The History of Oregon Law



    Oregon Law School Founded


    Richard H. Thornton, 1884, first Dean of Oregon Law

    Founded in 1884 in Portland, Oregon. Richard Hopewood Thornton become the first dean and organized the department that began as a two-year program with three classes per week. Dean Thornton served from 1884-1903. Under dean Thorton’s guidance, the school attracted prominent federal and state judges and attorneys to its teaching faculty.



    First Asian-American graduates

    Mitsudoro Yamanaka receives his LLB degree.



    First woman to graduate

    Anna E. Wood completes her LLB degree. This was the same year that National Women’s Suffrage Association was established in an effort to gain women the right to vote, and fight for more equal economic, political and social reforms.






    The Honorable Calvin U. Gantenbein becomes Dean

    Dean Gantenbein who graduated from Oregon Law in 1891 (LLB) the head of his class serves from 1903-1915. It is at the end of his tenure that the UO regents decided to move the law school to Eugene. 



    Oregon Law moves to Eugene

    Under the leadership of the new dean, Edward W. Hope (1915-1919) The move to Eugene transformed the old-style school to the new standards which were being set in the country for legal education. These included stronger entrance requirements, a three-year curriculum, a full-time faculty, a better library, and a university environment. New students would enter after two years of college, rather than directly after high school.


    Oregon Hall


    Historical b&w photo of Oregon Hall


    The Oregon Law Review is established


    William G. Hale

    Under the leadership of new dean, William G. Hale (1920-1927), who was author of a book on law and the press, The Oregon Law Review is established. It is the oldest continuously published law journal in the Pacific Northwest and has been run by students since 1967.



    Oregon Law approved by the American Bar Association (ABA)

    Thus making the school one of the first 39 schools to earn that distinction in the initial year of the ABA approval of law schools.



    Wayne Morse becomes dean


    Morse became an assistant professor of law in 1929. At age 31, this made him the youngest dean of any law school accredited by the ABA. In 1944, Morse won the Oregon US Senator seat – and a 24-year tenure in the Senate, 1945-69.

    Morse left a deep legacy of commitment to democratic representation, the rule of law, and intellectual independence in his service to the University of Oregon, the State of Oregon, and the nation. He displayed this commitment in his work as a law professor and dean of the University of Oregon School of Law, a labor arbitrator, and while serving the State of Oregon as US senator. 

    Oregon Law established the Wayne Morse Chair of Law and Politics in 1981 and the Wayne Morse Center for Law and Politics in 2000.




    black and white photo of five male law faculty in 1934


    The law school gets a new home in Fenton Hall




    Minoru Yasui graduates


    Early photo of Minoru Yasui

    Yasui, a “double-duck”, earned a BA from the UO in 1937. In 1942, the Hood River native and former member of phi Beta Kappa and ROTC purposely violates the military curfew on Japanese-Americans.

    His case, Yasui v. United States, was the first case to test the constitutionality of the curfews targeted at minority groups, made it all the way to the United States Supreme Court. Yasui later became a renowned civil rights attorney in Denver. In 2015, Yasui was post-humously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama. 

    To honor his legacy, the School of Law established The Yasui Endowment, which honors the legacy of a School of Law graduate of uncommon courage and principle. In 2016, the Minoru Yasui Fellowship was established, and in 2017, the Oregon Law Minoru Yasui Justice Award was created to honor Yasui’s legacy of civil rights.



    Orlando John Hollis becomes acting dean

    His appointment became permanent in 1945 when Wayne Morse's obligation required him to be in Washington, DC for the US Senate.  Dean Hollis served 1941-44, 1945-1967. He became the University of Oregon’s acting president upon President Donald Erb’s sudden death.



    World War II decimates law school classes

    During “The War Years” many law students were called to service. Between 1944 and 1945, there were only two graduates. 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.



    First environmental and natural resources law courses offered

    Taught by professor and later, acting-dean Chapin Clark. Dean Clark, who later served as dean from 1974-1980, led the transformation of Oregon Law from a small state and local school to a national presence. An expert in property and natural resources law, he was instrumental in building the environmental and natural resources law program.



    Eugene F. Scoles becomes dean

    Dean Scoles served through 1974, at which point he rejoined the faculty and taught until his retirement in 1981. During his tenure, he oversaw the expansion of programming and move into a new building.


    1968 - 1969

    Ocean and Coastal Law Center opens

    The joint UO-OSU Sea Grant Program was the first in the US, founded by Professor Jon L. Jacobson.



    The law school moves to “The Law Center”

    The law school moves from Fenton Hall into a new building located on the corner of 11th and Kincaid, near the University of Oregon Bookstore.





    1975 - 1979

    Graduates include pioneering alumnae: Ellen Rosenblum, Martha Lee Walters, and Ann Aiken


    Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum

    Ellen Rosenblum (1975) – was elected at Oregon’s 17th Attorney general in 2012. She was the first woman to serve in the position as was re-elected to a second term in 2016.


    The Honorable Martha Lee Walters, Chief Justice of the Oregon Supreme Court

    Martha Lee Walters (1977) – was appointed to the Oregon Supreme Court in 2006. In 2018, was the first woman elected as Chief Justice by her colleagues on the Oregon Supreme Court.


    Chief Judge Ann Aiken

    Ann Aiken (1979) – was nominated by President Bill Clinton to serve on the United States District Court for the District of Oregon. She was confirmed in 1998 and in 2009 she was the first woman to become Chief Judge of the court in the District of Oregon. She served in that capacity until 2016.



    The first member of the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation graduates

    William “Grey Wolf” Johnson served as associate judge in 1980, and since 1988 has served a consecutive four 10-year terms as Chief Judge of the Umatilla Court.



    Oregon Law establishes the Legal Research and Writing (LRW) Program

    The LRW program is started by faculty member and founding Director, Mary Lawrence.

    Since U.S. News began ranking LRW programs in 2005, Oregon Law’s program has consistently been ranked among the top in the nations. In 2023-2024, it was ranked #1 in the nation, making this more than 14 consecutive years in the top 10.



    Oregon Law establishes the world's first environmental law clinic

    Created by John Bonine, the clinical program uses law and citizen suit provisions to provide free legal representation to grassroots conservation organizations across the American West. During the 1980s, the Environmental Law Clinic doubled in size and was renamed the Pacific Northwest Natural Resources Clinic.



    Derrick Bell becomes dean


    b&w portrait of Dean Derrick Bell

    After Laid Kirkpatrick served as acting dean in 1980, the law school hired its first African-American dean with Dean Bell. He served from 1981-1985.  During his time at the School of Law, his commitment to civil rights, race and law intersections were essential to ushering in a new era at Oregon Law. In 2012, the Derrick Bell Lecture Series was named in his honor.



    To honor his legacy, the School of Law partners with the Office of Institutional Equity and Diversity, along with other campus departments to host the annual lecture series.



    Oregon Law students organize the first Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC)

    From its initial gathering of just 15 speakers and 75 participants, PIELC has grown to come the largest of its kind in the world. In 2011, PIELC won the American Bar Association’s Law Student Environment, Energy, and Resources Program of the Year Award for the 29th Annual PIELC Conference title “Turning the Tide: Creating a Clean and Green Future.”




    School of Law celebrates its centennial




    Maurice Holland becomes dean

    After Dean Bell’s departure, Fred Merrill served as acting dean from 1985-1986. Dean Holland served through 1991.



    The Journal of Environmental Law and Litigation (JELL) is published

    The inaugural edition featured articles of interest to both practitioners and academicians in the fields of environmental and natural resource law.



    Dave Frohnmayer becomes dean


    Dean Frohnmeyer

    Frohnmayer taught law at the University of Oregon from 1971 to 1981. He then went on to serve as Oregon’s 12th Attorney General, from 1981-1991. In 1994, he was appointed as president of the University of Oregon and Charles O’Kelley served as acting-dean (1994-1997). Frohnmayer retired in 2008.

    In 2002, the Frohnmayer Award for Public Service was established in honor of the family and work of Frohnmayer. The award recognizes a graduate, faculty member, or friend of Oregon Law whose public service brings honor to the school.

    In 2016, Oregon Law established the largest endowment for a named faculty position, the Dave Frohnmayer Chair in Leadership and Law. With this new faculty position, Oregon Law became one of the few law schools in the nation to offer a specialization




    Law students push to establish the first pro bono program




    Rennard Strickland becomes dean


    Dean Strickland served through 2002. A legal historian of Osage and Cherokee heritage, Professor Strickland was considered a pioneer in introducing Indian law into university curriculum. The Annual Rennard Strickland Lecture Series was established in 2006 to honor the legacy of Distinguished Professor Emeritus Rennard Strickland by examining native leadership and vision for environmental stewardship in the 21st century.

    At the occasion of his passing in January 2021, Oregon Law posted a memorial of his oustanding legacy. 



    Oregon Review of International Law is published

    The Oregon Review of International Law (ORIL) is a student-run journal of the University of Oregon School of Law that publishes articles by academics, practitioners, and students that address current legal topics in international law and policy.



    William W. Knight Law Center is opened

    The new $25 million center more than doubled the size of the previous building. A naming gift of $10 million from Phil Knight honored his father, William W. Knight (LLB ’32), a state legislator and publisher of the Oregonian newspaper.




    The Appropriate Dispute Resolution (ADR) program is established

    The ADR program, which educates students in areas of negotiation, mediation and arbitration has been top ranked in the nation since 2007 by U.S. News and World Report. In 2023-2024, it was ranked 11th in the nation. In 2016, the ADR program was honored with the ADR Education Award from the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals.



    Laird C. Kirkpatrick becomes dean


    More recent portrait of Laird Kirkpatrick

    A former trial lawyer and federal prosecutor, alum Laird Kirkpatrick JD ’68, taught evidence and evidence related courses at Oregon Law for more than 30 years. During his time as a student at Oregon Law he was Editor-in-Chief of the Law Review.  He graduated as a member of the Order of the Coif. He was honored in 2019 with The John E. Jaqua Distinguished Alumnus Award for his personal and professional achievements and loyalty to Oregon Law.


    historic photo of Laird Kirkpatrick as a young professor


    The Lane County Domestic Violence Clinic is established

    Law students represent clients in contested restraining and stalking orders. In 2014, the clinic established Student Survivor Legal Services, the nation’s first on-campus legal office devoted entirely to serving campus survivors in civil, criminal, and campus disciplinary matters.



    Environmental and Natural Resources (ENR) Law Program Opens

    The fully staffed program opened with Professor Mary C. Wood as the first director. The ENR program has consistently ranked among the leading environmental law programs in the US for 14 years. In 2023-2024, the program was ranked #9 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report.



    The Conflict and Dispute Resolution Master’s Program (CRES) is established

    This two-year, full-time program was ranked #9 in the nation by College Choice in 2018.



    Margaret "Margie" Paris becomes the first woman dean of Oregon Law


    portrait of Dean Margie Paris

    Paris served as associate dean for academic affairs at Oregon Law for four years before becoming dean. During her time as a faculty member, she received the Orlando John Hollis Faculty Teaching Award, the law school's highest teaching honor.



    Oregon Law’s Master of Laws (LLM) program is accredited by the ABA

    In 2016, the program received “Best LL.M. Programs: Law School Experience” and “Best LL.M. Programs: Top Value” by National Jurist. And in 2019, the LLM’s Appropriate Dispute Resolution program was ranked #9 globally by LLM Guide.



    Oregon Law announced the formation of a course in Renewable Energy, one of the first of its kind in the nation



    Oregon Law expands to Portland, Oregon

    The law school begins a program in Portland, which moved into Portland's White Stag Building. The Portland Program focuses on business law and related externships. In 2015, the ABA Council on Legal Education granted acceptance to the University of Oregon School of Law’s request to launch a full-year “satellite campus,” the Portland Program. 




    Michael Moffitt becomes dean


    Michael Moffitt became a member of Oregon Law’s faculty in 2001. He served as Dean of the Law School from 2011 through 2017. 



    Marcilynn A. Burke becomes dean

    A renowned environmental law expert, Dean Burke is the first African-American woman to serve as dean of the School of Law.


    A portrait of Dean Burke against brilliant fall foliage