History

The University of Tennessee College of Law encompasses most of the block on Cumberland Avenue between James Agee and Sixteenth streets in Knoxville.

Founded in 1890, the University of Tennessee College of Law enjoys a rich tradition of providing sound legal education. Over 120 years, the law school has adapted and expanded greatly. These changes, driven by strong leaders and carried on by successful students and alumni, have led the law school into the 21st century, where the student body continues to diversify. Throughout its history, the law school has been able to attract the best legal minds to teach, research and otherwise serve the state.

The tradition continues to this day. UT law professors have produced excellent lawyers, and the successes of former students have created a strong, vibrant alumni network that reaches every corner of the country. However, a student at the University of Tennessee need not wait until graduation to make a difference, as the law school’s many clinics—continually rated among the best in the country—provide a unique opportunity to gain practical experience under the guidance of successful lawyers and attentive professors. As the University of Tennessee College of Law continues to attract the best students, it stands on a solid foundation of success.

Humble Beginnings
Tennessee’s law school has emerged from humble beginnings. The student body grew rapidly, from a three person class in 1890 to a total enrollment of 60 only ten years after. Later, the law school would see reductions in enrollment as academic standards rose and two World Wars threatened its very existence. There was a period from 1892 until 1900 when one professor, Charles W. Turner, “gave all instructions given in the school except a few informal lectures.”[1] Until 1931, the law school had never had five full-time faculty. Furthermore, the department was without a home for its first four years of existence until Old College was refurnished as the Law Department in 1894. In 1911, the department was elevated to the status of a college, officially becoming the University of Tennessee College of Law. It wasn’t until 1926 that the college had its own building. The College of Law moved to current location in 1950, and the building was dedicated as the George C. Taylor Law Center in 1966. In the late 1990s, the original building was completely renovated and a new addition was added. In 1997, the College of Law first occupied the renovated and expanded building that continues to house the entire operations of the college.

However, these humble beginnings are not to be confused with a subpar legal education. In fact, the college’s graduation standards have always been higher than the requirements for admission to the bar. The original law department was conceived and created under Thomas J. Freeman, a Tennessee Supreme Court Justice who became the department’s first dean. College of Law became a charter member of the Association of American Law Schools in 1912. Subsequently, the curriculum was extended to three years, but even the early law curriculum fixed at two years was the “first of such advanced requirements in this area.”[2] In 1925, the law school received American Bar Association accreditation and was admitted as a chapter to the Order of the Coif in 1951. The prerequisites to admission rapidly escalated as well, from “a good English education” before 1900, a high school education in 1905, one year of college work in 1917, to a bachelor’s degree and the now ubiquitous Law School Admission Test in 1968.

The Howard H. Baker Rotunda outside of the Joel A. Katz Law Library provides a stately entrance to the school from Cumberland Avenue.

Continued Success
Yet, for all of the history that the University of Tennessee College of Law stands on, it is the present offerings and continued successes that gives value to current and incoming students. Since the Legal Clinic’s inception in 1947—only the second legal clinic established in the United States—the College of Law’s Clinics have provided law students with opportunities to learn by doing—representing clients and helping resolve legal disputes. The Advocacy Clinic is the longest continuously operating for-credit clinic in the country and remains one of the most successful programs of its kind. It is not only the Advocacy Clinic that allows Tennessee law students to gain practical experience, as the college now houses six additional clinics: Business Law, Domestic Violence, Environmental Law, Innocence/Wrongful Convictions, Mediation, and Wills. With such a diverse offering, it is easy to see how U.S. News and World Report ranked the Clinical Program 12th among the more than 180 clinical programs nationwide, and sixth among public institutions in 2012.

Student Diversity
Furthermore, the College of Law continues to diversify its student body against the backdrop of several significant events marking the inclusion of historically underrepresented groups. Before 1900, the law department had students from fifteen different states enrolled. In 1909, the College of Law graduated its first woman, Maude Riseden Hughett—the first female law school graduate in the South. The College of Law graduated its first black student, R.B.J. Campbelle, Jr., in 1956. The first female faculty member was hired in 1972, and the first black faculty member was hired in 1982.

Alumni Network
Finally, the College of Law has built an expansive alumni network that provides students with mentoring and employment opportunities. From the early days, alumni outreach has been a vital objective of the law school. The Alumni Association of the Law Department was founded in 1911 with the express goal of putting the law school “on a high plane of efficiency.”[3] Today, approximately 6,500 University of Tennessee College of Law alumni live and work in 47 states and several foreign countries.


[1] Dean Turner’s recount of Ingersoll’s time, from Elvin E. Overton’s “A Brief History”

[2] President Hoskins quote from “A Brief History”

[3] 57 Tenn. L. Rev. 145, 152.


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The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System