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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.

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.

In 1875, Albany Law School 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 -- now The Justice Center at Albany Law School -- 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 offered the best of a modern legal education.

There is a historical picture tour of Albany Law School on the website of New York Heritage.

  • 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.
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A Brief Timeline of Albany Law School

1850

Albany's Appellate Bar

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.

1851

Albany Law School founded

Founded in 1851 by Amasa Parker (Congressman Judge, Court of Appeals), Ira Harris (U.S. Senator Judge, Court of Appeals), and Amos Dean (The first head of Albany Law School, teacher and scholar, became first president of University of Iowa).

At 4:00 P.M. on December 17, 1851, Amasa Parker delivered the first lecture to 23 male students. Classes took place in the Exchange Building at the corner of State Street and Broadway. The course lasted 16 weeks, with two lectures a day. Cost: $40. There were 23 students the first year, then 50 the next year, and then more than 100 each year until the Civil War.

1851

Albany Law School founded (continued)

School had three professors, all of them practicing lawyers.

Albany Law founders argued for formal legal instruction.

Classes held Monday to Friday. Written test at the end of each term.

Sample course offerings included real estate, wills, personal rights, domestic relations, evidence, property, contract law, New York code.

1854

First graduating class of Albany Law School

Wheeler Hazard Peckham graduates and joins his father’s law firm, Peckham & Colt.

1856

Harris Plaisted graduates

Plasted would become the 38th Governor of Maine.

1858

David Josiah Brewer graduates

The class of 1858 included David Josiah Brewer, who would later become a Supreme Court Justice. Brewer served on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1889 to 1910, a period of great transition as the nation shifted from its agrarian roots to an industrialized society.

1861

Students observed court proceedings and legislative sessions.

1861

Civil War alumni

An unusually elite group of Albany Law School alumni fought in the Civil War which included: William McKinley, Redfield Proctor, Edwin H. Conger, and Russell Conwell.

1865

Russell Conwell graduates

Baptist minister Russell Conwell went on to become the Founder of Temple University in 1884.

1866

Edwin Conger and William Lord graduate

Conger became a Congressman, and the Ambassador to Brazil, China, and Mexico.

William Lord became the Governor of Oregon.

1867

William McKinley graduates

U.S. President 1897-1901

McKinley came to Albany, one of the leading cities in the United States at the time, to study the science of law, where he attended lectures by its three faculty members. After school, he returned to Ohio to finish his preparation for the bar by reading law in an attorney’s office, a common practice at that time. He was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives, then elected Governor of Ohio twice. In 1896 he was elected President of the United States. Re-elected in 1900, he was assassinated in Buffalo, N.Y., in 1901.

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

1870

First African-American alumnus James Campbell Matthews graduates

James Campbell Matthews was the first African-American alumnus, and New York State’s first black judge.
 
Two years after law school he argued against the City of Albany, forcing the city to desegregate the public schools. His nomination to succeed Frederick Douglass as federal Recorder of Deeds was blocked by Republican senators.

1870

The Case Method is introduced as a vehicle for teaching law

Legal education begins to look a lot like the current system. Faculty, all practicing lawyers, expands by several members.

1873

Prior to becoming Albany Law School, a group of colleges formed Union University, made up of Albany Law School, Albany Medical College, Union College, and the Albany College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.

 

1877

First Asian alumnus Kozu Senzaburo graduates

Senzaburo is known as a central figure of Ongaku- torishirabe-gakari (Institute of Music) in Tokyo, and for his major writing, Ongaku-no-rigai (Interests of Music). His years in Albany had a definitive effect on music education in Japan at the time.

 

1877

First Jewish alumnus Myer Nussbaum graduates

Nussbaum graduated from Albany Law School in 1877, was admitted to the bar, and practiced in Albany. He was elected to the New York State Assembly in 1892 and the N.Y. Senate in 1895.

 

1879

Albany Law School moves from Lancaster School to 249-251 State Street until 1926.

 

1881

First Native American alumnus Alinton Telle graduates

In 1881 the federal court in Fort Smith, Arkansas, hired Telle as a Choctaw interpreter. In 1886 he was appointed as national secretary for the Choctaw Nation, a position he held until 1889.

 

1881

Graduate Park Benjamin publishes the sensational short story “The End of New York”

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.

 

1895

The bar exam is instituted

 

1898

First woman alumnus Kate Stoneman graduates

Stoneman was the first woman to graduate and the first woman admitted to practice law in N.Y. state, after petitioning the legislature.

“The present day presents greater opportunity than ever before for women ... my message is to younger women. They must take their opportunities as they come. Always there are opportunities to be had.” Kate Stoneman, 1898

 

1899

A two-year law program is adopted

 

1903

A lecture series on legal ethics is inaugurated

Only 20 of the 70 U.S. law schools are teaching professional ethics.

 

1905

The national trend swings back from theoretical to Albany Law’s nuts-and-bolts approach

School renews its focus on state law.

Still only adjunct professors teaching at the school.

 

1911

The Court of Appeals requires four years of legal study, three years for students who have an undergraduate degree

Student Body Totals 143

A semester course load includes courses such as: Bills & Notes, Procedure, Real Property, Equity, and Guarantee and Suretyship.

 

 

1912

Robert H. Jackson graduates

Jackson became the architect of the modern International Court System, Supreme Court Justice, and the Chief U.S. prosecutor at the Nuremberg Trials.

Considered one of Albany Law School’s most esteemed graduates, Jackson attended the 1912 Commencement but was not awarded a degree due to his age — not yet 21 years old — along with two other classmates, twin sisters.

In 1941, the year he delivered Albany Law’s Commencement address, he was awarded the LL.B. degree. He went on to become a Supreme Court Justice.

 

 

1917

Albany Law in the Great War

452 Albany Law School students and alumni served in WWI

 

 

1920

The LAW Men

Albany Law’s basketball team beat teams like Manhattan College, Tufts University, Fordham Law and Boston University (21-20). At the time, law schools were similar to under-graduate institutions with dances, intercollegiate sports, and other associated social components.

 

 

1924

Fraternities at Albany Law

There were seven fraternities at Albany Law, many affiliated with the Union College system, with 128 students participating out of a total student body of 345 students. After legal education transformed to a graduate level, fraternities faded from the campus.

Student body starts to outgrow the facilities, reaching up to 345, including 23 women.

Emphasis on practical training and professionalism continues, with a specialization on N.Y. state law.

 

 

1926

First Debate Team Competition

The school has its first debate team competition with an outside school — Union College. Next the school debated St. Lawrence University, New York University, and then Rutgers University.

1928

On May 1st, ground is broken for today’s 1928 Building

The building was later occupied on June 6th, 1929 a few months before The Great Depression hit.

1938

Lawrence H. Cooke graduates

Cooke would become the chief judge of the New York Court of Appeals.

1943

With students off to fight in WWII, the school shrinks to 23 students

Internships begin with the Albany Legal Aid Society.

1947

GI Bill swells the student body

The school hires full-time, non-practicing teachers.

1948

New courses appear like administrative law, labor law, and legal draftsmanship

1950

Students are required to participate in moot court

 

1951

Vernon Miller graduates

 

1951

Vernon Miller graduates

 

1957

A Student Wives Association is formed, totaling 80 members

The group, which lasted more than a decade, sponsored guest speakers, organized school parties, and held fashion shows.

1957

A Student Wives Association is formed, totaling 80 members

The group, which lasted more than a decade, sponsored guest speakers, organized school parties, and held fashion shows.

1969

The 1928 Building is expanded to include more classrooms and offices

1971

Richard Parsons graduates as valedictorian

Parsons goes on to serve as chairman of Citigroup and chairman and CEO of Time Warner.

1971

Renewed focus on practical skills, bar passage, and a move to ground the theoretical

Attica prison riots plant the seed for Albany Law clinics.

1972

After Kent State event, 100 law students ride in patrol cars to observe police work firsthand, strengthening the move to establish a clinical program

1972

Sandra M. Stevenson becomes the first female faculty member

1975

The School’s first clinics are established with the Prisoners’ Legal Services program

1975

Thomas Vilsack graduates

Vilsack went on to become two-term Iowa governor, and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture for eight years under the Obama administration.

1975

Katheryn D. Katz becomes the 2nd female faculty member

 

1978

Government Law Center is established, the first of its kind in the nation

 

1980

Anthony Baldwin becomes the first African-American faculty member

 

1981

Clinical education is expanded to include the Litigation Clinic

 

1981

Leslie Stein graduates Stein became an Associate Judge for the New York State Court of Appeals.

 

1982

Stephen P. Younger

Younger became the New York State Bar Association President and a Partner at Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler LLP.

 

1982

Andrew Cuomo graduates

Cuomo was elected Governor of New York in 2010.

 

1982

Andrew Cuomo graduates

Cuomo was elected Governor of New York in 2010.

 

1985

Construction begins for the Schaffer Law Library

The library achieved a $12 million fundraising campaign.

The building, built by L.A. Swyer Co., tripled the school’s library space.

 

1986

A renewed emphasis on faculty scholarship

Faculty are offered grants, student assistants, and sabbaticals to work on publishing.

 

1988

David Miranda graduates

Miranda became a New York State Bar Association President and a Partner at Heslin Rothenberg Farley and Mesiti.

 

1989

Michael Garcia graduates

Garcia became an Associate Judge for the New York State Court of Appeals.

 

1989

Academic success program established

 

1990

First Stoneman Keynote Honoree, Hon. Judith S. Kaye, Chief Judge, New York Court of Appeals

 

1991

John Baker becomes first African-American president and dean of the law school

 

1991

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor delivers the keynote address at an Albany Law School conference on compelling government interests

 

1992

The Clinic’s HIV/AIDS Law Project begins

 

1992

Patricia Salkin ’88 is appointed director of the Government Law Center

Salkin led the Centre to national prominence for the next 20 years.

1993

Post Conviction Remedies Project begins

1994

The Family Violence Litigation Clinic begins

Bar passage reaches 95%.

The first Kate Stoneman Day takes place. Keynote Honoree is Hon. Judith S. Kaye, award recipients are Bernard E. Harvith and Helen M. Pratt ’28.

2000

The 2000 Building is opened

The building houses the Government Law Center, The Clinic & Justice Center, classrooms and offices.

Semester in Practice created for second- year and third-year students to experience semester-long placement in judicial and public interest offices.

2012

Penelope Andrews becomes the first woman President and Dean

2014

Alicia Ouellette (class of 94) becomes President and Dean

2014

Alicia Ouellette (class of 94) becomes President and Dean

2014

A long-term Strategic Plan is adopted, establishing a student-centered experience around Opportunity Pathways.

2014

A formal affiliation with University at Albany is established

Albany Law School and University at Albany create a formal affiliation, generating new benefits for students and faculty.

2017

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor spends a day at Albany Law School speaking to students and faculty.

2020

The COVID-19 global pandemic forces Albany Law to go to hybrid in-person/remote learning. Commencement for Class of 2020 not held until May 2021.

2021

We Rise Together: The Campaign for Albany Law School, the largest fundraising campaign in the School’s history, is completed topping more than $32M dollars raised.