For The Record

With the start of classes in August, Richmond Law will hit a milestone anniversary celebrated throughout the Summer 2020 issue of this publication: its sesquicentennial. For 150 years, the University of Richmond School of Law has offered legal education in Virginia’s capital city, preparing generations of practitioners, public servants, judges, politicians, and advocates advancing the causes of justice, fairness, and equality before the law.

A lot has changed in the law school since Richmond College, as the university was then called, launched its law program in 1870 as part of a broader rebirth of the institution after the Civil War. The initial class of 30 students mirrored the college as a whole — all male and white — and they worked toward undergraduate degrees. The new school skittered along on shaky footing until a gift from the estate of T.C. Williams solidified the school’s finances in 1890.

As notions of enfranchisement expanded in the U.S. during the 20th century, so did they expand within the law school, sometimes quickly and other times haltingly. The first woman, Jane Brown Ranson, graduated in 1923. The first tenured African American faculty member, Okianer Christian Dark, took her position in 1984. When Wendy Perdue came to campus in 2011, she became the first female dean ever to take the helm of a law school in Virginia. The student body has continued to become more diverse, and the law school today identifies diversity and inclusion a strategic priority.

Richmond Law's advantages have been there from the beginning.

The school’s living graduates now number more than 7,000. The highest-profile alumni include Virginia’s current attorney general; the U. S. representative of Virginia’s 6th Congressional District; two justices on Virginia’s Supreme Court; and one of the senior executives of GV, Google’s venture capital arm. Graduates populate benches around the state and beyond; indeed, it’s said that more of Virginia’s judges hold degrees from Richmond Law than from any other law school. Richmond Law graduates serve the profession and their clients and communities in extraordinary fashion everyday — at criminal hearings and corporate negotiations, from within a company or nonprofit, or as an independent practitioner.

Richmond Law’s advantages have been there from the beginning — notably, local access to every level of court except for the Supreme Court, a short 90 miles away, and the emphasis on excellence, the very focus of the ceremonial address opening the school in October 1870.

Today, Richmond Law places a significant focus on professional skills development, particularly writing, and on the expansion of justice, particularly for marginalized groups. Robust clinics focus on the needs of children, families, the wrongly convicted, and others. It is all aimed at developing what Richmond Law has become best known for: developing lawyers who are experts in their fields, distinctly collegial in their interactions, and committed to justice and service.