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Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Page 7



Was Stanford’s Law School Established Before or After USC’s?




The law schools at both USC and Stanford were not founded quite as early as those institutions portray. Stanford is off by six years and USC by four years. This is the escapable conclusion to be drawn from historical sources, including contemporaneous recordation of events in newspapers.

I set out on June 15 not only to correct my own misstatements about the history of the USC Gould School of Law, but other prevailing misconceptions concerning early legal education in California. This is the fourth part of an extended retraction.

Parroting lore—embodied in seemingly solid sources—I had recited on Jan. 22 that Los Angeles Law School, generally regarded as the progenitor of the USC Gould School of Law, “was the first” law school “in Southern California and the second in the state.” The Los Angeles Law School’s articles of incorporation were filed June 12, 1897. In fact, it was not the first such school here, as I’ve confessed; Southern California College of Law operated in Los Angeles from 1892-94.

The first law school (according to all currently available information) was Hastings in San Francisco, its initial session taking place on Aug. 12, 1878. Given the existence of the Southern California College of Law in 1892, it follows that Los Angeles Law School was not the “second in the state.” Was it the third? Well, a contender for that distinction is the generally forgotten Kent Law School in San Francisco, which I’ll discuss in a future column. It began operations some time in the 1890s—the starting date is uncertain, though one book pegs it at 1891—and it was still operating well into the 1920s.

A law school that was far from obscure when it was started, and is a respected one today, is that at Stanford University in Palo Alto. It’s generally thought that its operations commenced on Sept. 8, 1893. But its history, like that of the USC law school, has been mangled. It is doubtful that what existed at Stanford in 1893 constituted a “law school.”

Here follows an effort to demystify, somewhat, the history of the law school at Stanford, as well as to clarify the history of the law school at USC, and answer the question as to which of these two law schools came before the other.

“Wikipedia”—a website with a low accuracy level, yet one widely relied upon—declares that Stanford’s law school “was established in 1893 when former President Benjamin Harrison joined the faculty as the first professor of law.”

Stanford’s own website says:

“Stanford began offering a curriculum in legal studies in 1893, when the university engaged its first two law professors. One was Benjamin Harrison, former President of the United States, who delivered a landmark series of lectures on the Constitution. The other was Nathan Abbott, who served as head of the nascent law program. Abbott assembled a small faculty to which he imparted a standard of rigor and excellence that endures to this day.”

It’s true that Harrison’s services were “engaged” in 1893, but the implication that he taught that year is not accurate, and he was a “professor” there only in the loosest sense; he was a guest lecturer. Abbott did not “head” the program at the outset; his services, too, were “engaged” that year, but there was a change in plan, and he did not come on board until 1894.

The form which the law school would take is explained in an article appearing on Jan. 29, 1893, in the San Francisco Chronicle:

“Next year a law course will be offered at Stanford. The work in this department will be different from that carried out in the ordinary law school. There will be no separate school of law, but instruction will be given on this subject the same as in history, economics, English, or any of the other literary courses. Collateral work will be required in history and political science and the regular number of university hours will have to be carried, in order to graduate. It will be possible to take a special course in law alone, but this will not be encouraged.”

In other words, law was to be a subject taught in the undergraduate school.

The article notes that Ernest W. Huffcutt would “take charge of the new department.”

The story mentions that “[u]ntil [U.S.] Senator [Leland] Stanford goes East it will not be definitely known whether President Harrison’s services as non-resident lecturer will be secured.”

They were secured, and it was apparently intended that his lectures would begin in 1893. The May 7, 1893 issue of the Los Angeles Times reports:

“Ex-President Harrison will begin his course of lectures at Stanford University on international law next October, when the new school of law will be opened. Besides general instruction in law, the course includes training in branches that will fit students for the public service.”

It’s set forth in the 2006 biography “Benjamin Harrison: Centennial President” by Anne Chieko Moore and Hester Anne Hale:

“Before Harrison left the White House, Senator Leland Stanford invited him to present six law lectures at Stanford University….The summer of 1893 was spent [by Harrison] at Cape May, where he devoted many hours each day to research, write, and prepare the lectures. His stipend would be $25,000.”

Newspapers across the nation told of Harrison’s lectures at Stanford, the first taking place on March 6, 1894. Dispatches reported on his remarks to university students, making no specific reference to any law school or law department there.

             A letter from a Stanford correspondent published in the March 7, 1894 edition of the Woodland (Calif.) Daily Democrat relates:

“Ex-President Harrison, or ‘Prof.’ Harrison as the Freshman delights in calling him, is with us now, lecturing to crowded houses. Since the chapel building will not accommodate more than five hundred people it becomes a necessity for each lecture to be repeated twice so that none may fail to hear this excellent course of lectures.”

Stanford University did, quite soon, establish an actual law school. A May 5, 1899 article in the San Francisco Call contains this report from the campus:

“Hitherto the department of law has attempted only to give courses equivalent to the first year work of the best law schools; but it is now possible and the time seems opportune to begin complete law school work. For the present the plan is to have three years’ work in law, one of which may be completed by the undergraduate, and which will be required work for the degree of bachelor of arts in law, and the other two years will be graduate work leading to the degree of bachelor of laws. The aim is to offer graduates of the university the complete preparation for practice which they have hitherto had to seek elsewhere, and to provide graduates of other universities a full law course.”

The school year began on Sept. 8, 1899. Until then, Stanford did not have a law school.

Los Angeles Law School, by contrast to the Law Department at Stanford, had as its purpose, from the outset, the training of students to pass the oral bar examination, administered by the Supreme Court, and preparing them to practice law.

That law school, having opened in 1897, predated Stanford’s law school by two years. So, USC’s law school was established earlier if the proposition is accepted that USC Gould School of Law is the same institution as the one that began in 1897. But is that proposition (previously recited here) valid?

As I’ve recounted, the Los Angeles Law School grew out of the Law Students’ Association of Los Angeles, formed Nov. 17, 1896. The school’s first lecture which began at about 7:30 p.m. on Sept. 13, 1897.

(The USC Law School website incorrectly sets 1898 as the year “[t]he Los Angeles Law School is incorporated.”)

In 1900, the law school became associated with USC, and on June 6, 1901, the seven members of the first graduating class received their bachelor of laws degrees at USC’s commencement exercises.

My “Reminiscing” column on June 4 says that in 1901, the Los Angeles Law School “was reincorporated as the Los Angeles College of Law, and in 1904, it was assimilated into the university.”

Unnoticed by me, unnoticed in general, is that reincorporation on Sept. 7, 1901 could well be viewed as a break in the link—and if it is so viewed, USC’s law school harks only to 1901, not to 1897, rendering it junior to Stanford’s law school.

The May 10, 1935 USC master’s thesis by Julian Beck, who was later to serve as a Los Angeles Superior Court judge, provides illumination. The paper is based both on documents and on interviews with those involved in the early days of legal education here.

After the first dean of the Los Angeles Law School, James B. Scott, left his post in 1899 to become dean of the law school at the University of Illinois, Beck writes, “the student body decreased sharply and the establishment—for want of the proper leader—closed its doors two years (1901) later.”

He continues:

“After Scott left the school his former co-workers and successors fell to bickering as to the proper methods of classroom conduct, and most of them fell back to the older methods of formal lecture periods with little or no student participation.”

Scott had favored the modern “case law system,” developed at Harvard.

Beck says that by the time decision was made in the summer of 1901 not to reopen for a fall term, “[s]ome of the instructors had been active in a new organization that was being formed at this time, The Los Angeles College of Law….”

The future assemblyman and jurist goes on to relate that the “former students of the Los Angeles Law School had no hesitancy in enrolling” in the new institution, remarking:

“To them it was like the old school operating under a new name. As was trenchantly remarked by W. C. Petchner, one of the incorporators and an instructor in both of these early law schools, [President/Dean George] Sanders had succeeded in replacing a decadent institution with a more vitalized one by the simple process of ‘putting new blood into an old carcase.’ ”

But did the old carcass get a blood transfusion, or was there a new body?

That is, when the Los Angeles College of Law opened its doors on Sept. 30, 1901 (with 10 students, according to Beck’s paper), was an entirely new law school now in operation? Lending weight to the view it is was is that the first corporation dissolved in 1901, and the new one did not succeed to its assets. According to Beck, it wasn’t until USC took over the law school in 1904 that any effort was made to acquire assets of the Los Angeles Law School—$200 in cash and a law library—which had simply lain dormant. “Two years were required to complete this task,” Beck advises.

Too, a look at the Los Angeles Times’ Jun 13, 1897 news story on the formation of the Los Angeles Law School and the one on Sept. 8, 1901 on the organization of the Los Angeles College of Law, it is seen that none of the 11 trustees chosen in 1897 was among the seven selected in 1901. The new school was in rented space in a different building.

Formation of the Law Students’ Association in 1896 did segue into the establishment of the the Los Angeles Law School in 1897, but it would appear that the Los Angeles College of Law, founded in 1901— while having the feel to students of a continuation of the prior institution—was the holding of a wholly unrelated corporation; although the earlier school was an inspiration for the new one, it was not its ancestor.

Hastings surely is the oldest law school in the state, and Stanford, it would seem, is the second oldest, with USC coming in third. Next in seniority is San Francisco’s YMCA law school, opened in November of 1901, now known as Golden Gate University School of Law. (I’ve come across an ad for that school in the April 7, 1904 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle trumpeting that law students at the YMCA “have gymnasium and other privileges of the Association.”)

Not only is USC’s law school not, as has been claimed, the second law school to come into existence in California, it is not, as represented on USC’s website, “the first law school in the Southwest.” I’ll get to that, as well as to a discussion of Kent Law School, sexism among law students, and the “mystery law school of 1901” in future columns.


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