Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Thursday, June 18, 2009


Page 7



Los Angeles Finally Gets Its Own Law School—but Circumstances Aren’t Right




“It is time that a law school should be established in Los Angeles,” an editorial in the March 12, 1890 issue of the Los Angeles Times proclaims.

It lauds the series of lectures being presented through the Los Angeles Law Students Assn. but opines that the talks “should be supplemented by the founding of a school or college where our rising attorneys may learn the ethics and the fundamental principles, as well as the rules of practice of their profession.”

The editorial came on the heels of a committee report to the Los Angeles Bar Assn., mentioned here Monday, urging that the organization take steps to inaugurate a law school, if only in rudimentary form. The association embraced the idea, and told the committee to get the project started.

What happened? Nothing. This was one of the false starts in the effort to open a law school here.

Julian Beck, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge from 1959-75, pointed to the probable reason “the project collapsed.” He did so in an unpublished 1935 thesis prepared in partial fulfillment of the requirements for obtaining a master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s History Department. (Beck attained his MA that year, the same year he received his LL.B from Loyola.) The manuscript by the 30-year-old Beck says in a footnote:

“The Los Angeles Bar Association had been disorganized during the years 1891-1899. This, perhaps, may have been the reason for the failure of the Committee to do its work.”

(In 1899, the association was rejuvenated. It had elected officers in 1891—with Frank H. Howard, son of the late Volney Howard, a past DA, being chosen president—but it held no more elections until its rebound in 1899. Frank Howard remained president even after he disappeared in 1896 following his theft of law library funds. The organization was not totally inactive during its sluggish years; special meetings were now and then called at which it passed resolutions in tribute to deceased judges and lawyers, it counseled the governor on whom to appoint to judicial vacancies; and, through a committee, advised whether applications for admission to practice law before the Los Angeles Superior Court should be granted.)

For awhile, it looked as if a law school would be set up in Pasadena in 1891. That was the plan of Amos Throop, who would be the benefactor and president of Throop University.

             On Aug. 31, articles of incorporation were filed, with one of the stated purposes being the establishment of a “College of law.”

An item in the Times on Sept. 9, 1891, says:

“A number of young men from Pasadena have expressed their determination to enter the law department of the Throop, which augurs a large class for this branch of the university.”

An ad in that newspaper on Oct. 9, 1891, solicits students for the planned College of Letters and Science, as well as the forthcoming “COLLEGE OF LAW; MUSICAL INSTITUTE; ART STUDIO: PREPARATORY DEPARTMENT; STENOGRAPHY AND TYPEWRITING; ELOCUTION; PHYSICAL CULTURE; GYMNASIUM.”

I’d venture a guess that most readers have never heard of Throop University. Certainly, there’s no “Throop School of Law.” So, it might well be supposed that the big plans for such a learning center fizzled. Not so. Although a law school was not established at Throop, the university did come into existence on Nov. 2, 1891. Sources differ as to whether the initial number of students was 31 or 35.

At that time, Throop was a cross between a trade school and an academic institution.

It endured. It’s been known since 1920 as the California Institute of Technology…or Caltech.

For whatever reason, an editorial comment in the Oakland Tribune on Oct 5, 1891, elevated Throop above USC in significance, alluding, matter-of-factly, to “the newly endowed Throop University at Pasadena” as among the state’s institutions of higher learning, while going out of its way to denigrate USC as “a limping sort of so-called university at Los Angeles.”

Plans were made for another law school, to be called the “Southern California College of Law.” Historian W.W. Robinson got a bit off the track in this rendition, in his 1959 book, “Lawyers of Los Angeles”:

John W. Mitchell, a Virginian who came to California in 1887 to practice law, sponsored the proposed school and was the president. The plan, announced late in 1891, contemplated instruction through the study of text books and leading cases, together with lectures and “experimental legal experience”—during a one-year or two-year course. Graduates could look forward to receiving a bachelor of laws degree. Lectures were to commence in January of 1892....

If the proposed school fell by the wayside, it is not surprising.

One might well ask: why should anyone even think of starting such a school at a time when admission to practice without schooling was so easy! John W. Mitchell must go down in local history as an idealist. Furthermore, the recession from the great boom of the Eighties was continuing-the panic of 1893 was imminent reason enough for potential lawyers to postpone paying out money for legal instruction.

That implies that the law school never came into existence. But it did.

“The formal opening of the law school was held last night in the Los Angeles Business College rooms under very favorable auspices,” the Los Angeles Herald’s Jan. 6, 1892 edition reports.

The story continues:

“John W. Mitchell delivered the lecture of the evening, ta[l]king very appropriately on his subject The Study of the Law.”

A portion of that speech was published in the Women’s Journal in Boston on Feb. 6 and reprinted in the 1893 book, “Women Free,” published by the Women’s Emancipation Union. Mitchell took a daring stance:

This part of this discourse it is believed would be radically incomplete without calling attention to one other and particular class of persons who need an insight into the rudiments of law—which class, it seems, has also been neglected by those occupying a like position to my own—I mean the women. He is, indeed, blind to the signs of the times who does not recognize the expanding field of women’s work, and their increased influence in the professions as well as in the fine arts. That women are entering the lists with men, in behalf of themselves and womankind, is well; for they must make up their minds to take up the task of urging the reforms they need, and must solve the woman problem in all its bearings. Women are doing this. They are becoming competitors with men in the pursuits of life, it is true ; but it is as much from necessity as choice….The courts are full of cases showing how women have been wrongly stripped of their belongings....

As to the professions: women were for a long time barred from them, but now the barriers to all of them have been removed, and there is not a profession in which women are not distinguished. They have graduated in the sciences from most universities with the highest honours, and have stood the same tests as the men. The law was about the last to admit them within its precincts, and there they are meeting with an unexpected measure of success. Not only in this, but in other countries, there are successful women practitioners. And in France, where the preparatory course is most arduous, and the term of study longest, a woman recently took the highest rank over 500 men in her graduating examinations, and during the whole six years of class study she only lost one day from her work—an example that is commended to you students. Undoubtedly, the weight of the argument is in favour of women studying law.

The Jan. 26, 1892 issue of the Los Angeles Daily Journal observes:

“The Southern California College of Law is now in full blast and is meeting with unexpected encouragement. The lectures so far...have been of a very high class and promise to so continue. The course at present is being conducted by President John W. Mitchell, the lecturer upon common and statute law who is grounding the students in the first principles of law preparatory to the course of lectures to follow by the other members of the faculty and by the special lecturer.”

The Journal article says that enrollments “are between thirty and forty students, and enquiries from prospective students are being received from all the southern country.”

That estimate of the number of students is in contrast to what Beck says in his paper. He recites:

“The enrollment was very small, numbering but from six to twelve students a session.”

It’s odd that Beck referred to the size of the enrollment in connection with a “session.” Was he alluding to the number of attendees at the sessions over the two years the school existed, rather than those enrolled in the school, some of whom might have been ditching classes? Or was it possible to enroll for individual lectures, in the manner of signing up today for an MCLE program?

Was the enrollment higher at the outset than what it levelled off to? The story was written only three weeks after the school opened. Or did the Daily Journal reporter count the total number of persons present at the initial sessions—which were open, at no cost, to members of the bar and law students who were not enrolled in the college?

Beck based his statements largely on interviews he conducted about 42 years after the school closed. On the other hand, the persons he talked with would have had intimate knowledge of the matters they discussed.

I don’t have an answer. Information about the Southern California College of Law is scarce. The only source I’ve come across other than newspaper archives and Beck’s manuscript that makes any reference to it is a 1951 article in the quarterly of the Historical Society of Southern California which says that “in January, 1892, the first law college on the city was opened by the Los Angeles Business College.”

Actually, that isn’t altogether accurate. The law school utilized facilities of the business college, at 144 S. Main Street, but was not “opened” by it; it was not affiliated with it.

Even the loose association that did exist was enough to spell failure for Mitchell’s enterprise, as Beck’s paper tells it. It says that members of the local bar “felt the ethical standards of the profession might be  lowered if instruction were given by an institution which was associated with a commercialized business school.”

The thesis of the future Democratic floor leader in the Assembly and future jurist continues:

“For a similar reason, the law students failed to enroll in the college. They did not relish attending a school which was likely to have profits rather than the welfare of the student as its incentive. Neither did they desire to attend a school which was looked upon with disfavor by the local legal group. It would be better, they thought, to remain in a law students’ association than to spend time, effort, and money in an institution based upon such a precarious foundation.”

A typical classified ad for the “LOS ANGELES BUSINESS COLLEGE AND ENGLISH TRAINING SCHOOL” is one appearing in the April 26, 1892, issue of the Times. It mentions that the school is “supplemented by the So. California College of Law” and that the school provides training in “bookkeeping, penmanship, banking, shorthand, typewriting, telegraphy, business letter-writing, law and arithmetic, geography, grammar spelling, rapid calculation and business forms.”

The law school lacked credibility.

Today’s column and the last one stand as corrections to my previous statement that among the law schools of the state, the one at USC was “the first in Southern California and the second in the state.”

Plainly, the first in Southern California was the Southern California College of Law. Well, er, at least the first in Los Angeles.

Or is even that much plain? Doubtful though it is, under Mexican rule, this pueblo, a pueblo often labelled “sleepy,” could have been the site of legal training for the alcalde here and those of nearby pueblos. ¿Quien sabe?

In mathematics, there is certainty; in history there’s haziness, guesswork, and a whole lot of inaccuracy.

This correction continues in the next column.


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