Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Happy 100th Birthday, Loyola Law School!

LLS has resided at four locations over
its 100-year history.
By Dean Michael Waterstone

This op-ed was originally published in the Tuesday, Sept. 8 edition of the Los Angeles Daily Journal.

LMU Loyola Law School first opened its doors in downtown Los Angeles on Wednesday, Sept. 8, 1920 at 7:30 p.m. It was an evening-only program with eight students. There was no full-time faculty and no administration. A modest collection of books served as a library. Tuition for the year was $90, payable in four installments of $22.50.

The 19th Amendment was passed into law in the summer of 1920, giving women the right to vote just weeks before we welcomed our first students. And we are proud that the small group of students who comprised our first class included one woman among its eight. Just a few years later, our first Asian-American and African-American alumni graduated — in 1928 and 1932, respectively. As we enter our centennial anniversary in the midst of the disruption caused by COVID-19, it is hard not to note that we were born in the wake of the Spanish Flu, another global pandemic.

From that very first class and throughout the course of the last century, we have tried to stay true to our ideals set forward in our mission: to achieve and maintain excellence in the instruction of law and promote legal scholarship and research; to create leaders in the legal profession and society, demonstrating in their practice of law and public service the highest standards of personal integrity and professional ethics; and to be distinguished by our concern for social justice.

In the 100 years since we first opened our doors, we have graduated thousands of lawyers who are leaders in our community and our world. Loyola Law School alumni have served at the highest levels of government, represented individuals in the most important cases of their lives, and helped companies through bet-the-company moments. We count among our distinguished alumni more trailblazers and justice advocates than we can name, including household names like Johnnie Cochran Jr. and Gloria Allred. And we have more judges serving on the Los Angeles County Superior Court bench than any other law school.

We create alumni like these through our commitment to our students. Since 1920, our community has always prioritized teaching, and those magical moments in the classroom between teacher and student. One of my favorite parts about being dean is meeting with our alumni, and realizing almost all of them have a story about a professor who made a lasting impact on both their professional and personal lives. We challenge our students to engage with concepts and ideas in ways they never have before, growing their appreciation for what lawyers can accomplish for their clients, their communities and their world.

While being caring and dedicated teachers, our faculty serve the profession and our world by advancing knowledge. They engage in scholarship that seeks to redefine the law and push boundaries, influencing real-time policy debates and fostering important legal reforms. Our faculty’s civic engagement has included leadership roles on the L.A. Ethics Commission, multiple police oversight commissions and the L.A. City Commission on Civil and Human Rights, testimony before the U.S House and Senate, and arguments on behalf of indigent clients at the U.S. Supreme Court. Large segments of Los Angeles and beyond have learned about law through the translation and commentary of our accessible faculty.

We are more excited than ever about what Loyola Law School has to offer the world in the next 100 years. We constantly challenge ourselves to grow what we teach, who we teach and how we teach. Whether it is launching the first cybersecurity law program of its kind in the West, or creating the Transactional Lawyering Institute to bolster our offerings in business law and related practice areas, we attempt to meet the world where it is. Our community of learners is no longer limited to JD students, but also includes those pursuing degrees of Master of Science in Legal Studies, Master of Laws programs in a variety of subject areas, a Master of Taxation — and even certificates via our LLX Executive Education Program. None of these could have been imagined by that first class of students a century ago.

We also realize that even before the pandemic, there was a crushing access-to-justice gap. And that our profession functions best when it looks like the society that we serve. Grounded in our social justice mission, we feel an obligation to expand access to the profession, and produce lawyers who seek to make the world a more just and inclusive place. I am proud to say that this year’s entering class has the highest percentage of women and the most students from diverse backgrounds ever. This work is a journey, not a destination. While we are not perfect, we constantly strive to be better, and we are committed to this work for the next 100 years and beyond.

Recognizing a dearth of people with disabilities on the bench and in elected office, we worked with Americans with Disabilities Act architect Hon. Tony Coelho to launch in 2018 The Coelho Center for Disability Law, Policy & Innovation. It has already made remarkable strides toward its mission of leveraging technology to advance the lives of people with disabilities and creating a pipeline of lawyers with disabilities to populate the bench and hold elected office.

This moment also demands that we recognize and reaffirm that social justice includes racial justice. We are in active pursuit of becoming an authentically anti-racist institution. This includes important and honest conversations with our faculty, students and staff; engaging diverse community voices on issues of structural inequality; curricular innovation; and amplifying and centering people and voices that have not been present in positions of power, both within our community and outside of it.

Nowhere is our continued commitment to social justice more evident than in our Loyola Social Justice Law Clinic, which houses our more than 20 live-client clinics addressing everything from wrongful convictions and landlord-tenant issues to juvenile justice and bankruptcy. In these clinics, our students work under the supervision of our faculty to represent clients who are struggling with the tremendous gap in access to justice. Doing this work as a student changes not just the lawyers they will go on to become, but also the people they are. The first ABA-approved school in California with a pro bono graduation requirement, we have helped our students contribute more than 1 million hours of legal service to the community.

So today, on our 100th birthday, I thank our 18,000 living alumni and many more thousands of faculty, staff, friends and clients for their support, which has been our greatest gift of all. And I express my sincere gratitude to every member of the legal community who has inspired us through their advocacy, teaching, mentoring and service. This year will be memorable to us for many reasons, and we look forward to using the lessons we’ve learned in informing our next 100 years. 

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