When Robert H. Jackson finished his year of attending the Law School in 1912, the school did not award a degree to him because he was not yet 21 years old, the minimum age Albany Law required for a degree at the time. He attended his 1912 Commencement and received a diploma of graduation, not a degree. Two classmates who were also denied degrees because of their age returned to receive their degrees at the 1914 Commencement.
Years later, in 1941—the year he delivered Albany Law's Commencement address—the school's trustees awarded him the degree of LL.B. And in 1951, the honorary degree of LL.D. was conferred upon him.
Jackson described his own situation in a private letter to Cornell Law Quarterly editor in 1951. He described his degree as: “Albany Law School, 1912, LL.B. June 5, 1941, as of Class of 1912.”
Jackson added this explanation: "The peculiar entry about Albany Law School, for your information and not for print, is that I graduated in 1912 while under 21 years of age, for which reason I was not entitled to a degree. As time cured that, the degree was awarded later on a sort of nunc pro tunc * basis."
Jackson’s path to legal practice and bar admission was not unusual for his time.
Before World War I, most lawyers prepared for the bar exam by clerking—“reading law”—in a lawyer’s office, a structured process governed by the New York Court of Appeals. They did not attend law school, and of those who did, a substantial number attended only a year or so, to supplement their clerking. Typically they didn’t earn a degree. Albany Law School, founded in 1851, gave such students a certificate of attendance, as did many schools, which counted toward the clerkship time required by the Court of Appeals.
Jackson began a clerkship in Jamestown, N.Y., after graduating from high school. The bar association at the time required only three years of clerkship for admission. In 1911, after one year as a clerk, Jackson enrolled at Albany Law School for a year and was granted a "certificate of graduation." He then returned to Jamestown, completed his clerkship and was admitted to the bar. (A similar path was taken by another Albany Law alumnus: U.S. President William McKinley.)
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