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History of Rutgers School of Law-Newark

For 100 years, Rutgers School of Law–Newark, the first law school in New Jersey, has been a pioneer in legal education. Our distinctive institutional spirit of excellence and reform was present at our founding as a fledgling program with only three faculty members. These men drew inspiration from the groundbreaking legal traditions of their state to establish the law school as a center for innovation. One of their first, characteristics advances was to create a legal education program for women.

Rutgers School of Law–Newark has had many ancestors and locales. Its oldest predecessor, the New Jersey Law School, opened its doors on October 5, 1908. Thirty students filed into a spare room on the fourth floor of the Prudential Insurance Company building for their first class. By December, operations were transferred to a substantial Victorian town house at 33 East Park Street, built in 1875 by the then mayor of Newark, Thomas Peddie.

The New Jersey Law School was one of many efforts to create the state’s own major cultural and educational institutions. The school was founded by New York attorney Richard D. Currier, a graduate of Yale University and New York Law School. He received considerable help from Charles M. Mason, a New Jersey attorney, who served as dean from shortly after the school’s founding until his death in 1928.

Impressive Early Growth

The school’s business-oriented curriculum quickly attracted students eager for a practical legal education. Classes were held in the late afternoon and evening to accommodate the many students and faculty with outside jobs. Early class lists suggest that the school was an important avenue of advancement for the children of recent immigrants.

Once World War I ended, the New Jersey Law School began a decade of significant progress. By 1926, enrollment had grown to more than 2,300 students, making it the country’s second largest law school. Needing additional space, in 1927 the school moved to the former Ballantine & Sons Ale Brewery at 40 Rector Street.

The Mercer Beasley School of Law, the second “parent” institution of Rutgers–Newark law school, was founded in 1926 by several prominent Newark attorneys, including Spaulding Frazier and future New Jersey Chief Justice Arthur T. Vanderbilt. The school was named for the chief justice of New Jersey from 1864-1897. In 1936 the New Jersey Law School joined with the Mercer Beasley School of Law to become the University of Newark Law School. Combining the faculties and resources of the two schools created a stronger institution. Still, the law school experienced a major decline in enrollments due to World War II and a precarious financial condition.

Merger With Rutgers University

With the State Legislature urging unification of New Jersey’s educational resources, the University of Newark was an attractive opportunity for Rutgers University, which in 1945 had been designated the State University of New Jersey. The Newark university offered not only a thriving undergraduate college in the most populous part of the state, but also the state’s only fully accredited law school and a reputable business school. In 1946, the entire University of Newark was absorbed by Rutgers University and Rutgers School of Law was officially born.

The new affiliation brought great advantages through the university’s substantial resources and prestige. Over the next several decades, the school became an institution of national stature. Its library expanded to become the most comprehensive collection in New Jersey and its faculty tripled in size.

Building on an Academic and Public Service Tradition

The 1960s and 1970s brought dramatic changes to the law school that left a profound mark on its character and values. Following the Newark riots of 1967, the school expanded its institutional mission to include service to the urban community. As a result, the faculty created one of the first affirmative action programs in the country, with the goal of bringing minorities and other historically-disadvantaged and non-traditional students into the legal profession.

The law school also established an innovative clinical program, including one of the nation’s first women's rights clinics, to involve students in public interest law reform. The clinical program is distinguished by its breadth and comprehensiveness of experiences for students and its involvement in cases and projects with far-reaching legal or social impact.

The 1960s also brought a group of young faculty members committed to rejecting the formalism characteristic of classical legal theory and to investigating what makes law work on the ground. That intellectual commitment deepened in the 1970s and 1980s, as Rutgers University–Newark became a leading center for basic research and law school faculty helped advance the expanding intellectual reach of the campus

In 1967, the School of Law in Camden, which had been administered by the dean of the law school in Newark, was created as a separate unit of the university, and the university’s original law school became Rutgers School of Law–Newark. After outgrowing several buildings in downtown Newark, the law school moved in 1978 to the skyscraper at 15 Washington Street that became the S.I. Newhouse Center for Law and Justice. Samuel I. Newhouse, a 1916 graduate of the New Jersey Law School, founded what is today one of the world’s largest newspaper and magazine publishing companies.

In January 2000, Rutgers School of Law–Newark moved to the new Center for Law and Justice, one of the most attractive and technologically advanced law school facilities in the country. The 225,000-square-foot, six-story building at 123 Washington Street was dedicated by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a member of the law faculty from 1963 to 1972.

Enduring Values  

Teaching.  Scholarship.  Service.  Opportunity. The core values of Rutgers School of Law–Newark, shaped by an extraordinary institutional history, have produced alumni/ae who are represented in the highest levels of every sector of the legal profession across the tri-state area and throughout the country. They include justices of the New Jersey Supreme Court, representatives in the U.S. Congress, leaders in the executive and legislative branches of state government, partners at major law firms, prosecutors and public defenders, advocates for civil and human rights, law deans and professors, solo practitioners, legal aid attorneys, counsel to small businesses, and professionals using their law degree in fields as various as medicine, entertainment and the arts, finance, and criminal justice.

As we celebrate our Centennial, we reaffirm our distinctive commitment to the expression of those values through innovative legal pedagogy and clinical education; exceptional and socially relevant academic research; public service engagement; and educational access.