bar Exam (an 87 percent pass rate).

1990: U.S. News and World Report gives the NLC its highest rating ever--23rd in a national survey comparing reputation, selectivity, placement, and instructional resources. (Dean Jack Friedenthal’s deanly reaction: “I’m pleased, but I’m not satisfied...We stand weak [in the listing] on resources.”)

However outsiders may compare its standing with others, the National Law Center can look with pride at what it has done for itself. In the past 30 years, the number of applications has increased tenfold; and of those admitted, the level of percentile in the Law School Admission Test has risen from 45 to 90.

Changing Standards: A Retrospective

As has been suggested, concerns about financial resources--both those of the school and those of its students--have mingled with worries about meeting national standards. When the school first opened in 1865, evening classes were the rule, and standards were minimal. To earn a Bachelor of Laws degree, students attended hour-long evening classes three times a week. By 1950, a three-year curriculum had become the norm. Full-time day students now spent 14 hours a week in class for six semesters; part-time evening students took 10 hours a week for eight semesters. These norms, here and elsewhere, reflected a country-wide tightening of standards that began in the 1950s, and went on for two decades. Upgrading also put an end to a good many unaccredited institutions. Here in the District in 1954, the GW Law School took over the National Law School, while American University absorbed the Washington College of Law. By 1970, the American Bar Association and the American Association of Law Schools reported they had very nearly achieved their goal of nationwide standardization. Critics, however, claimed the result had been to produce a large number of second-level schools with fewer elite institutions.

Changes of Venue

Rather than try to incorporate each relocation of the law school into the text, we offer a simple listing of its successive sites:

Locations of the Law School:

1865-1884: The Columbian Law Building at 416 5th Street, N.W. in the Old Trinity Church facing Judiciary Square. After 1884, this building was rented as office space, torn down afterwards, and the University built a modern office building known as the Columbian Building which was also rented as office space.

1884-1899: Occupied space in the first floor of the University Building at the southeast corner of 15th and H Streets, N.W., on the site of the present Woodward Building. The law lecture hall could seat 500.

1899-1910: A new building three-story, adjoining the University Building on H Street was completed; the site of which is now also occupied by the Woodward Building.

1910-1920: (Early fall of 1910 to summer of 1920) – Occupied space on the 5th and 6th floors of the Masonic Temple, 801 13th Street and New York Avenue, N.W. (now the Museum for Women in the Arts).

1920-1925: A remodeled, four-story building formerly owned by the Justice Department, on 1435 K St., N.W., and facing McPherson Square. Classrooms accommodated 1,000 students.

August 1925-1984: Stockton Hall, 20th Street between G and H Streets, N.W.

1984-Present: Stockton and Lerner Halls, and the Burns Law Library.

Adapted from the article on the School of Law in From Strength to Strength: A Pictorial History of The George Washington University. Reprinted with Permission, September 1996.

See also: National Law Center Records/RG0014[1]

Document Information

Images: 1
Photographic Credit: GW University Historical Photographs Collection
Author or Source: University Archives subject files
Document Location: University Archives
Date Added to Encyclopedia: December 21, 2006
Prepared by: G. David Anderson

For more information about GW history


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