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Santa Clara University School of Law Celebrates its 100-Year Anniversary

Monday, Oct. 11, 2010

SANTA CLARA, Calif., Oct. 11, 2010—One hundred years ago, 15 intelligent, motivated Italian and Irish Catholic men found a haven of scholarship and legal education at a newly minted Jesuit law school, one of only a handful of law schools then in existence in California.

Today, Santa Clara University School of Law, which is celebrating its centennial anniversary through next October, has grown to become one of the most diverse, highly regarded law schools in the country. Its graduates are leaders in the fields of government, high-tech and patent law, social-justice and public-service law, and international law.

In 1911, with a faculty of only four teaching part-time afternoon and evenings, that first class went on to produce the founder of a 200-lawyer San Francisco law firm, a federal food commissioner, two state district attorneys, and a San Francisco city attorney.

Today, enrollment tops 900, with women accounting for 48 percent of the student body. Ethnic minorities routinely represent more than a third of the class, including those identifying themselves as having Asian, Hispanic, and Pacific Islander heritages.

Since the 1960s, no fewer than one-third of Santa Clara County’s Superior Court judges have been SCU Law alumni. Also among the school’s graduates are the current CIA director, a former chief justice of the California Supreme Court, numerous members of Congress, leaders of state and federal government agencies, and countless judges at all levels of the state and federal judiciary. Past presidents of the Hispanic National Bar Association and the African-American group the National Bar Association also hail from SCU Law.

“Since its founding in 1911, Santa Clara University’s law school has been providing a quality legal education for bright and engaged men and women who seek to inspire change in the national and local corridors of power and to represent their clients’ interests and needs,” said SCU Law Dean Donald Polden. “Today, Santa Clara Law prides itself on providing a rigorous education for some of the country’s most promising lawyers who lead their fields with a commitment to professional excellence, ethical lawyering, and community service—all  with one of the most vibrant business centers in the world as our backyard.”

While the curriculum, buildings, and students have changed considerably, what has remained constant is the school’s commitment to social justice. “The Jesuit mission includes a strong commitment to social justice, and that has pervaded the law school and its student body from the beginning,” says Gerald Uelmen, professor and former dean of the School of Law. Last year, law school students provided over 11,000 hours of legal pro bono work.

Santa Clara Law is also distinguished by its faculty, which unlike most schools are encouraged and granted advancement not just for scholarly research, but also for their social or community outreach. This has led to faculty members who have founded international nonprofits, who sit on boards of social-justice or homeless-advocacy nonprofits, who serve industries in which they specialize, and who work internationally for the cause of human rights.

“A Santa Clara Law education emphasizes the full range of legal, moral, and ethical principles that form the bedrock of American law,” said CIA Director Leon Panetta, a 1963 J.D. alumnus. “SCU Law also stresses the importance of service to the nation and our local communities. I drew personal inspiration from that calling when I was a student, and it’s something I strongly value to this day.”

Other prominent Santa Clara Law graduates include
•    Former California Supreme Court chief judge, Ed Panelli, ’55
•    California Appeals Court associate justice and former California State Senator Charles Poochigian, ’75
•    Former San Jose mayor and formerly part-owner of 49ers, Al Ruffo, ’36
•    Congress member Zoe Lofgren, ’75
•    Senior trial attorneys at the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Peter McCloskey, ’80 and Alan Tieger ’75
•    Santa Clara County Assistant District Attorney, Rolanda Pierre-Dixon ’80

A special convocation to celebrate the centennial will be held in the University’s Mayer Theater at 5 p.m. on Oct. 18, 2010.

Also on the centennial agenda are plans next year for a dramatic reenactment of the 1912 “trial of the century” of famed labor attorney Clarence Darrow for jury-tampering. Details will be provided as the reenactment plans become firmed up.

For more information about centennial events as well as historic photos of the School of Law, visit the website

About Santa Clara University School of Law
Santa Clara University School of Law, founded in 1911 on the site of California’s oldest operating higher-education institution, is dedicated to educating lawyers who lead with a commitment to excellence, ethics, and social justice. One of the nation’s most diverse law schools, Santa Clara Law offers its 1,000 students an academically rigorous program, including graduate degrees in international law and intellectual property law; combined J.D./MBA and J.D./MSIS degrees; and certificates in intellectual property law, international law, and public interest and social justice law. Santa Clara Law is located in the world-class business center of Silicon Valley, and is distinguished nationally for its top-ranked program in intellectual property. For more information, see

About Santa Clara University
Santa Clara University, a comprehensive Jesuit, Catholic university located 40 miles south of San Francisco in California’s Silicon Valley, offers its more than 8,800 students rigorous undergraduate curricula in arts and sciences, business, theology, and engineering, plus master’s and law degrees and engineering Ph.D.s. Distinguished nationally by one of the highest graduation rates among all U.S. master’s universities, California’s oldest operating higher-education institution demonstrates faith-inspired values of ethics and social justice. For more information, see

Media Contact:
Deborah Lohse
Asst. Director, SCU Media Relations
(408) 554-5121

Select chronological moments in time: 

1911 – Law school founded as Santa Clara Institute of Law at Santa Clara College (founded in 1851). Students were all male; professors were all lawyers; courses were night courses.

1912 – Santa Clara College renamed Santa Clara University

1914 – First graduating class includes the future founder of a 200-lawyer firm that lasted nearly a century; a food commissioner under President Hoover; two California district attorneys, and a San Francisco city attorney. 

1926 – Name changed to College of Law. Mission church burns, taking with it about 1,000 books from the nearby law library.

1927 & 1928 – No degrees conferred as students sent to St. Ignatius and Georgetown amid a curriculum restructuring.

1929 – Day courses instituted.

1937 – After a period of improvements, law school is accredited by ABA.

1942 – One Japanese-American student, Maseo Kanemoto, who was interned by the United States, receives his diploma and passes the bar while interned.

1943 – Law school closed for WWII.

1947 – Law school reopened after WWII ended; 88 percent of enrolled students are veterans; 30 percent are married. A popular club is the Law Wives Club.

1952 – First African American to graduate from SCU Law, Aurelius “Reo” Miles.

1955 – Women permitted to apply; first female student joined in 1956 (but did not graduate).

1960 – Dean Leo Huard is instrumental in forming the county Legal Aid Society.

1963 – Three women are the first females to graduate.

1970 – George Alexander becomes dean, embarks on efforts to diversify the law school’s student body by ethnicity, region, and gender. To encourage African-American, Hispanic and other under-represented applicants, SCU Law in the 1970s started offering 50% tuition grants to qualified minority applicants. The law school triples in size.

1974 – Beginnings of Institute of International and Comparative Law. SCU is one of the few schools to send students to Asia, when other law schools were focused on Europe.

1990 – High Tech Law Institute at SCU formed.

1993 – East San Jose Community Law Center, later renamed after Katharine and George Alexander, is formed.

1999 – SCU’s Social Justice and Public Service law program started.

2000 – Northern California Innocence Project is formed.


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