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Oregon Law

A History of Oregon Law

The University of Oregon School of Law, Oregon’s only public law school, has educated lawyers, judges, and civic and business leaders since its inception. Because it’s part of one of the nation’s leading research universities, Oregon Law provides a legal education that extends beyond traditional law schools and can intersect with business, public policy and planning, sports and entertainment management, environmental studies, journalism and communications, international relations, and more.

Oregon Law was founded in 1884 in Portland, Oregon, operating out of rented offices on 2nd and Yamhill. Richard Hopwood Thornton organized the department that began as a two-year program with three classes per week. In 1906, the course of study was expanded to three years, and in April 1915, the university’s Board of Regents ordered that the program be moved to Eugene as part of a consolidation program within the university. Though the school moved, some of the faculty remained in Portland and started the Northwest College of Law, fifty years later it merged with Lewis and Clark College. In 1923, Oregon Law was approved by the American Bar Association (ABA), among the first 39 schools to earn that distinction in the first year that such accreditation was available.

In 1931, the legendary Wayne Morse became dean. Three years later, the law school organized a chapter of the national law school honor society, the Order of the Coif. In 1938, the law school moved to Fenton Hall. In 1939, the law school graduated Minoru Yasui, who later gained fame as a human rights crusader (and civil rights attorney) when he took his challenge of the military curfew on Japanese Americans during World War II all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

In 1941, Orlando John Hollis became acting dean. His appointment became permanent in 1945 when Morse resigned to run for the U.S. Senate. Hollis remained dean until 1967, and continued teaching until 1974. During the war years, many law students were called to service. In 1944, there were no graduating students; in 1945, only one student, Harry Skerry, graduated. After the war’s conclusion, the school admitted every returning veteran who sought a legal education: out of 26 students who graduated in 1948, 25 had served in World War II.

The post-war era was marked by the Oregon legislature’s adoption of Professor Kenneth O’Connell’s Oregon Revised Statutes. Professor O’Connell was appointed to the Oregon Supreme Court in 1958, and later became its chief justice.

During the 1960s, Oregon Law began to establish its national reputation. Professor (and later dean) Chapin Clark offered the school’s first courses in environmental and natural resources law. Later that decade, Professor Jon Jacobson founded the school’s Ocean and Coastal Law Center. In 1968, Eugene Scoles became dean.

In 1970, the law school moved into a new building, the Law Center. In 1974, the Wayne Morse Chair of Law and Politics was established as a “living memorial” to former dean and U.S. Senator Wayne Morse. In 1977, Professor Hans A. Linde was appointed to the Oregon Supreme Court. In 1978, the school established the first-in-the-world Environmental Law Clinic, and the acclaimed Legal Research and Writing program officially began under the directorship of Professor Mary Lawrence.

During the 1980s, the Environmental Law Clinic doubled in size and was renamed the Pacific Northwest Natural Resources Clinic. In 1981, Professor Dave Frohnmayer became Oregon Attorney General during which he won six of seven cases argued before the United States Supreme Court. In 1982, students organized the first Public Interest Environmental Law Conference. In 1987, the Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation began publication.

From 1992-94, under the leadership of Dave Frohnmayer, the law school created seven new professorships. In 1994, the school received a $1 million donation from local businesswoman Carolyn Chambers, to establish the Center for Law and Entrepreneurship. In 1995, the school launched a $25 million building campaign, receiving a $10 million “naming gift” from Nike’s Phil Knight. The new — and current — building was dedicated in 1999, an occasion marked by a visit from Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The Knight Law Center more than doubled the size of the law school’s facilities and sits across from Hayward Field at 15th and Agate.

In the new century, the school opened the Appropriate Dispute Resolution Program. In 2003, the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Program opened a fully staffed office. In 2004, the Center for Law and Entrepreneurship opened a Small Business Clinic to assist small and micro- businesses. The school also has started a program in Portland, which moved into Portland’s White Stag Building in 2008. The Portland Program focuses on business law and related externships.

In 2011, PreLaw magazine, a National Jurist publication, ranked Oregon Law among its twenty best public interest law schools. And the accolades continue: in 2013, for the sixth year in a row, Oregon Law boasted three top ten programs in U.S. News & World Report. Oregon Law is one of only three public institutions in the nation having three or more top specialty ranked programs.

Among the very best programs in the nation according to U.S. News & World Report's 2014 edition of "America's Best Graduate Schools," Oregon Law's Legal Research and Writing (LRW) ranked 5th, Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR) ranked 7th, and Environmental and Natural Resources Law (ENR) ranked 8th.

The UO School of Law’s reputational ranking—that is, how academic experts nationwide view the school—makes it the top-ranked school in the state of Oregon and the second in the Pacific Northwest.

The reach of Oregon Law’s alumni extends across the country and around the globe.


Oregon Law » A History of Oregon Law