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Law School (University of Michigan) records: 1852-2010
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The University of Michigan Law School was founded on October 5, 1859, although provision for a department of law had been made in 1837 in the act establishing the university. Called the Law Department until 1915, it was almost immediately considered the premier institution of legal education in the Midwest.[1] One of the first three departments in the university, it held its first classes eighteen years after the Department of Literature, Science and the Arts opened, and nine years after the Department of Medicine began its classes.

The Deans

The original faculty consisted of James V. Campbell, then Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court; Charles I. Walker, a Detroit lawyer; and Thomas M. Cooley, an attorney in Adrian. In 1866, Michigan became the first Law School in the country to add a fourth faculty member, Ashley Pond.[2] The faculty's first action in 1859 was to elect Judge Campbell to the deanship, and Professor Cooley to the position of Secretary of the Faculty. As the Supreme Court's case load became greater, Judge Campbell had to resign the deanship in 1871, and his position on the faculty in 1885.

One of the most well-respected lawyers of his time was Professor Cooley, who became dean in 1871 and continued until 1883. During his tenure, Michigan attracted more students than the Harvard Law School (at the time, no student was declined admission to either school). A Jacksonian and a Progressive, Cooley professed law and lawyers to be mediators between the elite and those with little power, which belief stood him opposed to his contemporaries at Yale and Harvard.[3] Despite Cooley's considerable lasting influence, Michigan eventually followed the lead of Harvard and developed a system of meritocracy--most prominently represented by the case-method of teaching law--during Henry Bates' deanship in the early twentieth century.

In 1883, Charles A. Kent was appointed dean, followed by Henry Wade Rogers in 1886. Rogers left the position in 1891 to become the president of Northwestern University, and he later served as the dean of the Yale Law School. The methods of instruction during the next two deanships included lectures, as before, but these were increasingly supplemented with study of law treatises. These two deans were Jerome C. Knowlton (1891-1895), and Harry Burns Hutchins (1895-1910). The Michigan Law Journal began publication in 1892, and was replaced in 1902 by the Michigan Law Review. Both publications added to the intellectual vitality of the Law School. Hutchins became acting president of the university in 1909, and the Regents appointed George L. Clark to assist with his duties at the Law Department.[4] Hutchins accepted the presidency of the university in 1910, and Henry M. Bates became dean.

Under Henry M. Bates, the case system, first instituted at Harvard University, was put into effect. Bates, whose tenure lasted from 1910 through 1939, was also responsible for hiring faculty he was confident were "legal scholars in the highest sense of the term," and who held a Bachelor of Laws degree, and, later, Juris Doctor or Doctor of the Science of Law degrees,[5] thus raising the standard of education at the Law School.

The Bates years also saw the construction of the Law Quadrangle, which was largely made possible by a gift from William W. Cook. Cook, an alumnus of the Law School (Class of 1882) and a corporate lawyer in New York, had donated the funds to build the Martha Cook dormitory for women students in 1914. His plans to fund an undergraduate men's dormitory had fallen through, when President Hutchins told him about the need for a dormitory for law students. Hutchins fell ill, and Dean Bates continued the negotiations, which resulted in the construction, over a period of thirteen years, of the four buildings that make up the Law Quadrangle--The Lawyer's Club, John P. Cook Building, Legal Research Building, and Hutchins Hall.

Cook's gifts--including the revenue received from the Lawyer's Club, and the substantial endowment he left to the Law School when he died in 1930--helped bolster and sustain the legal research at the University of Michigan in a manner unmatched by the financial resources of any other law school until much later.

E. Blythe Stason was appointed to succeed Dean Bates in 1939. He served as dean until 1960. When World War II broke out, the law students shared the Law Quad with the Judge Advocate General School of the U.S. Army. Nearly 2,800 students were part of this program at one time or another. After 1945, under the guidance and skill of the faculty and dean, the case system of the previous generation was modified and strengthened with course problems, text materials, term papers, seminars, and individual research and writing. Also during this generation, research programs were inaugurated and developed with the assistance of grants from the Ford Foundation, The Phoenix Memorial Project, and the William W. Cook legal research fund.

Since the 1950s, the deans have become increasingly concerned with the administration of the Law School. In 1956, Dean Stason recommended to the Board of Regents a reorganization of the administration, which had formerly consisted of the dean, a secretary of the faculty, and a recorder. The secretary was replaced by an assistant dean, and an associate dean was added to advise the dean on recruitment and budget planning, and to handle alumni relations. Since that time, positions have been added intermittently, and in 2000, the Law School administrative structure included the dean, the assistant to the dean, and his administrative associate, two associate deans--for academic affairs and clinical affairs--five assistant deans--for international programs, admissions, development and alumni relations, and two assistant deans for student services--a human resources officer, and directors of the legal practice program, the library, the office of public service, career planning and placement, financial aid, and information technology.

Because the deanship is such a time-consuming position and also due to the physical and mental pressures that accompany the post, the faculty also recommended that the person holding the position of dean be rotated more frequently. No one since Stason has held the deanship for longer than 9 years.

Dean Allan F. Smith again raised the bar on the intellectual standards of the school during his 1960 to 1965 term. Long known for the highest caliber of practical education, the faculty developed further its intellectual credentials, and throughout the 60s and 70s, the University of Michigan was ranked among the top three law schools in the country.

Charles W. Joiner was acting dean from 1965 through 1966, when Francis Allen was appointed to the position. Under Dean Allen, faculty research moved toward broader intellectual problems,[6] and toward interdisciplinary and empirical work. Andrew Watson's class, Law and Psychiatry, was first offered in 1960/61, but several new interdisciplinary classes were offered over the course of Dean Allen's, and later Dean St. Antoine's, terms. Further, many more traditional classes began incorporating materials from other fields during this time.

One of Dean Theodore J. St. Antoine's major responsibilities during his tenure, beginning in 1971, was to raise the $10 million necessary to construct the new addition to the law library. He and William J. Pierce, the chair of the Building Committee, conducted a rigorous search for an architect who could reconcile the alumni's opposing interests in a building that would be architecturally stunning, but would not clash with the Gothic quality of the extant Law Quadrangle, with which many alumni were emotionally invested. They awarded the contract to Gunnar Birkerts, a Michigan architect whose previous building challenges the committee found successfully met, and who was personally involved in every step of the planning and construction of his works.[7] When St. Antoine felt the fund-raising and planning were complete, in 1978, he resigned the deanship. The Allen F. and Alene Smith Library addition was completed in 1981, and complements the Gothic architecture of the Quad without interfering.

The three most recent deans have been Terrance Sandalow (1978-1987); Lee C. Bollinger (1987-1994), who resigned to become Provost of Dartmouth College, and two years later became President of the University of Michigan; and Jeffrey S. Lehman (1994-the present).

The Students

The first graduating class of the Law School in 1860 numbered 24 students. By 1900, enrollment was 837. During the first 40 years the Law School granted 6,210 degrees. Enrollment in the Fall semester of 2000 was 1124 students.

Sarah Killgore Wertman was the first woman to be admitted to the Law School in 1870--the census reported 5 women lawyers in the United States at this time.[8] By 1910, nearly 40 women had received their LL.B. degrees from the University of Michigan.

Also in 1870, Gabriel F. Hargo became the first African-American to graduate from the Law School. However, in 1965/66, administrators at the school became aware that there was not a single black person in the student body.[9] The faculty took it upon themselves to begin a program for the recruitment of minority students. Though there was not a quota, minority enrollment remained near the target of ten percent of the student body. When the university adopted its affirmative action program in 1972, however, there was much contention in the Law School over whether the faculty should sign its agreement, since they felt that their method was successful.[10] They did eventually adopt the university's program. The Law School was sued in 1997 by the Center for Individual Rights (CIR) on behalf of a white student who was denied admission. The CIR claims that the affirmative action program was at fault, and was unconstitutional. The case made it to the courts in 2001.

Requirements for admission and graduation have been slowly evolving since the Law School opened in 1859. Until 1883, the law course was one year long--then, until 1895, two years--and at the successful completion, the Bachelor of Laws degree, or LL.B., was conferred. In 1895, the graduation requirements were changed to three-years of study. The Juris Doctor or Doctor of Laws degree (J.D.), offered previously only to outstanding recipients of the LL.B., replaced the LL.B. entirely in 1967.

In October 1889, the graduate program in law was established by the Regents of the university. One year of graduate study, following presentation of an LL.B., resulted in the degree of Master of Laws, or LL.M. The Doctor of Juridical Science degree (S.J.D.), later known as Doctor of the Science of Law, was instituted in 1925. Applicants were required to present the LL.B. or J.D. degree from an approved institution, and to spend one year at Michigan in graduate study. The school also required its students to submit a thesis within two years after the year in residence, and upon its approval, the S.J.D. degree was granted. In 1957, the Master of Comparative Law degree (M.C.L.) was instituted.

The graduate degrees were originally earned by law students interested in teaching at a law school. In the 1950s, American lawyers were taking teaching posts without advanced degrees, earning entry onto faculties by other means. Soon, students from the United States were getting fewer graduate law degrees, and eighty percent of the graduate students at the Law School were from foreign countries.

The first admissions standards at the Law Department consisted of requirements that the prospective student be over eighteen, and submit a "certificate" of his high moral character.[11] These standards remained in effect for twenty years, and not until 1880 was an examination instituted "... to ascertain whether their education is such as fairly to warrant their admission."[12] The next year, the requirement was amended to allow a student with a college diploma to waive the examination, which covered the subjects "Arithmetic, Geography, Orthography, English Composition, and the outlines of the History of the United States, and of England."[13] These subjects were revised and expanded in 1897, and then replaced in 1912 by the requirement of one year of college work, and, in 1915, by two years of college. In 1926, the requirement was raised to three years of work in an approved institution; and in 1928, it was again increased so that an applicant needed either a B.A. or an equivalent degree from an approved institution, or could enter on a combined curriculum in literature, science, and the arts and law. In 1930, provision was made to include the six-year combined curriculum in engineering and law. The Law School Admission Test was added to these requirements in 1949.

The Faculty

The University of Michigan Law School has had an international reputation in many areas of law at different times throughout its history.

James Campbell and Thomas Cooley, both judges of the Supreme Court of Michigan, began this distinguished tradition. During the 19th century, most legal writing--across the country and at Michigan--was more descriptive than analytical, and Campbell was known as an exception.[14] Cooley was also chairman of the Interstate Commerce Commission, and outspoken in the theory of legal education, as mentioned above, as well as administrative law, constitutional law, and general law.

Alpheus Felch taught at the school from 1879 to 1883. He was Governor of Michigan from 1846 until 1847, which post he resigned when elected to the United States Senate. He was a Senator until 1853.

From 1891, when the first Michigan faculty member--Marshall Ewell--published a casebook[15]--until 1960, faculty research was directed mostly toward writing casebooks for use in classrooms at Michigan and across the country. One notable exception was Edson Sunderland who taught at the school from 1904 to 1944; his has been described as a "genuinely modern conception of research."[16] Also a master of the Socratic method,[17] Sunderland in 1927 became the first to hold a professorship in legal research. He specialized in procedure, and was a prolific and influential writer, arguing for such reforms as declaratory judgments before trial, discovery, and the simplification of the appellate record.

Some of the key individuals responsible for helping to develop the international reputation of the international law program at Michigan include Edwin Dickinson, faculty member from 1919 to 1933; Henry Bates; and Hobart Coffey, faculty member and Director of the Law Library from 1926 to 1966. Though international law courses and courses such as admiralty were offered before Dickinson joined the faculty, he was responsible for forming those courses into a vital and important program for the school. Bates and Coffey were responsible for the expansion of international materials in the library, which the dean suggested to Coffey after World War I. This international focus of the library contributed to the School's reputation for international legal studies, and helped to attract many students and influential scholars to Michigan.

Since then, the Michigan faculty has continued to uphold the reputation of the school for an excellent international legal studies program. Hessel Yntema taught at Michigan from 1933 until 1961, distinguishing himself, and the school, in comparative law and conflicts of law. In 1951, he founded the American Journal of Comparative Law, and served as its editor-in-chief. William Warner Bishop, Jr., faculty member from 1948 to 1976, again reset the bar on standards for the international law program.[18] Bishop was internationally recognized for being editor-in-chief of the American Journal of International Law, the first professional journal of its kind in the country. The Ford Foundation for International Legal Studies grant in 1954, administered by Dean Stason, funded several research projects over the ten-year span of the grant. It also made possible the hiring of three professors in international law: Eric Stein, Whitmore Gray, and John Jackson. Stein, a faculty member from 1955 to 1990, offered the first European Common Market class in the world--Europeans traveled to Michigan to take the course. Jackson, a faculty member from 1966 to 1998, effectively invented the field of International Trade Law.[19]

Labor law has also been a strong point in the Michigan Law School. In the early 1970s, the faculty included three labor law specialists--Russel Smith, a faculty member from 1937 to 1972; Theodore St. Antoine, 1965-1998; and Harry Edwards, 1970-1976--who each never wanted for students in their classrooms.

Several other individuals have left their mark on legal study through the Michigan Law School. William Wirt Blume studied U.S. territorial law and court systems throughout his years on the faculty from 1931 to 1963, and finished his Transactions of the Supreme Court of the Territory of Michigan in 1935. Paul Kauper, on the faculty from 1936 to 1974, was a leader in constitutional law, especially religious liberty and church-state relations. When S. Chesterfield Oppenheim arrived at Michigan, he already had an excellent reputation in anti-trust law, and he continued to be a prolific writer during his years on this faculty, covering the years from 1952 to 1966.

Alan N. Polasky was on the Michigan faculty from 1957 until his death in 1976. Also an accountant, his areas of legal expertise were rules of evidence and estate law. During Frank Kennedy's years at the Law School, from 1961 to 1984, he was considered the preeminent scholar on bankruptcy law. His leadership in several conferences and commissions helped to shape bankruptcy law in the United States, including the Bankruptcy Reform Act of 1978. Yale Kamisar, who joined the faculty in 1965, has been said to have created the field of Constitutional Criminal Procedure,[20] which involves the Miranda Law.

Joseph Sax, a faculty member from 1966 to 1986, was a leader in the new field of environmental law. He wrote the original draft of the Michigan Environmental Protection Act of 1970. Joseph Vining has become known for writing on the more philosophical aspects of the law, since he joined the faculty in 1969. Before Catherine MacKinnon was hired by Lee Bollinger in 1990, the Michigan faculty had little background in Critical Legal Theory. Now, her work in feminist legal theory is a part of the legal canon. [21]


Since its peak in 1971/72 of 1207 students, the Law School has kept enrollment under 1200 through a strict admissions policy. Though the School is no longer growing in numbers, it is a dynamic institution, with a reputation matched by few others.

Deans of the Law School

1859-1871 James V. Campbell
1871-1883 Thomas M. Cooley
1883-1886 Charles A. Kent
1886-1891 Henry Wade Rogers
1891-1895 Jerome C. Knowlton
1895-1910 Harry Burns Hutchins
1910-1939 Henry M. Bates
1939-1960 E. Blythe Stason
1960-1965 Allan F. Smith
1965-1966 Charles W. Joiner (Acting)
1966-1971 Francis Allen
1971-1978 Theodore J. St. Antoine
1978-1987 Terrance Sandalow
1987-1994 Lee C. Bollinger
1994-2003 Jeffrey S. Lehman
2003-2013 Evan H. Caminker
2013- Mark D. West

Photographs of the Law School Deans and other images of the Law Quad are available at the Law School Exhibit at the Bentley Historical Library web site at


End Notes

  1. [1] Henry Wade Rogers, "The Law Department of Michigan University" inWestern Jurist, 3:129-133 (1869).
  2. [2] Robert Stevens Law School: Legal Education in America from the 1850s to the 1980s (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1983), 71 (n.90), and Elizabeth Gaspar Brown, Legal Education at Michigan, 1859-1959 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Law School, 1959), 469.
  3. [3] Carrington, Paul D.Stewards of Democracy: Law as a Public Profession. Boulder: Westview Press, 1999.
  4. [4] Regents of the University of MichiganRegents' Proceedings.
  5. [5] University of Michigan Office of the PresidentPresident's Report, 1929-1930, 167-168. Quoted in Brown,Legal Education at Michigan, 81.
  6. [6] University of Michigan, Bentley Historical LibraryUniversity of Michigan Law School Oral History Interviews, Theodore J. St. Antoine Interview, tape 4B, p.18.
  7. [7] Ibid., tape 6B, p.17.
  8. [8] StevensLaw School, 83.
  9. [9] Lowenhaupt, Charles A., "The Law School: 1940-1973." In Box 3University of Michigan Law School Publications, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
  10. [10] St. Antoine Interview, tape 4B, p.25-tape 5A, p.4
  11. [11] Burke A. Hinsdale, "A History of the Law Department of the University." In Box 3University of Michigan Law School Publications, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
  12. [12] University Catalogue, 1880-1881. Quoted in Brown,Legal Education at Michigan, 719.
  13. [13] Ibid., 1881-1882.
  14. [14] Brown, Elizabeth, "The Law School of the University of Michigan: 1859-1984, An Intellectual History," 1985, p.3. In Box 3University of Michigan Law School Publications, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
  15. [15] Ibid., p.3.
  16. [16] Alfred F. Conard Interview, tape 2A, p.1 in theUniversity of Michigan Law School Oral History Interviews, Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan.
  17. [17] Eric Stein Interview, tape 1A, p.20, ibid.
  18. [18] Ibid., tape 2A p.46.
  19. [19] St. Antoine Interview, tape 3B, p.23, ibid.
  20. [20] Ibid., tape 3B, p.23.
  21. [21] Bartlett, Katherine T. "Feminist Canon," inLegal Canons, J.M. Balkin and Sanford Levinson, eds. New York: New York University Press, 2000.