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Law Center 75th Anniversary 1947 – 2022

Building

The new John M. O’Quinn Law Building will open in Fall 2022.

Becoming the Law Center

The University of Houston Law Center celebrates its 75th year anniversary and marks 75 years of educating legal minds in 2022. It will also enter a bold new chapter in August 2022 with the opening of what will be its fourth home, The John M. O’Quinn Law Building. 

The striking icon, which will feature views of the Houston skyline, will reflect the Law Center's prominence and dramatic progress from its humble beginnings.

***

In its infancy, the Law Center was first known as the University of Houston School of Law. It consisted of a converted World War II wood barracks on the north side of the UH campus under the deanship of A.A. White, a respected Dallas attorney. White was selected for the role in August 1947.

 

Barracks

Dean A.A. White (1947 – 1956) was a respected Dallas attorney.

White

The University of Houston Law School, 1947

Accompanied by Edison E. Oberholtzer, UH's first president, years later White remembered his first time viewing the facility.

“The first act I recall doing was to get mud out of my shoes,” he said. “President Oberholtzer and I had gotten mud over our shoe tops when we made our maiden voyage to give me, the newly employed dean, my first look at our law school quarters.”

Under challenging and unique circumstances, White's words and expectations from that time can be applied to the Law Center's limitless future in 2022 and beyond.

“It is seed–planting time,” White said. “A time for bending the twig, a time to dream dreams and to see visions.”

The school graduated its first class in 1950 – a group of 28 with each alumnus passing the bar exam on their attempt. White said of the cohort, “They were deadly serious about their education. A mere handful were the ’law school,’ and they had a sense of making history.”

 

Barracks

The first graduating class of 28 men in 1950.

 

“We were the first class, and we wondered whether we were up with other law schools,” said class valedictorian Eugene J. Pitman ’50. “Three years later we took the bar. I finished second in the state. I thought that was a pretty good indication.”

***

The law school’s time in the barracks was short-lived. In the fall of 1950, instruction resumed in the basement of the M.D. Anderson Library. With air conditioning, improved lighting and an increased capacity for classroom space and faculty offices, the relocation was considered a significant upgrade from the crowded barracks.

The law school was accredited in 1953. Following White’s resignation in 1956, Newell Blakely, the third fulltime professor in the Law Center’s history became the school’s second dean. Lovingly referred to as “The Blake,” Blakely was frequently compared to Professor Kingsfield, a fictional contracts professor at Harvard Law School in the 1973 film “The Paper Chase.” Like White, Blakely’s emphasis was to add outstanding faculty. He urged faculty members to seek advanced degrees to enrich their backgrounds, and they began fanning out across the country for LL.M. degrees.

 

Blakely

Dean Newell Blakely (1956 – 1965) lovingly referred to as “The Blake,” was frequently compared to Professor Kingsfield, a fictional professor in the 1973 film The Paper Chase.

 

While viewed as an elite part of the University of Houston, Blakely was challenged by seeking the approval of the American Association of Law Schools, an effort that would stretch into the next decade and another dean’s tenure.

While Blakely and White fought battles for respect, the law school student body began taking on a life of its own. Graduates were spreading across the city and state, becoming judges, district attorneys, state representatives and corporate attorneys.

***

 

The Law Center’s 50th year was cause for celebration and an opportunity to look back on how far it had come.

 

Blakely resigned as dean in 1965.  He would keep a prominent role at the law school as a vital member of the faculty until 1987. Then-Associate Dean John Neibel became the school’s third dean. He was tasked with the school gaining admission to the AALS. This goal was accomplished after heavy scrutiny in 1966.

 

Neibel

Dean John Neibel’s (1956 – 1976) time would be defined by soaring class sizes, overcrowding, and a need for a new building.

 

Until the 1960s, class sizes rarely had more than 50 students. By the late 1960s, class sizes soared to about 150 students. Once again, conditions became crowded, and the goal of the era became to build a new facility for the expanding law school.

At the time, President Lyndon B. Johnson had secured passage of the Higher Education Facilities Act (HEFA), which provided building funds to colleges, but not law schools. Neibel traveled to Washington D.C. to lobby for changing the bill to include law schools, but was unsuccessful. Upon his return to Houston, he called Jack Valenti, a Houstonian who was serving as special assistant in the Johnson administration.

“Valenti called President Johnson. Johnson called the Department of Education, and eight hours later the UH law school was the first in the country to receive a HEFA grant, doubling the building budget overnight,” Neibel recalled.

 

Blakely

Architect's model of phase one of the UH Satellite Law College plan. Construction planned for 1967 at Calhoun and Elgin Streets.

 

Groundbreaking began on the school’s third and current facility in 1969. That same year it was re-named the Bates College of Law after Col. William B. Bates. Bates was an attorney who served on the University of Houston Board of Regents and the law school founding committee.

In addition to the facility, Neibel’s goal as dean was to expand the school’s reputation and attract faculty and students from across the country, a vision that would flower in the decades to come.

***

A booming legal market and a new facility ushered in a new era for the Bates College of Law to start the 1970s. By the mid-70s classes swelled from about 150 students in size to 300. The period also represented a sea of change for the school in diversity. James M. Lemond, the school’s first  African American, graduated in 1970. That same year, the Black Law Students Association, and a chapter of the Chicano Law Students Association - now known nationally as the Hispanic Law Students Association - was established. The student body transformed, and the graduating class was nearly 40 percent women. Along with the new presence of women at the school, 1974 also marked the arrival of the first woman faculty member - Irene M. Rosenberg.

Blakely
Blakely
Blakely

The diversity of the Law Center changed significantly in the 1970s. Women joined the school, the Black Law Students Association and the Chicano Law Students Association formed and James M. Lemond became the first African American to graduate in 1970.

The first phase of the new Bates College of Law complex consisted of three buildings, including a large underground central research library. The three-story teaching unit contained classrooms, courtrooms, conference centers, study carrels and faculty offices. In 1974, a second teaching unit was completed and added to a stylish complex built around an atrium.

 

Blakely

The new building was considered cutting edge at the time and was a symbol of the school’s growing reputation both locally and nationally.

 

The advent of a new sophisticated facility was symbolic as the school’s reputation continued to rise. While some top students broke barriers at prestigious downtown law firms in the ’60s, in the ’70s the Bates College of Law appeared on the radar of firms like Baker Botts, the firm formerly known as Fulbright & Jaworski and Vinson & Elkins.

Crucial links to downtown law firms would strengthen under the deanship of George W. Hardy III, who took the role in 1976. A noted legal expert in oil and gas, Hardy would also prove to be a valuable fundraiser, leading the school’s first serious giving campaign and establishing the Annual Law Gala & Auction. The event remains a popular gathering and a who’s who of alumni and friends of the Law Center.

 

Hardy

Dean George W. Hardy III (1976 – 1980) tenure represented a sea change for the school in terms of diversity of the student body.

 

The hallmark of Hardy’s administration was the hiring of faculty members from across the country. His national recruiting efforts made him one of the prime builders of the Law Center as a community of nationally prominent legal scholars.

Hardy’s time as dean ended in 1980.

***

 

A promotional video that shows the best of what the Center has to offer.

 

If the ’70s had been about solidifying the school’s reputation in Texas, the ’80s became a time when the school’s identity was recognized around the country. A new dean, Robert L. Knauss, would arrive to campus in 1981 to launch this new era.

 

Knaus

Dean Robert L. Knauss' (1980 – 1993) deanship coincided with a boom-and-bust economy in Houston and a saturated market for lawyers everywhere.

 

Considered a master of forward planning, Knauss foresaw the rapidly-changing legal landscape and recognized that a new vision was needed. His deanship coincided with an era that would feature increasing specialization in the law, a boom-and-bust economy in Houston and a saturated market for lawyers everywhere.

In 1982, the Bates College of Law was changed to the University of Houston Law Center, and one of the law buildings was renamed the Bates Law Building. The name change was intended to reflect the broader mission the school would embrace in the years to come – maintaining the core principle of training lawyers, but specializing in fields like international law, health law, environmental law and intellectual property law.

 

Law Center

The school changed its name to reflect the broader mission the school would embrace in the years to come.

 

While the core of the school still was to train lawyers, new goals included appealing to practicing attorneys to return for additional training. The legal profession was becoming more complicated with specialization in fields like international, health, environmental and intellectual property law.

“The increasingly sophisticated law community in Houston was the perfect place to start such programs,” Knauss said.

By 1983, the Law Center had received approval to grant LL.M. degrees. In 1985, as an indicator of its growing stature, the Law Center became the 67th law school in the country to be awarded a chapter of the Order of the Coif, the oldest and most prestigious legal honorary society in the U.S. The honor is based on excellence of faculty and students.

By the end of the decade, the legal market had become saturated. However, the Law Center prepared students for the downturn with its specialized programs like intellectual property and health law. Many other enterprising graduates found a creative use for their J.D., as some alumni established executive search firms, dispute resolution centers and software companies.

***

Knauss resigned from his post in 1993. Stephen Zamora, a professor of international business and trade law who had served on the faculty for nearly 20 years, was his successor. Zamora marked the first Hispanic dean in the Law Center.

 

Zamora

Dean Stephen Zamora (1993 – 2000) was the first Hispanic dean in the Law Center’s history.

 

“When I arrived as a young professor in 1978, the law school already had a strong local reputation,” Zamora recalled. “But it evolved into an institution with a national reputation and influence. Founding Dean A.A. White and I shared one thing in common: We both have believed that the heart of an outstanding law school lies in its faculty.

“White and the founders of the law school paved the way for the Law Center, a community that is larger than the sum of its parts, to continue to influence people’s lives profoundly, positively and with a touch of greatness.”

Zamora’s deanship gave the Law Center a global flair. An authority on international and Mexican law, Zamora was the founder of the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law. He also served as director of the North American Consortium on Legal Education.

“He was so supportive and a very good administrator,” said Sondra Tennessee, who currently serves as the associate dean for alumni and community relations. “The North American Consortium on Legal Education was a program that provided opportunities for students to study in either Mexico or a university in Canada. Likewise, students from Canada and Mexico could come to the Law Center.

“Creating those opportunities for students to learn more about the legal experience broadly in different countries — that really was something that Dean Zamora was interested in. He wanted to make sure that people didn't only focus on the U.S. and that they focused globally. Their impact was broader than just here.”

Zamora’s time as dean ended in 2000, but he would teach at the Law Center for another 14 years.

***

Nancy B. Rapoport became dean in 2000, the first woman to hold the position in Law Center history. During her tenure, she orchestrated an impressive hiring program that added several excellent faculty members while significantly building both the Law Center’s endowment and operating gifts.

 

Rapoport

Dean Nancy B. Rapoport (2000 – 2005) would be the first female dean in the Law Center’s history.

 

Rapoport was also at the helm of the successful, but arduous recovery from Tropical Storm Allison in 2001. The storm flooded substantial portions of the building and left the O’Quinn Law Library under 12 feet of water, destroying hundreds of thousands of volumes.

Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson, the Newell H. Blakely Chair, who had been appointed associate dean for academic affairs six months prior, found herself on the front lines of the response to the natural disaster.

“We were about to start summer school,” Thompson recalled. “It was June 7, 2001. Back then, the part-time class started at the beginning of summer. We were about to welcome them for the first time, and we had no building to welcome them to. Apart from securing it and beginning the remediation, my role was to figure out where we were going to teach these classes.”

Rapoport

Rapoport

Rapoport

Rapoport

Dean Rapoport played her leadership role well in the aftermath of Allison, acting as a quick decision-maker and cheerleader. The damage to the underground law library was extensive and thousands of books were lost.

In addition to part-time courses beginning, there was also the matter of recent graduates preparing for the bar exam at the end of July. Law schools must certify J.D. recipients to sit for the exam, which requires an administrative process for each graduate.

“Certifying the students for the bar required going into the Law Center and getting into the files,” Thompson said. “Our staff was told they were not to enter that building because there were mold concerns. They could have just left the students hanging. But instead, they put on waders and brought flashlights. They went in there and got every student certified for the bar against the dean's orders.”

Thompson also recalled the generosity of the local legal community who offered classroom space and other resources for displaced Law Center faculty and students.

“We will forever be grateful because they helped us to get through,” Thompson said. “That was really the story for me. We never went offline because our IT department is so great, and they also went in floodwaters to rescue the server. We never missed a day of instruction. Everything got rebuilt; the summer school kept going. It was because the school at the end of the day was not a building. It was the people and the community, and that was what sustained us.

“Years later when Katrina hit, we did the same thing for one of the New Orleans schools as well because we knew what they were going through.”

Rapoport would leave the Law Center in 2005, to be replaced by Raymond T. Nimmer in 2006, who was serving as interim dean at the time of her departure.

***

When a committee of alumni and faculty members dutifully completed their nationwide search, Nimmer’s name topped the list of nominees submitted to former UH Provost Donald Foss. Late in the spring semester, Foss seconded the committee’s motion – and made Nimmer the eighth permanent dean in the school’s history.

 

Nimmer

Dean Raymond T. Nimmer (2006 – 2013) was an authority on commercial, information, and intellectual property law.

 

Nimmer was a recognized authority on commercial law, information law and intellectual property law, and was the Leonard H. Childs Professor of Law. He previously served as associate dean from 1978 to 1985 and as interim dean from 1993 to 1995. He also served as co-director of the Law Center's Intellectual Property and Information Law Institute.

Nimmer’s time as dean was marked by increased faculty, revised curricula, improved rankings, international outreach, a tripling of scholarship funds and a revitalized alumni organization. Throughout his time on the Law Center faculty, he was a strong advocate for the Law Center’s premier student-produced publication, The Houston Law Review.

“I took the job for a simple reason: because I believe our school is on the cusp of greatness, and I want to help make it happen,” Nimmer said at the time of his hiring. “I’ve heard people criticized at other schools for aiming too high. That’s a criticism I will willingly accept, because I think it’s important to constantly strive to improve your situation.”

Nimmer is remembered by some of his colleagues for his clairvoyance. In 2009, the Law Center’s entering class decreased by about 50 students. This proved to be significant when applications declined nationally in 2011, partly because of the Great Recession and subprime mortgage crisis.

With the Law Center’s strengths in environment, energy and natural resources law, Nimmer helped establish a partnership with the University of Calgary Faculty of Law – the International Energy Lawyers Program. The program allows students to spend their law school experience in Calgary and at the Law Center and gives them the ability to earn a J.D. in Canada and the U.S.

“The vision has to be that we have large numbers of foreign lawyers coming here and our students and faculty going to schools in other countries,” Nimmer said.

 

Alderman

Alderman taught at the Law Center for 42 years and led the popular People’s Law School which educated thousands of Houstonians about their legal rights.

 

Professor Emeritus Richard Alderman, who served as associate dean for academic affairs during Nimmer’s deanship, remembered Nimmer for his adaptability.

“With each changing direction, Ray succeeded,” Alderman said. “Ray knew only how to succeed. He was not your typical law professor, but Ray wasn't a typical anything. Ray did what he wanted to do and seemed to always want to do something different.

“We often discussed various issues, and I was so impressed with his knowledge, his inquisitiveness and his quick comprehension of what we were looking at. His ability to quickly synthesize, organize, digest and coordinate information was astonishing.”

After a seven-year tenure, Nimmer resigned in 2013 and returned to the classroom.

***

Nimmer's successor, Leonard M. Baynes, was announced as the ninth dean in Law Center history in April of 2014. Baynes previously served as a professor at the St. John's University School of Law and made Law Center history as the first dean of African American descent.

Rapoport

Rapoport

Rapoport

Rapoport

Dean Leonard M. Baynes (2014 – Present) was the first dean of African American descent to lead the Law Center.

Among his first orders of business was establishing the award-winning Pre-Law Pipeline Program. The program is designed to increase diversity among law school applicants and to provide students from low-income, first generation, and underrepresented backgrounds an opportunity to seriously consider a legal education. Since its inception, it has grown in class size and stature and has produced law school graduates at the Law Center and other law schools around the nation.

Rapoport

Rapoport

Rapoport

Rapoport

Dean Baynes has been instrumental in the changing diversity of the law school and creating opportunities for access.

He instituted a voluntary “Community Service Day” during which incoming first-year students, faculty and staff fan out across the city to work on public service projects. He also has increased the number of scholarships and opportunities for students to serve in school-funded, public service internships at home and abroad.

Baynes’ deanship also accomplished a decades-long goal for the Law Center community by delivering new state-of-the-art facility. A recurring theme throughout Baynes’ deanship has been, “a world-class law school in a world-class city requires a world-class building."

The Law Center complex never fully recovered from the severe flooding in 2001, and more recent severe weather events such as Hurricane Ike in 2008, Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and numerous other instances of flooding underscored the facility’s vulnerability.

In 2018, the “More than Bricks” building campaign was established, with the first phase of its fundraising goal being $10 million. Enthused by the prospects of an upgraded facility, Law Center alumni quickly helped the school reach that milestone in January of 2019. By October of 2019, $78 million had been raised toward the approximately $93 million facility thanks to the Texas Legislature and support from the UH administration.

Raising the final funds would come from one of the Law Center’s most ardent and successful alumni – John M. O’Quinn, a 1967 graduate. O’Quinn passed away in 2009, but the foundation bearing his name would help the Law Center cross a meaningful finish line.

 

Alderman

John M. O’Quinn’s (’67) generosity was vital in the Law Center achieving its dream of a new building.

 

An accomplished attorney and philanthropist, O'Quinn's generosity was not confined to just the Law Center, as his support can be found across the UH campus.

“John O’Quinn was an exceptionally talented lawyer and a very passionate alum. During our several conversations, he expressed his commitment to raising the rankings of the Law Center by building a new home for it,” said Renu Khator, president of the University of Houston. “He had already been a generous donor to both the Law Center and UH Athletics, and it gives me special joy to know that the new law building will carry his name.”

“John M. O’Quinn arose from humble beginnings, and through the power of his UH legal education, he became one of the nation’s top trial lawyers, winning more than $21 billion for his clients," Baynes added. “During his life, he routinely gave back to the Houston community by supporting education, hospitals and programs that enrich the lives of underserved communities. Having his name permanently on our new building will inspire our students that they too can overcome their life circumstances, be outstanding trial lawyers and give back to their communities.”

***

 

Dean Leonard M. Baynes gives a tour of the new building as they break ground on the John M. O’Quinn Law Center.

 

Throughout Baynes’ deanship, his signature mantra has been, “The Power of a Legal Education.”

“The power of a legal education is learning to think like a lawyer,” Baynes said. “This means that you learn to write precisely, analyze rigorously, advocate persuasively and uphold the highest standards of professional conduct. A UH Law Center education empowers graduates to secure justice for clients, advocate for those in need and help set right some societal wrongs.”

 

Alderman

John M. O’Quinn Law Building Preview

 

As the Law Center turns 75 and enters a new facility, Baynes believes that while the school has made a multitude of accomplishments and progress, some things have not changed.

“The school remains very much the same,” Baynes said. “We have the same values. We have the same interests and want to be the best we can be. This law school makes a difference in changing students’ lives, and it has done this since its inception 75 years ago.

“The students today share the same story. They’re here to improve their lot in life. They’re here to make a difference and find justice for their clients. It’s the story of the University of Houston Law Center.”

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