The history of Baylor Law is woven into the fabric of American Law. It was here where the first law school in Texas was born, and where the nation’s first “Practice Court of law schools” got its start. Over the years, generations of Baylor Law graduates went on to distinguish themselves as justices of the Texas Supreme Court, mayors, governors, federal judges, directors of the FBI and members of the United States Congress. Baylor Lawyers went on to try, and prevail, in some of the largest, most influential cases in American legal history. And the tiny law school that saw as its mission preparing students to “assume their responsibilities within our honorable profession and follow the call to service,” also saw it grow to become one of the premiere law schools in America.
Baylor University was organized at Independence, Texas, by the Baptist denomination in Texas in 1845. It was granted a charter by an act of the Congress of the Republic of Texas on February 1, 1845. The university was named for Judge R.E.B. Baylor, who was a member of the Supreme Court of the Republic of Texas, and later a state district court judge.
In 1849, Baylor and another trustee of the university, Judge Abner S. Lipscomb of the Supreme Court of the State of Texas, began teaching classes in the "science of law." Baylor University was thus the second university west of the Mississippi to teach law. St. Louis University, beginning in 1842, was the first. Lipscomb died in 1856.
The School of Law was formally organized at Baylor in 1857, and Judge Royall T. Wheeler, also a justice of the Texas Supreme Court, was appointed head of the law school. R.E.B. Baylor, Captain W.P. Rogers, and John Sayles were on the faculty with Wheeler when the law school first opened. They were all part-time teachers when there were thirteen students in the law school upon its organization. Students completed a two-year course of study, which included a moot court course and other lecture courses.
Sayles devoted much of his time to the law school and later printed his lectures as Sayles' Treatise on the Practice in the District Courts and Supreme Court of Texas. He was apparently the first law textbook writer in the state. He later wrote several other practice books and compiled various editions of Sayles' Texas Statutes, which eventually became Vernon's Texas Statutes several generations later.
Wheeler resigned as the head of the law school in 1860. The first law class graduated in 1858 during his tenure, and by the time of his resignation twenty-nine others had graduated. Of these the most renowned was Thomas J. Brown, who served as Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas from 1893 to 1911, then as Chief Justice from 1 911 to 1915.
Baylor Law suspended operations during the Civil War. In 1866, R.E.B. Baylor, Sayles, R.T. Smyth, John Alexander, and James E. Shepard were reappointed to the law school faculty. Though Smyth is recognized as the full-time resident faculty member, Shepard is generally recognized as the second Dean of the law school. Shepard served in this capacity until the law school suspended operations once again 1871. Records of students or graduates during this time are incomplete.
R.E.B. Baylor taught a course in Constitutional Law until his death in 1873. Sayles and Shepard continued to be listed as members of the faculty of the University until 1883, and Shepard is believed to have taught law courses up until that time. In 1883, the School of Law at Texas University opened, and law classes would not be offered on a regular basis at Baylor for another thirty-seven years.
Baylor University moved to Waco in 1886 and combined with Waco University. At this time, there was no formal law department. The school offered a number of law classes, including those related to constitutional law and jurisprudence, but no law degree was offered.
In 1918, under the direction of President Samuel Palmer Brooks, the university reorganized into colleges. Brooks encouraged the board of trustees to create three new departments on campus, including a new department of law. The board of trustees formally approved the law department on December 22, 1919. Through a number of contacts, Brooks narrowed his list of leaders of the new law school to one--Allen G. Flowers. Flowers had served as a deputy prosecuting attorney for six years in Arkansas and had taught law for one year at the University of Arkansas. Flowers accepted the position on April 3, 1920.
Brooks and Flowers sought to develop a practice-oriented institution and soon hired a local judge, James P. Alexander, as a part-time instructor. Law classes began in October 1920 in the basement of the Carroll Science Hall. Twenty-five students enrolled in courses, ten of whom were pursuing a law degree. Enrollment increased to fifty-four students during the 1921-22 school year, and the law school added another faculty member, Judge Nathaniel Harris.
To accommodate larger class sizes, the law school moved to a small residential structure--dubbed "Jurisprudence Hall"--for the 1921-22 school year. This building was used to conduct classes and also provided office space for faculty. A fire to the Carroll Chapel and Library Building in 1922 required the transfer of about 2000 law books to Jurisprudence Hall. By the fall of 1922, the size of the book collection had increased to about 2500 volumes.
Baylor, led by the highly motivated Dean Flowers, sought in 1922 to receive "first-class" recognition of the law department by the Supreme Court of Texas. Such recognition would permit Baylor law graduates to become licensed in Texas without having to pass the state bar exam. On February 1, 1923, the Supreme Court granted such recognition, less than three years after the reestablishment of the law school. The spring of 1923 also brought the graduation of the first law class at Baylor, which included Drummond W. Bartlett, Jennings C. Brown, Mills Cox, William Lacy Sleeper, and Joseph Franklin Wilson.
As the size of classes and the volumes of resources increased at the law school, the need arose for yet another move to a new facility. In the fall of 1923, the law school moved to the restored Carroll Chapel and Library Building, which would continue as the home of the law school until 1947.
Baylor began to receive national recognition in the 1920s for its focus on practical training of law schools. In particular, Baylor offered a course titled "Practice Court," which is believed to be the first of its kind among American law schools. Judge Alexander developed the course when he arrived as a part-time instructor and continued to teach it for twenty years.
Twenty-two individuals graduated from Baylor School of Law in 1925. Among these was Leon Jaworski, who at 19 was the youngest law graduate in the history of Texas. Increased enrollment during 1925 and 1926 required the addition of another full-time faculty member, Thomas E. McDonald. In 1926, Judge Harvey Richey joined Baylor as a part-time faculty member, and in 1930, Abner E. Lipscomb joined Baylor as a full-time faculty member.
By 1930, Baylor exceeded the required number of faculty and volumes of resources to be considered for accreditation by the American Bar Association. Baylor employed three resident faculty members and offered a library containing more than 9000 volumes. The American Bar Association visited the school in 1930, and Baylor received full accreditation in December 1931.
Flowers, who had guided the law school from its infancy to its national recognition as a quality institution for legal education, died in 1935. More than 200 students had received a law degree from Baylor under Flowers' leadership.
Thomas E. McDonald, who had been a member of the law faculty since 1925, became dean of the law school in 1935. Baylor Law during this time continued to aspire to gain recognition as a top law school nationally, and, in 1938, became a member of the Association of American Law Schools.
The law faculty expanded to four full-time members by 1938, including McDonald, Abner E. Libscomb, Lennart Larson, and James A. Carlson. Part-time members included Harvey M. Richey, James P. Alexander, and Nat Harris. Prior to the 1938 school year, Lipscomb received a job offer in Washington, D.C. He asked Abner V. McCall, a 1938 graduate who had earned the highest score to that date on the Texas Bar Examination, to take his place on the faculty.
McDonald died suddenly in 1939 and was replaced on an interim basis by Carlson. Lipscomb, who had remained in Washington for two years, returned as dean of the law school in 1940-41. During that year, Alexander won the Democratic nomination as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas. Alexander had developed and taught Practice Court since the reestablishment of the law school and now turned the reigns over to Judge Joseph W. Hale, who was a member of the Waco Court of Civil Appeals. Hale taught the course until the law school closed during World War II in 1943.
Lipscomb accepted an appointment into the military in 1941 and was replaced as dean by Leslie Jackson. During that year, Margaret Harris (Gordon) Amsler joined the faculty on a full-time basis and would serve as a professor for almost thirty-two years.
The law school ceased operations from 1943 to 1946 during World War II. The law school reopened in 1946, with Amsler serving as acting dean. Jackson returned as dean in 1946 and remained until 1948. During this period, the law school experienced a rapid increase in enrollment, from about 100 in the fall of 1946 to 402 in the fall of 1949. In addition to the increase in enrollment, the law library also grew during this period, and the space provided in the Carroll Library was no longer adequate to house the entire law school. In 1947, university gave the law school the "Law Annex," a frame building located across Speight Avenue from the Carroll Library. During the next few years, additional space was provided, but was not entirely adequate to serve the needs of the law school.
In 1948, the university appointed McCall as dean of the law school. The increase in enrollment required the law school to hire additional faculty members, several of whom would serve the university for several decades to come. In 1947, Judge Frank M. Wilson began to share the duties of teaching Practice Court, a responsibility he assumed for the next two decades. In 1948, the school hired Edwin P. Horner and John R. Wilson, both graduates of SMU School of Law. The following year, the school hired Angus S. McSwain, Jr., a 1948 Baylor graduate and member of the first editorial board of the Baylor Law Review.
As the need for new facilities grew, a financial source appeared. Ralph W. Morrison, a businessman from San Antonio, had died and left part of his estate to a trust, with income payable to Baylor. Baylor President William R. White agreed to use half of this income for a new law school if legal questions could be worked out. The trustees of the Morrison trust filed a declaratory judgment proceeding in a San Antonio court. McCall, with the assistance of Horner and McSwain, submitted a brief to the court requesting that part of the trust income be devoted to the law school. The court's judgment in October 1954 permitted funds to be used for this purpose.
Plans had begun for the new law school in 1951 and construction of the law school began in 1954. Stanley W. Bliss of Austin was employed as architect, and Eitze-Kitchens Construction Company of Austin was employed as general contractor. Construction was completed at an estimated cost of about $560,000 in the summer of 1955.
Soon after the Morrison Constitution Hall opened in the fall of 1955, it was touted as one of the most advanced teaching facilities in the southwest region of the United States. The three-story, air-conditioned building contained a courtroom-auditorium, a small appellate courtroom, and four classrooms. The library, which contained about 30,000 volumes by 1956, had a capacity to hold about 50,000 volumes.
Whereas the old facility limited the ability of the law school to attract students, the Morrison Constitution Hall opened the door to significant increases in enrollment. One-hundred-seventy students were enrolled in the fall of 1956, and gradual increases led to an enrollment of almost 400 by the mid-1970s. Numerous changes among the faculty occurred as well. In 1956, William J. Boswell, who had taught on a part-time basis for more than two decades, joined the faculty on a full-time basis. Della Geyer, who served as law librarian for three decades, joined the law school in the same year. During the summer of 1957, Erwin A. Elias joined the law faculty.
During the time that the law school adjusted to its new facility, Dean Abner V. McCall assumed many responsibilities that are delegated to other members of the administration and staff members in the current law school. During his eleven years as dean, McCall was responsible not only for long-range plans and policy decisions, but also admissions, budget, alumni relations, curriculum, fund-raising, faculty matters, the law library, placement, scheduling, and scholarships. McCall also taught courses in evidence, practice court, torts, introduction to law, constitutional law, conflict of laws, and legal profession.
In 1959, the Baylor Board of Trustees appointed McCall to the office of chief executive vice-president. He was appointed as the tenth president of Baylor University in 1961. When McCall assumed the vice president position, the Board of Trustees voted unanimously to appoint Boswell to the position of Dean. The law school continued to grow during this time, reaching 270 students by 1965. A number of changes to the faculty also occurred, including the addition of Hulen D. Wendorf in 1961.
In 1963, the law school began recognizing the accomplishments of its alumni and faculty by awarding the Baylor Lawyer of the Year award at the annual Law Day banquet. The first recipient was A.J. Folley, followed by Leon Jaworski (1964) and M. Price Daniel (1965).
Boswell served as dean for six years, and then resigned to return to full-time teaching. Angus S. McSwain, Jr., who had served as a member of the faculty since 1949, was appointed as dean. McSwain would lead the law school for the next nineteen years, the longest tenure of any dean in the law school's history. McSwain emphasized classroom teaching as the law school's primary objective. By the early 1970s, the law school grew to about 350 students, and the law library increased its holdings to about 75,000. During the early years of McSwain's tenure, a number of new faculty members arrived, including Loy M. Simpkins (1965), an attorney originally from Oklahoma; David Guinn (1966), who was eventually honored as Master Teacher and is currently the senior faculty member; R. Matt Dawson (1971), a 1938 graduate of Baylor Law who practiced law for many years in Corsicana; W. Frank Newton (1972), who later became the dean at Texas Tech University School of Law; Peeler Williams, Jr. (1972), who had served as a part-time instructor at the law school for several years; and Susan Kendrick (1973), who has served as a professional librarian for more than thirty years.
In 1966, Judge Frank M. Wilson, the long-time teacher of the Practice Court program, donated to the law school his collection of 2,135 rare books and fifty documents dating back to the Middle Ages. The law school renovated the Morrison Constitution Hall for the first time in 1974, adding the Leon Jaworski Wing to improve capacity for students and library resources. Jaworski was, among his many accomplishments, a 1925 graduate of the law school, founder of the law firm of Fulbright & Jaworski, and former president of the American Bar Association. The Jaworski Wing nearly doubled the capacity of the law library, and provided ample study space for the student body.
One year after the completion of the Jaworski Wing, the law school received a $600,000 gift from Mills Cox, a Houston businessman who was a member of the 1923 graduating class at Baylor.
A number of faculty changes occurred in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and many of the current law faculty arrived during this time. Such faculty includes Michael Morrison (1977), Thomas Featherston (1982); William Trail (1982); David Swenson (1982); Ronald Beal (1983); Bradley J.B. Toben (1983); and Michael Rogers (1984).
Additional changes to the law school occurred in the early 1980s. By 1982, the law school began planning the addition of a new advocacy building and the update of the Morrison Constitution Hall and Jaworski Wing. The project, which provided the law school with four courtrooms that provided audio/visual support, was completed in 1985. The M.D. Anderson Foundation, which had also provided significant funding for the Jaworski Wing, provided significant funding for the Advocacy Wing. The Foundation has continued to be a major provider to Baylor Law with its generous support for the Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center. Prior to its completion, McSwain resigned in 1984 to return to full-time teaching. Baylor appointed Charles W. Barrow, then Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Texas, as McSwain's successor. Barrow had served as a member of the Texas Judiciary for more than 27 years and had been honored as Baylor Lawyer of the Year in 1972.
Six months after assuming the position as dean, Charles W. Barrow presided over the dedication of the new Advocacy Wing of Morrison Constitution Hall, which was completed in 1985. The addition to the law school and the renovation of the Morrison Constitution Hall and Leon Jaworski Wing would be the last improvements made to Morrison Constitution Hall.
Changes in the leadership of the law school took place in 1991, when Barrow retired as dean after serving from 1984 to 1991. In 1991, Bradley J.B. Toben became the eleventh dean of the law school. Leah Jackson Teague was named as associate dean the same year. Both have remained in their positions as the law school prepared for some of the most significant changes in the law school's history.
A number of long-time faculty members retired from full-time teaching from the mid 1980s to early 1990s, including Edwin P. Horner, Angus S. McSwain, Jr., Hulen Wendorf, Peeler Williams, Jr., and John Wilson. Many of the current law faculty arrived between 1986 and 1993, including Gerald Powell (1986), Brian Serr (1986), Jackson Teague (1989) and Elizabeth Miller (1991). Two faculty members who joined during that time, William Underwood (1990), Melissa Essary (1990) left the Law School to assume leadership positions at other universities. Bill Underwood serves as the President of Mercer University. Melissa Essary serves as a tenured faculty member at Campbell University School of Law after serving as their dean for 6 years.
In November 1992, the law school announced a major restructuring of its highly acclaimed, practice-oriented curriculum. Among these changes included a requirement that students complete courses in the upper-level curriculum in a prescribed sequence to provide structure and organization to the entire program; a restructuring of upper level electives into formal areas of concentration, allowing students to focus their study in an area of interest; and the restructuring of the first-year writing program, previously known as the Legal Methods program, into the Legal Analysis, Research, and Communication program.
A number of professors have been added to the tenure and tenure-track faculty, including Larry Bates (1996), Brandon Quarles (1998), Matt Cordon (2000), Jeremy Counseller (2003), Rory Ryan (2004), Bridget Fuselier (2006), Jim Underwood (2006), Laura Hernandez (2008), Connie Nichols (2008), Luke Meier (2010), and Elizabeth Fraley (2015). Since 2011, Michael Berry has served as Legal Writing faculty along with Susan Kelley-Claybrook Ortiz (2013) and Greg White (2016).
Numerous publications have ranked Baylor's program among the nation's elite, particularly due to its dedication to teaching and its practice-oriented mission. In 1999, the U.S. News & World Report ranked Baylor in the "top tier" of American law schools. Throughout much of its history, Baylor has maintained the highest bar passage rate in the state of Texas, a testament to the quality of instruction and training at the law school.
In order to maintain the law school's stature, the faculty and administration recognized that the Morrison Constitution Hall and its additions would not be sufficient to meet the needs of legal education in the 21st Century. In 1992, the school began plans to build a new facility, one that could incorporate current and new technologies as well as allow Baylor to maintain its reputation as a teaching facility. Six years later, the dream started to become a reality when the school announced that Walter and Sheila Umphrey of Beaumont, Harold and Carol Ann Nix of Daingerfield, and John Eddie and Sheridan Williams of Houston had made a collective gift of $20 million to the law school. Groundbreaking for the new $32 million Sheila and Walter Umphrey Law Center was held in 1999 on the banks of the Brazos River. Additional major gifts were provided in 2000 by Gerald and Diane Haddock of Fort Worth, as well as the M.D. Anderson Foundation of Houston, which had been a major contributor in previous efforts to improve the law school facility.
At its opening the Umphrey Law Center was one of the most technologically-innovative law school facilities in the nation, providing network access throughout the entire law school and providing advanced audio/visual capabilities. The dramatic increase in technological capability coupled with Baylor's well-established formula for success has allowed Baylor to introduce a new chapter to an already glorious history.