The History of Albany Law School

Albany Law School is the nation's oldest independent school of law. Founded in 1851, Albany Law has played an important role in the development of legal education in the United States.

In mid-19th century America, the standard preparation for the bar was a legal clerkship. The school's founders—Amos Dean, Ira Harris and Amasa Parker, all successful lawyers active in public affairs—felt that this approach fell short in preparing new lawyers. The trio set out to replace it with a structured educational program that encompassed both thorough knowledge of the principles of law, and experience in applying them. Their philosophy of legal education caught hold and Albany Law School flourished. This combination of theory and practice continues to be a hallmark of an Albany Law education today.

Library 1954
Albany Law School library, 1954

The school's early history is marked with a range of noteworthy milestones and accomplishments. In 1873, it affiliated with Albany Medical College and Union College to form Union University. Later on Albany College of Pharmacy, now Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, joined. Each institution has its own governing board and is responsible for its own programs.

Albany Law School has attracted and produced many historically-distinguished alumni, including:

historical picture tour

There is an historical picture tour of Albany Law School at the website of New York Heritage.

In 1875, Albany Law published the nation's first student-edited law review, the Albany Law School Journal. An innovative lecture series on legal ethics began just after the turn of the century.

Throughout the 20th century, Albany Law School expanded and diversified the faculty, curriculum and student body. It added important programs such as the Albany Law School Clinic & Justice Center, in which students and faculty provide legal support for low-income citizens, and the Government Law Center, a highly respected resource for law- and policymakers in Albany and elsewhere around the country. Most recently it added a Center for Excellence in Law Teaching.

These additions were among many steps the school took to ensure that the curriculum and related experiences reflected the best of modern legal education.

Read about:

The LAW Men: Albany Law's 1920 basketball team that beat the teams from Boston University and St. John's.

Civil War alumni: An unusually elite group of alumni fought in the Civil War—so prestigious that the author calls them Albany Law's "greatest generation."

WWII alumni: There are 452 WWII alumni—some who were admitted to the bar without taking the exam because they served in the war.

Early fraternity life: Starting in 1902. While fraternities do not exist today at Albany Law, they once were a vibrant force on campus.

U.S. President William McKinley: Read a note from U.S. President McKinley—while in office—to an Albany Law School classmate.

Albany's Appellate Bar in 1850: When the only Court of Appeals was in Albany, and unless you wanted to travel by steam boat or rail, you hired from a small group of Albany attorneys to appear in front of the state's highest court.

End of New York: Park Benjamin wrote in his fiction that the U.S. Navy was so weak—its vessels and budget so obsolete—that it constituted a serious threat to the nation. His book detailed the Spanish fleet attacking New York with fictitious balloon bombs, which helped lead to the creation of the American fleet.

Founding law firms of Albany: Numerous firms in the Capital Region are 75, 100 and even 150 years old. Here's a brief look at some of their history.

A brief history: Teaching and learning at Albany Law School in the form of a chart​

The Crummey Family: A 19th Century Bakery and Three Generations of Albany Law alumni

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