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History of Stanford Law School

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.

For its first decade, the law department was composed of mostly undergraduate law majors. Student life was dominated by a proliferation of law clubs, which combined moot court training with social camaraderie. Notably, the law department enrolled many students who might not have been welcome at more traditional law schools at the time, including women and Hispanic, Chinese and Japanese students.

In 1900, the department moved from its original location, Encina Hall, to the northeast side of the Inner Quadrangle. The new quarters contained two large recitation rooms, three faculty offices, and a library. During this time, the law department began to focus more on professional training than on undergraduate education. A comprehensive three-year program was implemented that would form the heart of the curriculum for decades. Also in 1900, the department became one of 27 charter members of the Association of American Law Schools. In May 1901, it awarded its first professional degree, an LL.B., to student James Burcham.

In an effort to acknowledge the emerging professional nature of the department, Stanford's Board of Trustees passed a resolution in 1908 to substitute the term 'law school' for 'law department,' though technically the law program remained a department within the university. Eight years later in 1916, Frederic Campbell Woodward became the first head of the law school to be referred to as 'dean.'

The law school was at the forefront of efforts to institute the California Bar exam, which was added to the requirements to practice law in California in 1919. The law school was accredited by the American Bar Association in 1923, the year the ABA began certifying law schools.

Stanford's law program was officially transformed into a modern professional school in 1924 when it began requiring a bachelor's degree for admission. That same year, Stanford's Board of Trustees adopted a resolution making the law school a purely graduate school. In 1932, the school added Master of Laws (LLM) and Doctor of the Science of Laws (SJD) degree options.

World War II seriously disrupted the work of the law school; by the end of 1943, enrollment had dropped to only 30 students. The law school nonetheless adhered to its high academic standards, recognizing as early as 1940 that academic content would need to grow to reflect national developments. As it became clear that government would play a greater role in the regulation of private affairs, administrative law, taxation, trade regulation, labor law, and related subjects became part of the curriculum.

The late 1940s and 1950s brought a tidal wave of developments to the law school. There was a relocation to the Outer Quadrangle in 1950; the new quarters included a five-story structure with two large lecture halls, a three-story library, and numerous rooms and offices. Also, a law school dormitory, Crothers Hall, opened in 1948. The first edition of the Stanford Law Review (headed by future Secretary of State Warren Christopher '49) was published in 1948. Other milestones included the introduction of a moot court program, the graduation of two future justices of the Supreme Court of the United States (William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor, both class of 1952), and a commitment to maintain the school's enrollment at about 350 students based on the conviction that Stanford should offer legal training to a relatively small, carefully selected student body.

Reflecting the political and social upheaval of the 1960s and 1970s, the law school became more diverse and its student activities more varied. In 1965, the law school admitted its first black student, Sallyanne Payton '68.

In 1968 then dean Thomas Ehrlich created a new staff position focused on diversity, and he appointed Thelton Henderson to be the first assistant dean in charge of minority admissions.

Now a senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, Henderson developed an innovative recruitment strategy and pioneered the law school’s efforts to diversify its student body. Under his leadership, minority enrollment increased from a single student to 20 percent of the student body.

Today, Stanford Law School enrolls—and counts among its graduates—a higher percentage of minority students than any of its peer schools.

Law student organizations grew to include, the Environmental Law Society, the Stanford Chicano Law Student Association, the Women of Stanford Law, and the Stanford Public Interest Law Foundation. In 1966, the law school began its first joint degree program with the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In 1972, the first woman professor, Barbara Babcock, and the first black professor, William Gould, joined the law school faculty. Also in the 1970s, the law school built and then moved into its current home, Crown Quadrangle, which is made up of a classroom building, the library and faculty/staff offices, a student lounge, a courtyard, a patio garden and an auditorium. President Gerald Ford, speaking at the 1975 dedication ceremony, extolled Stanford's foundation as a "solid triad of law, learning, and liberty."

During the 1980s and 1990s, Stanford consolidated its position as one of the nation's top law schools. Highlights included the institution of model programs in environmental law, business, intellectual property, and international law. Recognizing the necessity of experiential learning, the law school has developed a state–of–the art clinical program offering students closely supervised, pedagogically driven opportunities to work with actual clients. The first of these clinics was the East Palo Alto Community Law Project, organized by a group of Stanford Law School students, which opened its doors in 1984. In 1987, the law school expanded its facilities once more to include the Mark Taper Law Student Center, adjoining Crothers Hall, which offers exercise equipment and a student commons.

In the 21st century, the law school has deepened its commitment to interdisciplinary education, working with graduate schools throughout the university to develop cooperative learning opportunities and joint degree programs. Students can now choose from 25 formal degrees in fields ranging from economics and public policy to bioengineering.

Many things have changed at the law school since its founding in 1893. Originally, students were drawn mainly from California; today they come from every region of the United States and many foreign countries. Admission to the school in 1893 was not competitive. For fall 2007 entry, 4,052 candidates applied for 170 seats. In 1893, only a handful of courses were offered. Today, there are nearly 200 courses in the law school alone, with hundreds available in other parts of the university.

Despite these advances, Stanford Law School's basic mission has not changed since Nathan Abbott's day: dedication to the highest standards of excellence in legal scholarship and to the training of lawyers equipped diligently, imaginatively, and honorably to serve their clients and the public; to lead our profession; and to help solve the problems of our nation and our world.