Throughout Albany Law's history, the student makeup has very much reflected eras' undercurrents and the school's place in that society. The challenge for Albany Law leaders has been to accommodate the changing face of students coming through the schoolhouse doors.
Many students of Albany Law School in the 1850s and 1860s became prominent lawyers, and a significant number served as jurists on courts throughout New York State and elsewhere; one was appointed to the highest court in the country. Some sought public office and became prominent political leaders; governors, state representatives and congressmen. Others became leaders in the worlds of education, letters, business, finance and religion.
After only a year in operation, attendance more than doubled from 23 to 52 and continued to climb steadily during the first decade. The typical early Albany Law School student was a white Anglo-Saxon male from northeastern state, who professed the Protestant faith and whose grandfather, father or uncle practiced law.
While English and Dutch surnames predominate in the early class lists of alumni, other names suggest that a few students may have brought some ethnic diversity to the school. During the 1850s, the majority of students came from New York or New England. After the Civil War, the law school began to attract a greater number from more distant parts of the country - Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Ohio, Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, Oregon and California. Some of the more exotic addresses given by alumni were Canada, Chile and Nova Scotia.
As the school population became geographically more diverse, gradually including young men from states of the former Confederacy, including Florida, Tennessee, Virginia and Arkansas, so must have the range of students' political views.
In 1869, an athletic facility became available to students. Students continued to organize their own clubs and fraternities. In addition to the customary class officers, a class during the 1870s sometimes elected its own orator, poet, historian or marshal.
One important student venture of this period was a weekly newspaper known as the "Albany Law School Journal," first published in 1875. It is believed to be the first example of a student-edited law periodical in the United States, although copies suggest that it was more akin to 19th century student journalism.
In every graduating class, there was a large contingent of young men from Albany. A significant number of students attending the school during the 19th century can be recognized as the sons and grandsons of prominent attorneys and jurists. Today's strong tradition of legacies was established from the earliest years of the school.
During the Civil War many Albany Law School students joined Union regiments and became soldiers ranging in rank from private to brigadier-general. A law school bulletin from the fall of 1867 lists 23 students in a roll of honor and indicates that they served in the infantry, artillery, cavalry, National Guard and sharpshooting units from New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Illinois and Maine.
Nearly two decades into its existence in 1868, Albany Law School was on firm ground. While attendance dipped during the Civil War, enrollment swelled afterward to 146 by 1868.
In Albany, as elsewhere in America during the latter part of the 19th century, immigrants from Europe began to arrive in great numbers.
While Germans and Irish had resided in Albany since colonial times, their presence increased significantly during this period. Between 1868 and 1895, descendants of Dutch and English settlers sat in class with O'Briens, Nolans and McConnells, Nachtmans, Schultzes and Muhlfeders.
Jews had established a community in the early part of the century, but many more settled after 1890. Immigrants from Poland and Italy arrived in Albany at the turn of the century. These ethnic groups start to emerge in the names of law school students.
While attendance ebbed in years leading up to the turn of the century, the number of students resurged under Dean J. Newton Fiero's tenure. The first year of his rein, 1895, 31 students were enrolled. By the semi-centennial year of the law school in 1901, a total of 135 students were enrolled. When the law school program was extended to three years in 1911, the student body numbered 143.
On the eve of World War I, more than 200 were usually enrolled. Returning veterans after the war swelled attendance to a high of 260.
Greek -letter fraternities, some affiliated with Union College, were established at the law school beginning in 1902. The first to appear were a chapter of phi Delta Phi and a Union chapter of Delta Chi. The National Legal Fraternity of Gamma Eta Gamma, Gamma chapter, was organized in 1904.
Other early fraternities included Phi Sigma Kappa, Beta chapter, and Phil Sigma Delta, Epsilon chapter. These fraternities led peripatetic existences; for example, the Delta Chi brothers moved from Hamilton Street to Madison and South Lake avenues to Lancaster Street and back to Madison.
Some fraternities attracted men of specific ethnic backgrounds, such as Kappa Nu Upsilon, Rho chapter (established 1917), which had a Jewish membership, and the National Fraternity of Alpha Phi Delta, Iota chapter (established 1922), which included Italian-American students.
In 1908, the Young Men's Christian Association of Albany invited law students to join its Students' Club. Its purpose was "to encourage cooperative relationship between students of Medical, Law and Pharmacy departments of Union University." Members were promised outside speakers, college songs, "quiz-talks," the use of a gymnasium and refreshments.
In 1906, the law school organized its first basketball team, and two years later, a baseball team. An athletic council was formed prior to the war. For the 1920-21 school year, the basketball team played in an intercollegiate league for the first time.
Law students patronized many local watering holes during the early years of the 20th century. Geraghty's (or Garrity's) Saloon hosted many a class dinner. "It was a revered custom, following examination, to foregather at the bar of Garrity on Hudson Avenue for solace of a nip of his famous brew," one alumnus recalled. "A certain respected and beloved professor on one such bucolic occasion joined his protégés, and asked if any feared a flunk in the test. Before a response [could be uttered, he said]: ‘Worry no more. Everyone passed!' And we paid the drink."
Keeler's Restaurant on Broadway was another favorite spot. Although Prohibition outlawed alcohol in 1919, speakeasies abounded, and students could still find a drink at bars such as Ames O'Brien's Parody Club on Hudson Avenue, the hangout of notorious bootlegger "Legs" Diamond.
In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, students had organized informal debating clubs and competed among themselves. In spring 1926, Albany Law School went public with its own debating team, "The Forum," and began intercollegiate competition.
Subsequent successful seasons made The Forum a proud feature of the law school. From the beginning, it attracted the attention of the local bar association. Court of Appeals Judge Benjamin N. Cardozo, who had delivered the commencement address in 1925, was impressed enough to provide $1,000, establishing the Forum Prize, which was awarded to two students excelling in debate.
During this time, law students produced a yearbook called the "Verdict," with sections devoted to the faculty, each of the school's three classes, student activities, fraternities and commencement exercises.
In geographic terms, classes formed after World War I consisted overwhelmingly of young men and women from upstate New York, in contrast to the post-Civil War years, when the school drew students from throughout the country. By this time, Albany Law School had established a solid reputation as a regional law school specializing in New York State law.
In 1929, the year that the law school moved into its new quarters on New Scotland Avenue, a student law review board had been established "for the purposes of making and preserving critical analyses of the opinions of the higher courts, as they are issued."
Students with the highest class standing were appointed to the editorial board. In 1931, the first issue of the "Albany Law Review" was published. In 1951, the Student Bar Association began publishing the "Barrister's Register," a precursor of the present-day "Issue." The weekly newspaper promised to cover "personal news and legal items of general interest to student and faculty."
The Register was produced until at least 1957, when there was talk of merging it with the alumni bulletin. The production of the Review, Register and Verdict offered many opportunities for students to hone their skills at legal writing, journalism and creative writing.
In these years, law school students were required as previously to participate in moot court and practice court. Class members were paired and assigned legal problems to be briefed and argued in court.
The best two teams participating in the Prize Trial were given cash awards at commencement. From at least 1950, the students entered the national Moot Court Competition. In 1953, law school students won the Regional Moot Court Competition held in Ithaca, advancing to the final round for the first time.
Life at the school in the late 1960s and 1970s took place against a national backdrop of unrest over issues of poverty, race, women's rights, the environment and the war in Southeast Asia. While the Vietnam War did not deplete enrollment to the extent that World Wars I and II had, a significant number of young men accepted for the class of 1967 were obliged to withdraw. Others had to interrupt their studies after they enlisted or were drafted.
After the Kent State tragedy in May 1970, a group of law students opposing the war asked to cancel their final examinations so they could join demonstrations in Washington. The faculty agreed to offer a second round of exams in July, and a small number of students elected to take them at that time.
Law school students at this time exhibited concern about poverty and other social problems. The Student Bar Association held holiday parties for underprivileged children. Competition was fierce for summer jobs in legal aid services, even though the pay was lower than that offered by private law firms.
Several enterprising students initiated community projects. David Beir (class of 1973) and James O'Rourke (class of 1974) obtained permission from Mayor Erastus Corning and Police Chief Edward McArdle to accompany officers on their patrols to learn what "the textbooks don't teach about criminal justice."
Approximately 100 male and female law school students participated in the project, learning firsthand about street crime and law enforcement. The popularity of such ventures gave students more ammunition to press school leaders for the establishment of permanent clinical programs.
When students challenged authority at Albany Law, they generally did so through official channels. For example, in March 1972 a group of five students from the Student Bar Association met with four trustees at the State Street law office of J. Vanderbilt Straub, then board president.
Especially dissatisfied with their lack of influence on school policy, the students asked that the SBA president be able to vote at faculty and trustee meetings. They complained about large classes and requested more instructors. Charging the administration and faculty with discrimination, they noted the absence of black and female professors and the school's poor record of placing minority and women graduates in jobs. They deemed the placement program, then staffed part-time by a student, woefully inefficient.
The meeting was adjourned after Straub promised to present their grievances to the entire board of trustees. In time, school leaders responded to the requests for change.
The law school in the late1970s and 1980s also experienced an influx of "non-traditional" students. Among these were women seeking professional training after raising their children and people changing career paths.
In 1987, the "Kids Too" day-care center operated by Albany Medical Center and the law school, opened, one of a number of new services, programs and events benefiting members of the school community and designed in part to address the changing needs of students.
Law school students had provided legal services to poor clients since the early 1920s when they interned at the Albany Legal Aid Society. The tradition had continued with the school's clinical community outreach programs, such as the People's Law Project (1991) and the AIDS Law Clinic (1992). Moreover, a large percentage of graduates have chosen careers in public service, while many in private practice have devoted countless hours to pro-bono work.
During the 1990s, there was a burst of publishing activity at the law school. The student newspaper, called Common Knowledge in the 1960s and 1970s and renamed The Issue in 1982, continued its monthly reporting of campus events. The "Albany Law Literary Review" picked up in 1993 where the "Oasis Literary Magazine had left off in 1984. Two new ventures were the "Albany Law Journal of Science and Technology," founded in 1990, followed by the "Albany Law Environmental Outlook" in 1995, both reflecting growing specialties in law practice.
The "Verdict" appeared faithfully, although it was habitually late and in financial straits. Eventually, the school assumed the yearbook's production costs, which had been previously supported through student subscription.
Today, law school students continue to interact on campus and with the world around them. Senior Citizens Law Day, sponsored by the Government Law Center, was started in 1994 and continues annually. The establishment that year of the Domestic Violence Clinic and the first Kate Stoneman Day by the Women's Law Caucus are further examples of student service and recognition traditions that continue.