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Historical Timeline: Decades of Prominence

USC Gould School of Law

Jump to a Decade:
1800s | 1900s | 1910s | 1920s | 1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000s | 2010s | 2020s

1800s: Beginnings


Los Angeles Law Students Association is formed. Eager law apprentices took the lead in promoting "organized" legal education in Los Angeles. In 1896, Judge David C. Morrison "threw open the doors of his courtroom" for 36 law apprentices — five of them women — to hear prominent local attorneys praise the concept of a formal law school. James Brown Scott, who was to head the nascent institution, exhorted the students to create a "law school of permanent character."


The Los Angeles Law School is incorporated. Its 11-member board of trustees included a woman, self-made agricultural magnate Harriett W.R. Strong.

1900s: Building Permanence


Program becomes affiliated with USC; the university awards degrees for study completed at the Los Angeles Law School. As early as 1885, USC officials had contemplated forming a law school. This affiliation realized the dream of early advocates Robert Widney and George I. Cochran, both Los Angeles attorneys and USC trustees.

James Brown Scott's premature resignation put the new law school's "permanent character" to the test. There followed a succession of "annual deans": Lewis A. Groff (1900-01), George L. Sanders (1901-02) and Daniel M. Hammack (1902-04). Starting in 1900, the school moved six times in as many years.


USC begins awarding law degrees. Gavin W. Craig received the first diploma.


University of Wisconsin-educated contracts expert Frank M. Porter LLM 1910 is appointed dean. In his 23 years at the helm, Porter struggled to bring permanence to all aspects of law school life. He stabilized the faculty, strengthened academic standards and promoted a diverse student body.


Frederick W. Houser 1900, one of the school's first graduates, becomes the first alumnus to serve on the bench. After graduating, he spent a term in the California Assembly before his election to the Los Angeles County Superior Court in 1906; he later rose to the appellate court and the state supreme court.


USC law school gains approval by the American Bar Association and membership in the American Association of Law Schools.



Law school moves to Tajo Building. After 15 years of changing headquarters, USC Law found stability in this downtown building, at the corner of First Street and Broadway. The school remained at this site until 1925.


Stare Decisis—the school's yearbook-reflects an increasingly diverse and international student body. Japanese, Filipino, Armenian and Russian Jewish students are represented in photographs, along with women and the school's second black student. The yearbook includes a section devoted exclusively to "co-education." A year earlier, students had founded Phi Delta Delta, the nation's first women's law student sorority.


Mabel Walker Willebrandt LLB 1916, LLM 1917, graduates. Arguably the most prominent American woman attorney from the 1920s through the '40s, Willebrandt was Assistant Attorney General during the Harding administration.


In less than two decades, USC law school student enrollment climbs to the top five in America. The student boom reflects the explosive growth of Los Angeles itself, a city of nearly 1 million inhabitants.

1920s: Seeds of Excellence


You Chung Hong LLB 1924, LLM 1925 graduates. Hong was the first Chinese-American admitted to practice in California and went on to become the nation's foremost Chinese civil rights attorney over the next four decades.


Permanent USC law school building opens for classes on the University Park Campus.


Property law expert William Burby joins USC law school faculty. The University of Michigan-trained lawyer set the tone for legal education for the next 35 years. Employing the Socratic and case methods, Professor Burby's courses prepared three generations of USC law school students for real-world practice. His scholarly publications were mandatory reading for students and practitioners alike.


Criminal law expert Justin Miller is appointed dean. During his three years in the position, the Stanford-educated dean recruited several important faculty members and advanced the school's scholarly reputation.

In the same year, Southern California Law Review is first published. Edited and managed by law students, this flagship law journal is known for publishing high quality, cutting-edge scholarship by nationally known academics. Today, the Review's circulation is among the largest in the nation, and its articles among the most frequently cited. Also founded in 1927 was USC's chapter of the Order of the Coif. Inclusion in this national legal honorary society testified to USC law school's maturation in academic stature. The following year, students pioneered the practice of providing pro bono legal advice to the poor through the USC Legal Clinic.


The predecessor to the Legal Aid Foundation of Los Angeles is incorporated and USC law school houses its clinic. In its first year, 72 students, the entire third-year class, participated in the work.



Washington University law school dean and criminal law expert William G. Hale is appointed dean. Despite the upheavals of the Depression and World War II, Hale's deanship was one of remarkable stability. The core of his faculty-William Burby, Paul Jones, Robert Kingsley, Stanley Howell and Shelden Elliott—were in place throughout Hale's 18—year tenure.

In the same year, Manuel Ruiz Jr. LLB 1930, USC law school's first known Latino alumnus, graduates. Ruiz was considered the "California dean of Mexican American lawyers." He was appointed by President Nixon to the U.S. Commission of Civil Rights, and he authored numerous works, including the seminal Mexican American Legal Heritage in the Southwest.


Edwin Jefferson LLB 1931 graduates. Jefferson is representative of a group of black graduates who rose to leadership positions in Los Angeles during the first half of the 20th century. He was appointed to the bench in 1940. Other early outstanding African-American alumni include David Williams LLB 1937, who became a federal judge; Bert McDonald LLB 1923, the first black lawyer in the Los Angeles City Attorney's office; and Crispus Attucks Wright LLB 1938, who together with McDonald, Williams and others founded the John M. Langston Bar Association in 1943 (other bar associations had racial restrictions).



Col. John W. Barnes LLB 1927, descendant of Connecticut Supreme Court Justice James Gould (1770 - 1838), bequeaths the Gould family estate in trust to USC law school. When the full gift was realized two decades later, the law school was renamed the USC Gould School of Law. Judge Gould served as administrator and teacher for Litchfield Law School, the nation's first law school.


USC Gould graduate Shelden Elliott 1931, LLM 1932 is appointed dean.

In the same year, the USC Institute on Federal Taxation is first held. The flagship of USC Law's fleet of continuing legal education programs, the Institute on Federal Taxation is one of only three such law school-sponsored institutes in the country today.


First William Green Hale Moot Court competition is held. Named after the retired dean, this inaugural forensic competition pitted student-advocates on either side of a custody decree dispute and a full faith and credit matter. Arguing before five California justices, Philip Jones JD 1949 took the first prize. Jones himself later advanced to the bench. The competition was founded by William P. Hogoboom JD 1949, another future judge, and Jerome L. Doff JD 1949.



USC Gould professor Robert Kingsley is named dean. Educated at Harvard and the University of Minnesota, the criminal law and domestic relations expert had been on USC Gould's faculty since 1928. His 11-year tenure in the dean's office witnessed the first stirrings of active philanthropy. Kingsley later became a judge of the California Court of Appeal.


Legion Lex is founded. This active and successful volunteer fund-raising support group for USC Gould has, over the past 45 years, generated millions of dollars in annual contributions. Legion Lex has helped erect buildings, supported faculty research and teaching, and provided student scholarships.

1960s: Rise to National Prominence


USC Gould professor Orrin B. Evans is appointed dean. The former University of Missouri professor and university counsel joined USC's faculty in 1947 as an expert on real estate and insurance law. During his five years as dean, Evans helped usher in USC Gould's signature emphasis on interdisciplinary study.


"Law, Language, and Ethics" first offered. This signature course, required of all first-year law students, transformed the way law is taught at USC. Drawing on fields such as philosophy, psychology and economics, the course encourages students to examine legal issues in a comprehensive context. Its introduction in 1965 anticipated the school's current faculty, many of whom have interdisciplinary interests and expertise.


The Western Center on Law and Poverty is established in the law school building. As part of the War on Poverty, it supported local legal services programs, law reform litigation and representation for organizations. Early leaders included professors Martin Levine (founding executive director), Michael Shapiro, Gary Bellow, Derrick Bell and Earl Johnson.


Judicial administration expert Dorothy W. Nelson LLM 1956 becomes the first woman dean of a leading American law school. In 1957, a year after completing her advanced legal degree at USC, Nelson joined the faculty. A decade later, she succeeded Orrin B. Evans as dean, leading the school until 1980, when she was appointed to the bench. Nelson remains a judge on the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

In the same year, the Board of Councilors is first convened. Culled from a distinguished list of lawyers specializing in a wide variety of legal areas, this board provides crucial insight and advice to both the USC Gould dean and the university president.


The Black Law Students Association is founded.



Chicano Law Students Association is founded. In the same year, USC Gould moves into its current headquarters, the Elvon and Mabel Musick Building. Named in honor of legendary Los Angeles attorney Elvon Musick and his wife, Mabel, the five-level, 88,000-square-foot facility provided state-of-the-art resources, including a computerized library.


Asian Law Students Association is founded.


Exchange program with Caltech begins, enabling professors at both institutions to co-teach and co-author works in law, economics and political science. The partnership evolved into the Program in Law and Rational Choice in 1992, allowing for enhanced interaction between the schools, joint faculty workshops, and a joint-degree program.



USC-educated constitutional law expert Scott H. Bice JD 1968 is named dean. The second-longest serving dean in the school's history, Bice returned to teaching after his 20-year tenure ended on June 30, 2000, becoming the Robert C. Packard Professor of Law. On his watch, USC Gould became international in its scope, nearly doubled in physical size and completed three major capital campaigns.


Post-Conviction Justice Project is founded. The program gives students real-world training as advocates for prison inmates.


The Public Interest Law Foundation (PILF) is founded. Concerned about insufficient funds for public interest legal services, a group of law students levied a self-imposed $30 annual tax. With nearly 100 percent student participation and broad support from staff, faculty and graduates, the foundation subsidizes hundreds of student-advocates serving the elderly, abused and neglected children, homeless families and other vulnerable populations.


Children's Legal Issues Clinic is founded. For a decade, students have represented minors in legal proceedings dealing with dependency and neglect, abuse, guardianship and school administrative matters.



The Musick Building's new wing opens. Adding 62,000 square feet to the 1970 facility, this expansion yielded the Ackerman Moot Courtroom, new seminar classrooms, offices for student organizations and clinical programs, lounges and a cafeteria, computer and video labs and a greatly enlarged law library.


Pacific Center for Health Policy and Ethics is founded. Sponsored jointly with the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the Pacific Center brings together international scholars and public dignitaries in teaching and research concerning social, ethical and legal issues in health care.


Southern California Interdisciplinary Law Journal is founded. This student-managed publication focuses on the scholarly work of legal academics, economists, physicians, anthropologists and experts in other fields who analyze law from their particular perspectives. The Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice, inaugurated in 1991, explores legal issues relating to gender and society. It is later re-named Southern California Review of Law and Social Justice.


The school's law library embraces information technology: Its card catalog goes online. The following year, USC Gould publicly launches its website.


USC Gould unveils its first multi-media classrooms. One-third of library carrels are now wired to accommodate personal laptop computers.


Small Business Clinic is founded. Law students offer consultation services on employment issues to small businesses and nonprofits.

In the same year, the USC Center for Communications Law and Policy opens. The interdisciplinary program is jointly sponsored by USC Gould, USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, USC Annenberg Center on Communication Leadership and Policy.


New law student services go online, including class registration, grade notification and on-campus employer interview sign-ups. Email discussion lists supplement classroom teaching in many courses.

2000s: Law in the New Millennium


The school celebrates its centennial and Matthew L. Spitzer JD 1977 is named dean. The Center for the Study of Law and Politics is created, launching a unique network of interconnected scholars drawn from diverse disciplines such as law, political science, economics, public administration, psychology, and communications.


Two new interdisciplinary institutes are formed. The Center for Law, Economics and Organization works to improve understanding of how economics, law and organizations interact, and draws upon the resources of USC Gould, the Marshall School of Business and the Department of Economics in the Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. The Center for Law, History and Culture, another partnership with the Dornsife College, is devoted to encouraging the study of law as an historical and cultural institution.


Graduate and International Programs is launched with an inaugural class of 12 students. More than 2,000 students from over 70 countries spanning six continents have since received degrees.


The Initiative and Referendum Institute — the nation's most prominent educational and research organization focused on direct democracy — moves to USC Law and joins the Center for the Study of Law and Politics.


A joint project of USC Gould and Donrsife College, the Center for Law and Philosophy is formed to promote interdisciplinary scholarship in legal, moral, and political philosophy.

Intellectual Property and Technology Law Clinic is founded. The clinic is a joint project of USC Law, USC Annenberg Center on Communication, Leadership and Policy, and USC Information Services Division.

In the same year, a new cafe and refurbished law library open to students for the fall semester.


USC Gould Professor Edward J. McCaffery, renowned tax expert, is named interim dean. The Robert C. Packard Trustee Chair in Law and Professor of Law, Economics and Political Science, McCaffery has served on USC Gould's faculty since 1989.

The Legal Aid Alternative Breaks (LAAB) Project is founded by students with the aid of the Office of Public Service. The student group has coordinated trips during spring and winter breaks, allowing students, staff, alumni and faculty to provide legal services to vulnerable communities in the Gulf Coast, California's Coachella Valley and Mexico.


Bankruptcy and corporate reorganization expert Robert K. Rasmussen is appointed dean. He previously was a celebrated professor and administrator at Vanderbilt University Law School for nearly 20 years.

The Southern California Innovation Project is founded. The cross-campus research center draws leading academics from law, business, economics, sociology, engineering and other sciences at USC, Caltech and the University of California system, who study the processes by which businesses and legal firms generate and sustain productive creativity.

Two new clinical programs are launched, bringing the number of non-litigation clinical training programs at USC Gould to seven. Students in the Mediation Clinic learn dispute resolution skills and mediate Los Angeles Superior Court small claims and civil harassment cases. In the Small Business Clinic, students provide basic corporate legal assistance to small businesses, entrepreneurs and nonprofit organizations.


Public Interest Law Foundation celebrates 20 years of developing a service ethic among law students, facilitating careers in public interest and subsidizing students' service work.


Elyn Saks is awarded a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, better known as the "genius grant." Saks is the first USC faculty member to become a MacArthur fellow.

Dean Rasmussen and the Board of Councilors formulate a vision statement for the law school. It reads: "The University of Southern California Gould School of Law cultivates analytical ability, ethical values, and a spirit of collegiality that prepare our students for meaningful careers benefitting society. We enrich human knowledge and the principles of justice through superior scholarship."

USC Gould becomes the fourth school to host the Conference on Empirical Legal Studies, the annual gathering of the Society for Empirical Legal Studies. The conference draws scholars who focus on analyzing real-world data and experimental evidence to explore complex legal issues.



Two new practice-focused programs are launched: the Business Law certificate program and the Media, Entertainment and Technology Law certificate program. The former is designed to help prepare students for working with business clients and the business-related legal issues they will encounter in both litigation and transactional law. In the latter, top talent from the entertainment industry introduce law students to the many issues unique to practicing law in entertainment and media-related businesses. Enrollment in both programs is high.

The Saks Institute for Mental Health Law, Policy, and Ethics launches at USC. Created by Elyn Saks with her MacArthur Foundation award, the institute is a cross-disciplinary effort that focuses on one significant mental health issue per academic year.


The International Human Rights Clinic opens. The clinic gives students the opportunity to work on cases, both local and international, that address war crimes and human rights abuses.

United States Supreme Court Justice Anthony M. Kennedy visits USC Law. In just over 24 hours, the native Californian presided over a mock trial of Hamlet, taught a constitutional law class, and participated in a wide-ranging conversation with Dean Rasmussen before hundreds of law students.

USC Gould expands its popular study-abroad program to Bond University in Queensland, Australia; Bocconi University in Milan, Italy; and Jean Moulin University in Lyon, France. The program continues to offer the semester program at the University of Hong Kong and a year-long dual degree program at the London School of Economics.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awards Tom Lyon a $2 million grant to test a protocol he developed for interviewing maltreated children about their abuse. Combined with a previous grant of $1.7 million, it is the largest NIH grant received in USC Gould's history.

The Graduate and International Program celebrates its 10th year with more than 150 students from around the world earning LLM or MCL degrees.

The Post-Conviction Justice Project celebrates its 30th anniversary. Students have represented thousands of state and federal prisoners at parole hearings and on habeas, secured a landmark decision in 2008, and successfully advocated for criminal justice reforms.


U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia delivers the annual Roth Lecture. During his visit he also taught a Constitutional Law class and met with students and faculty.

Donald Scotten is appointed associate academic director and adjunct assistant professor of law for Graduate and International Programs.

USC Gould student group OUTLaw makes history by becoming the first on-campus organization to launch an effort to endow a scholarship to the school. The scholarship benefits lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students and those working toward legal equality for LGBT individuals.


The Hollywood Reporter ranks USC Gould No. 1 for entertainment law.

Justice Albert Sachs delivers the Allen Neiman and Alan Sieroty Lecture in Civil Liberties. Sachs was a Freedom Fighter in South Africa and was later a judge on South Africa's Constitutional Court, appointed by Nelson Mandela.

Elyn Saks is appointed to a three-year term on the Center for Mental Health Services National Advisory Council by the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services.

The J.D. study abroad program expands to include Fundacao Getulio Vargas University in Sao Paulo, Brazil.


USC Gould launches a historic $150 million fundraising initiative to advance the school's role as a leader in legal education by providing scholarship support for students, attracting additional stellar faculty, and creating a physical space that fosters collaborative and inter-professional learning. The initiative is part of The Campaign for the University of Southern California, a multiyear effort to secure $6 billion or more in private philanthropy to advance USC's academic priorities and expand its positive impact on the community and the world.

Graduate and International Programs launches fully online LL.M. degree program for foreign students in the fall. The new program allows foreign attorneys to study the U.S. legal system from anywhere in the world.

USC Gould launches the 3+3 accelerated bachelor's to J.D. program. This allows USC's best and brightest undergraduates to forgo the LSAT and earn both their bachelor's and law degrees in a total of six years. The students apply for law school as juniors and, if accepted, enroll at USC Gould the following year.


USC Gould welcomes Andrew T. Guzman as 14th dean of the law school.

USC Gould receives a $5 million gift from Judge Judith O. Hollinger JD 1961 to launch the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) program, one of the few in the nation teaching students the important skills of arbitration and mediation.

The Post-Conviction Justice Project represents the first juvenile client in California to be released from prison under the California Fair Sentencing for Youth Act.

Alumnus Randol Schoenberg JD 1991 and his landmark case to reclaim stolen art seized during World War II was turned into a major motion picture, "Woman in Gold," featuring Helen Mirren and Ryan Reynolds.


USC Gould launches the Center for Transnational Law and Business which promotes world-class policy analysis, research and educational opportunities in international business, law and policy. The Center provides a scholarly home for the development of practical solutions for global businesses, which face regulation by numerous and varied legal regimes.


USC Gould established its first named clinical law professorship with a generous $1.5 million gift from longtime supporter Audrey M. Irmas. Niels Frenzen, founding director of the USC Gould Immigration Clinic, is installed as the first Sydney M. and Audrey M. Irmas Endowed Clinical Professor. The gift will expand the Immigration Clinic's work and student participation in advocacy and representation of immigration clients.



Broadening its clinical impact, USC Gould launched the Housing Law and Policy Clinic, allowing students the opportunity to build essential lawyering and advocacy skills, while also helping address complex community issues.

USC Gould unveiled its Bachelor of Science in Legal Studies, giving students a robust background in law and examining how law shapes society. This interdisciplinary academic program is Gould’s only undergraduate degree; and one of only a handful degrees of its kind nationwide.


Andrew Guzman, renowned legal scholar and economist and then-Dean of USC Gould, was appointed as USC’s Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs. He was also named holder of the Shelly and Ofer Nemirovsky Provost’s Chair at USC.


Interim Dean and Professor Franita Tolson was named the dean and Carl Mason Franklin Chair in Law of the USC Gould School of Law. Tolson is a nationally recognized thought leader and dialogue shaper in election law, voting rights, constitutional law and legal history with research and insights appearing in leading law reviews and major media publications across the country.