The Northeastern University School of Law, the first evening law program in Boston, was founded in 1898 as a series of evening courses offered by the Boston Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA). These courses were introduced by Frank Palmer Speare, the Educational Director of the Evening Institute of the Boston YMCA and later the first president of Northeastern University. He recognized the need for a program in legal education for workingmen who were unable to attend the day classes offered by Harvard and Boston Universities. In 1904, the program was incorporated as the Evening School of Law of the Boston YMCA with the power to grant the Bachelor of Law (LLB) degree. Speare was appointed the School's first dean.
The primary goal of the program was to prepare students for the Massachusetts Bar Examination. The Evening School of Law, which attracted students who worked during the day and who could not afford tuition to other law schools, offered 200 hours of instruction, combining lectures and the case study method. Completion of the law program required four years of study rather than the three years required at law schools with daytime programs. The first teaching staff consisted of five men who taught courses on pleading, property, criminal law, contracts, and torts.
After its incorporation, the Evening School of Law underwent several significant changes. In 1922, the first women law students were admitted into the program; in the same year, the school was renamed Northeastern University School of Law, and because of the increase in student enrollment, divisional campuses of the School of Law were established in Worcester and Springfield in 1917 and in Providence in 1920. In 1938, day courses were implemented into the law program, and the School moved from its building on 312 Huntington Avenue to 47 Mount Vernon Street on Beacon Hill. The School of Law became accredited by the University of the State of New York in 1943 and was awarded membership in the American Association of Law Schools in 1945.
In the early 1950s, the School of Law faced financial hardship and declining student enrollment because similar law programs had become available at other local universities. In addition, as an evening law school with a small day division, the School had difficulties meeting the standards set forth by the accrediting bodies of the legal profession. In 1953, the Board of Trustees of Northeastern University decided to close the School of Law, shifting its educational efforts and financial expenditures to other academic programs.
In the mid-1960s, the Law Alumni Association, which had been established in 1924 to promote the School of Law's program and to provide networking opportunities for its alumni, urged the reopening of the School of Law. Asa S. Knowles, Northeastern's third president, established a committee to explore the possibility of reopening the School of Law, and in 1965 Northeastern's Board of Trustees approved the committee's proposal with several conditions. First, the School must strive for the highest standards in its curriculum, students, and teaching staff. Second, the School must feature a cooperative education program, which had become an important characteristic of Northeastern. Finally, sufficient funds needed to be raised to insure appropriate facilities. The Law Alumni Association, which assumed the fund-raising task, raised more than $500,000 in a year and a half. On May 13, 1966, the Board of Trustees officially announced the reopening of the School of Law, which became the first law school in the country to operate on the cooperative education model. In 1968, the School moved from its temporary location at 102-4 The Fenway to its present home at 400 Huntington Avenue.
In contrast to its predecessor, the new School of Law began as a four-year, daytime graduate program that awarded the Juris Doctor (JD) degree. The School's transition from the LLB degree to the JD degree reflected changes in the profession requirements to practice law. In 1970, the School of Law's program was reduced to three years and two summer quarters with rotating cooperative educational studies. In 1971, the School received full accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA) but encountered problems in the State of New York, which was reluctant to accept "co-op" experience in lieu of classroom work. The School eventually secured approval from the State of New York Court of Appeals by submitting reports of compliance with American Bar Association (ABA) standards in 1973 and 1974.
Since its inception in 1898 and resurrection in 1968, Northeastern University School of Law has been recognized for its emphasis on public interest law, supporting the needs of the community by training future attorneys to practice law in the public sector. To further this emphasis, in 1981, the Law, Policy, and Society post-doctoral program was established. This interdisciplinary program concentrates on legal and social issues and attracts students interested in social policy careers. Faculty for the Law, Policy, and Society program includes instructors from Northeastern's College of Arts and Sciences, School of Criminal Law, and School of Law. In addition, in 1987 the Fund for Public Interest was established; the Fund defrays, defers, or forgives tuition costs of students who plan on a career in public interest law.
In the early 1990s, a 20% increase in enrollment enabled the School of Law to receive funding for the hiring of a diverse group of new faculty who brought new perspectives and helped introduce new programs. In particular, the school launched initiatives seeking to improve urban life through the practice of law. The Domestic Violence Advocacy Project, later renamed the Domestic Violence Institute, was launched in 1991 and received important federal grants in 1992, 1994, and 1997. In the 1990s, the school also increased its focus on international law, government regulation, labor law, and legal aspects of artificial intelligence. In 1995 the School of Law's Tobacco Control Resource Center received a large grant to assist it in devising new strategies for limiting tobacco use through legal action.
In the 1990s, increased enrollment at the School of Law led to improvements in the school's physical plant. After the College of Criminal Justice relocated to Churchill Hall, the School of Law was able to occupy all of the Knowles building, and in 1995 a number of the school's clinics were relocated to the new Columbus Place building. The 1990s also saw the renovation and enlargement of the school's library building. The early 2000s saw the inauguration of a new dean, Emily Spieler, and the continuation of the strong mission of the School of Law to educate lawyers with an emphasis on social responsibility.
Feldscher, Karen, The Curry Years: Smaller but Better. Boston: Northeastern University Publications, 2000.
Frederick, Antoinette. Northeastern University: An Emerging Giant: 1959-1975. Boston : Northeastern University Custom Book Program, c.1982.
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Marston, Everett C. Origin and Development of Northeastern 1898-1960. Boston : Northeastern University Press, 1961.
"School of Law: The Nation's First on the Coop Plan." Box 4, Folder 53. Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.). School of Law records, 1900-1996 (A6).