Order of the Coif
The American order that bears this name is the outgrowth of an earlier society known as Theta Kappa Nu. This society was founded at the University of Illinois in 1902 for the purpose of promoting scholarship among American law students. The Michigan chapter of Theta Kappa Nu came into existence on November 15, 1910, when a charter was granted to a group of students desirous of organizing an honorary scholastic society in the University of Michigan Law School. The charter members were Arthur J. Abbott, Howard L. Barkdull, McKee Robison, and John S. Prescott, of the Law class of 1911 and Samuel H. Roberts, who was a graduate of the Law Department at the University in 1907.
Theta Kappa Nu had a slow growth, and in 1910 had but six chapters. In the meantime, in 1907, there had been organized at the Law School of Northwestern University a local society having the same object, which took the name Order of the Coif. The undergraduate members of the Order of the Coif in 1910 accepted a charter from Theta Kappa Nu. In 1911 the delegates to a national convention of Theta Kappa Nu decided to submit to the chapters for adoption not only a thoroughly revised national constitution but also a recommendation that the name be changed to the Order of the Coif. The constitution and change of name were ratified by the chapters and, thus, in February, 1912, the first national organization of the Order of the Coif was effected. Today, there are in Page 1945existence forty-six chapters of the order.
The name for this order was derived from an English order of the same name that was one of the most ancient and one of the most honored institutions of the common law. The English order was a small and exclusive association of lawyers from whose members the judges of the Court of Common Pleas, the King's Bench, and the Exchequer were appointed. "Coif" was the word used to designate the cap which all the members of the order were compelled to wear. This close-fitting hood can be seen today in old engravings, pictures, and effigies of distinguished judges and serjeants. With the advent of wigs the "coif" became a piece of white lawn attached to the top of the wig.
The fundamental purpose of the American Order of the Coif is, "to foster a spirit of careful study and to mark in a fitting manner those who have attained a high grade of scholarship." Consistent with such a declared purpose, student membership is limited to those who, in their senior year, rank in the upper 10 per cent of their class. Each spring the faculty members of the order elect the new student members from this group. In addition, each chapter annually may elect one member of the legal profession who has attained distinction to honorary membership in the society. The Michigan chapter has frequently elected outstanding lawyers and judges to such honorary membership.
Membership in the Order of the Coif is the highest scholastic honor that can be bestowed upon the graduates of the University of Michigan Law School. The membership lists include the names of many men and women who later distinguished themselves as lawyers, jurists, educators, legislators, in government office, or in business. Through 1956 seven hundred students have been honored by membership in the Order of the Coif.