Monday, September 23, 2013

The South Texas College of Law turns 90!

by Heather Kushnerick, Special Collections Librarian
        “It will be our purpose then to seek out for students only sincere men – only earnest men, who have enlisted not for a battle only, but for a war, and upon whose persevering interest we may securely count.
        Given such students, it will be our hope and purpose to turn them out not practitioners merely, not craftsmen in tort or contract, criminal law or admiralty, but lawyers, capable of reasoning broadly and abstractly, and of testing by the same general touchstone ‘conformity to right and justice,’ every question, no matter in what particular branch of the law it may arise.”
                        -Judge Joseph C. Hutcheson, Dean, South Texas School of Law, South Texas School
                        of Law Catalogue, 1923-1924.
      The South Texas School of Law, a part-time evening law program run by the YMCA, welcomed its first class on September 24, 1923. Housed in the Fannin Street YMCA, the freshman class of 29 men and 5 women were taught by some of the most impressive members of the Houston bench and bar.  The first dean, Joseph C. Hutcheson, was a federal judge for the Southern District of Texas. Faculty members held degrees from Harvard, Columbia, and the Universities of Texas and Michigan.  The Board of Governors, which consisted of partners at some of the largest law firms in the Houston, were determined that this law school not only fill a gap by providing affordable legal education in Houston, but also that it be a first class law school. 
        The rapid growth of the oil industry in the 1920s created an urgent need for lawyers in the Houston area.  Experts in Texas law were required to examine titles, draw up conveyances, organize new corporations and generally deal with the business created by oil exploration and discovery.[i] One of the original missions of South Texas, then, was to train lawyers who would serve the needs of Houston and Harris County.[ii]  It should not be surprising that the general counsel of Humble Oil & Refining, E.E. Townes, Sr., was among the faculty.  Being the oldest law school in Houston, South Texas was an innovator in Continuing Legal Education: Townes, as Dean of the South Texas School of Law, established the Oil and Gas Lecture Series in 1935.
         South Texas has always had a high degree of integration between practice and theory.  By the early 1920s the casebook method of instruction was replacing the traditional apprenticeship model, and the prevailing belief in academia was that law professors should not practice. South Texas took a middle ground[iii] with a faculty composed of practicing attorneys and judges, all recognized experts in their fields, who taught the case system while giving students “a familiarity with the practical legal problems and difficulties, and instructive experience explained in the classroom by a real lawyer.”[iv] 
         Unlike many of the YMCA law schools, South Texas has retained its independence and part-time program. We still keep to the middle ground between practice and theory. The majority of our faculty, full-time and adjunct alike, practiced law prior to joining South Texas and all bring expert knowledge to the classroom.  Our top-ranked Advocacy program provides intensive training in the courtroom. Our extensive clinical program gives students real world experience while providing much needed legal services to the community.
           There has been a great deal of talk in the legal community about the future of legal education; many graduates lack the practical skills needed for effective lawyering. In response, educators are shifting focus, emphasizing the kind of skills-based instruction that South Texas has embraced since 1923. Preparing students to be effective legal practitioners is exactly what our founders envisioned.  By staying true to this vision, South Texas is now on the leading edge of clinical and skills-based education.  Our legacy of practice-ready attorneys is a true sign of our success over the last ninety years.
        In honor of our first 90 years, items from the College Archives are on display in the Library Lobby.  This exhibit will be up until December 20, 2013.

[i] Christopher Anglim, South Texas College of Law: Houston’s Gateway to Opportunity in Law, 39 S. Tex. L. Rev. 9210, 921.
[ii] id, 923
[iii] id,  926
[iv] E.E. Townes as quoted in Anglim, 926.