College of Law

125th Anniversary

The Law Library, when the College of Law was located in Old College
The Law Library, when the College of Law was located in Old College

In 125 years, the University of Tennessee College of Law has honed a law school experience that combines classroom theory with real-world practice, all in an inclusive community of faculty, staff, and students who are welcoming and supportive.

This year, we celebrate our transformative history and the many students, alumni, faculty, and staff who make up all the generations of our UT Law family.

Humble beginnings

Tennessee’s law school emerged from humble beginnings. The student body grew rapidly, from a nine-person class in 1890 to a total enrollment of sixty only ten years later. As the years passed, 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. The school 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 1927 that the college had its own building, Tennessee Hall. The College of Law moved to its current location in 1950, and the building was dedicated as the George C. Taylor Law Center in 1966. Later, the original building was completely renovated and a new addition was added, completed in 1997.

Tennessee Hall
Tennessee Hall

However, this modest start should not 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. The college 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, from “a good English education” before 1900, to a high school education in 1905, one year of college work in 1917, and a bachelor’s degree and the Law School Admission Test in 1968.

Continued success

Yet, for all of the history that UT Law stands on, it is the present offerings and continued successes that gives value to current and incoming students. The college’s Legal Clinic was created in 1947 and was only the second legal clinic established in the United States (and today is the longest-running legal clinic in the nation). Since their inception, the college’s clinics have provided law students with opportunities to learn by doing—representing clients and helping resolve legal disputes.

The entering class of 1976
The entering class of 1976

Furthermore, the College of Law continues to diversify its student body against the backdrop of several significant milestones marking the inclusion of historically underrepresented groups. In 1909, the College of Law graduated its first woman, Maude Riseden Hughett—the first female law school graduate in the South. Lincoln Blakeney was the first black student to enroll at UT Law and was one of the first two black students admitted to the entire University of Tennessee. The College of Law graduated its first black student, RBJ Campbelle Jr., in 1956. The first female faculty member was hired in 1972, and the first black faculty member was hired in 1982.

Today, 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 UT Law alumni live and work throughout the United States and in 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.