Law Center 75th Anniversary 1947 – 2022
From its inception in 1947, UHLC has 9 deans who have led the school to excellence.
Dean A.A. White
1947 – 1956
White was a respected Dallas attorney who got the law school up and running in a World War II wood barracks on the north side of the University of Houston campus. “It is seed-planting time,” White said about the early beginnings of the law school. “A time for bending the twig, a time to dream dreams and to see visions.” The first graduating class was a group of 28 men who took their education seriously. “A mere handful were the ‘law school,’” said White. “They had a sense of making history.”
Dean Newell Blakely
1956 – 1965
Blakely was the third full-time professor in the Law Center’s history and continued as a professor until 1987. As dean, Blakely was tasked with gaining respect for the Center across the nation. The emphasis of his tenure was on adding outstanding faculty, and he encouraged faculty to seek advanced degrees to enrich their backgrounds. Lovingly referred to as “The Blake,” Blakely was frequently compared to Professor Kingsfield, a fictional professor at Harvard Law School in the 1973 film “The Paper Chase.”
Dean John Neibel
1965 – 1976
Neibel’s tenure would be defined by soaring class sizes, overcrowding and a need for a new building. In 1963, President Lyndon B. Johnson passed the Higher Education Facilities Act. Neibel saw this as an opportunity to get funding for the new law school. He went to Washington to advocate for law schools to be a part of the funding, but he was unsuccessful. Upon his return, he called his good friend Jack Valenti, who happened to be serving as special assistant in the Johnson administration. The very next day, the law school was added to the list, and ground broke on the school’s third and current facility in 1969, the Bates College of Law.
Dean George W. Hardy III
1976 – 1980
Hardy started his tenure during a booming legal market in the new facility and saw classes swell from 150 to 300. This period also represented a sea of change for the school in terms of diversity. James M. Lemond, the school’s first African American, graduated in 1970, and by the end of the decade, the graduating class was nearly 40% women. The school’s reputation continued to rise, and students found themselves in prestigious downtown law firms like Baker Botts and Vinson and Elkins. Hardy would prove to be a valuable fundraiser, leading the school’s first serious giving campaign and establishing the Annual Law Gala and Auction, which continues to this day. The hallmark of Hardy’s administration was hiring faculty members and recruiting students from across the country.
Dean Robert L. Knauss
1980 – 1993
Knauss was considered a master of forward planning, and he foresaw the rapidly changing legal landscape. 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. It also meant a name change for the school from the Bates College of Law to the University of Houston Law Center. 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, health, environmental and intellectual property law. 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. which is based on excellence of faculty and students.
Dean Stephen Zamora
1993 – 2000
Before he became dean, Zamora was a professor of international business and trade law for nearly 20 years at the Law Center. He was to be the first Hispanic dean in the Law Center’s history. Zamora’s deanship gave the school global flair. An authority in international and Mexican law, Zamora founded the Center for U.S. and Mexican Law, and he also served as director of the North American Consortium on Legal Education. The Consortium was a program that provided opportunities for students to study in either Mexico or Canada. Similarly, students from Canada and Mexico could come to the Law Center. “He wanted to make sure that people didn’t only focus on the U.S.,” said Sondra Tennessee, associate dean for alumni and community relations. “Their impact was broader than just here.”
Dean Nancy Rapoport
2000 – 2006
Rapoport would be the first female dean in the Law Center’s history. During her tenure, she orchestrated an impressive hiring program that added several excellent faculty members while significantly building both the Law Center’s endowments and operating gifts. Her deanship was also marked by Tropical Storm Allison in 2001, which left substantial portions of the building flooded and the O’Quinn Law Library under 12 feet of water. It was a successful but arduous recovery. Professor Sandra Guerra Thompson, the Newell H. Blakely Chair, found herself on the front lines of the response to the natural disaster. “Certifying students for the bar required going into the Law Center and getting into the files,” said Thompson. However, professors were asked to stay out of the building because of safety concerns. “They could have left the students hanging, but instead, they put on waders and brought flashlights and got every student certified for the bar.”
Dean Raymond T. Nimmer
2006 – 2013
Nimmer was a recognized authority on commercial, information and intellectual property law. His time as dean was marked by increased faculty, revised curricula, improved rankings, international outreach, a tripling of scholarship funds and a revitalized alumni organization. He was also a strong advocate for the Houston Law Review, the school’s student-produced publication. 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 allowed students to spend their law school experience in Calgary and at the Law Center which gave them ability to earn a J.D. in Canada and the U.S. This proved especially helpful at attracting students to the Law Center amidst a national applications decline in 2011, partly because of the Great Recession and the subprime mortgage crisis.
Dean Leonard M. Baynes
2014 – Present
Baynes is the ninth dean and the first of African American descent. 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, 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. Baynes' deanship also delivered on a decades long goal, a new state-of-the-art facility, the John M. O’Quinn Law Building (named after one of the Law Center's most ardent and successful alumni). As the Law Center turns 75 and enters a new facility, Baynes believes that while the school has had much success and made great progress, some things have not changed. “The students today share the same story,” said Baynes. “They’re here to make a difference and find justice for their clients. It’s the story of the University of Houston Law Center.”