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.

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A Brief Timeline of Albany Law School


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.


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.


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.


First graduating class of Albany Law School

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


Harris Plaisted graduates

Plasted would become the 38th Governor of Maine.


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.


Students observed court proceedings and legislative sessions.


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.


Russell Conwell graduates

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



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.



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.



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



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.



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.



The bar exam is instituted



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



A two-year law program is adopted



A lecture series on legal ethics is inaugurated

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



The national trend swings back from theoretical to Albany Law’s practical approach

School renews its focus on state law.

Still only adjunct professors teaching at the school.



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.




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.




Albany Law in the Great War

452 Albany Law School students and alumni served in WWI




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.




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.




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.


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.


Lawrence H. Cooke graduates

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


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

Internships begin with the Albany Legal Aid Society.


GI Bill swells the student body

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


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


Students are required to participate in moot court



Vernon Miller graduates



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.


The 1928 Building is expanded to include more classrooms and offices


Richard Parsons graduates as valedictorian

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


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

Attica prison riots plant the seed for Albany Law clinics.


After Kent State event, 100 law students ride in patrol cars to observe police work firsthand, strengthening the move to establish a clinical program. The popularity of the event helped persuade school leaders to establish a permanent clinical program at Albany Law. Later that year an elective titled, “Clinical Legal Education,” was offered for the first time. This is the start of The Justice Center at Albany Law School.


Sandra M. Stevenson becomes the first female faculty member


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


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.


Katheryn D. Katz becomes the 2nd female faculty member



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



Anthony Baldwin becomes the first African-American faculty member



Clinical education is expanded to include the Litigation Clinic



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



Stephen P. Younger

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



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.



A renewed emphasis on faculty scholarship

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



David Miranda graduates

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



Michael Garcia graduates

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



Academic success program established



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



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



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



The Clinic’s HIV/AIDS Law Project begins



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

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


Post Conviction Remedies Project begins


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.


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.


Penelope Andrews becomes the first woman President and Dean


Alicia Ouellette (class of 94) becomes President and Dean


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


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.


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


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.


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.


Cinnamon P. Carlarne becomes President and Dean