Stanford Law School Turns 125; Celebrates History and Impact

Stanford Law School (SLS) marks the 125th anniversary of its founding with a year of celebration and reflection on the school’s impact on the world. The 2018 125th anniversary provides the community an opportunity to review the impact Stanford Law has had on the world through education, scholarship, and leadership — advancing the law and mobilizing its power to solve society’s toughest problems. This year, SLS also celebrates its distinct collegial, collaborative, and forward-looking community as a source of pride and one of its greatest strengths.

Stanford introduced its law curriculum in 1893, when the university engaged its first two law professors. One was Benjamin Harrison, former President of the United States, who delivered a landmark series of lectures on the Constitution. The other, Nathan Abbott, served as head of the nascent law program. Abbott assembled a small faculty to which he imparted a standard of rigor and excellence in the tradition of Stanford University.

Stanford Law School Turns 125; Celebrates History and Impact

Stanford Law’s founders identified six areas of focus for the fledgling law school:

  • Knowledge of elementary principles of law relevant to the education of American citizens;
  • Instruction in commercial law;
  • Preparation for public service and international law;
  • Training related to political and social science;
  • Study of jurisprudence, including legal history and legal institutions; and
  • Professional education that equips graduates for practice.

Although the world has changed dramatically since 1893, the law school’s guiding principles remain relevant today and keep SLS focused on what’s next.

Many things have changed since Stanford Law’s founding in 1893. Originally drawn mainly from California, students now come from every region of the United States and every corner of the world. In 1893, admission was not competitive. Today, SLS typically receives an average of 4,000 applicants for 180 seats. In 1893, the school offered only a handful of courses. Today, students can choose from nearly 280 courses through the law school alone, with more than 1,000 available in other parts of the university—and the possibility for students to initiate new courses.

In its 125-year history, Stanford Law has achieved a number of firsts—from launching the first Supreme Court clinic in an American law school (and the first full-time clinic program) to the appointment of alumna Sandra Day O’Connor (BA ’50, LLB ’52) as the first woman justice on the Supreme Court. In 1985, Stanford Law School became one of the first law schools to offer a loan repayment assistance program for its graduates. Today, the Miles and Nancy Rubin Loan Repayment Assistance Program (LRAP) is widely regarded as the best of its kind, providing critical loan relief that enables bright, young lawyers to pursue careers in public service.

In the past few years, SLS has made continuous innovations in curriculum by establishing a new program in law and policy, bolstering offerings in global legal practice, and exploring how we can better integrate technology into the curriculum. These initiatives are designed to better reflect the realities of 21st century legal practice. This culture of change is very much a part of the wider Stanford University culture.

SLS encourages students to think about what kind of lawyer or leader they want to be. It gives them rich opportunities for cross-disciplinary learning through access to the whole University, and offers extensive opportunities for experiential, hands-on learning, all with a focus on solving problems–providing a truly multi-dimensional legal education.

“This year, we celebrate Stanford Law’s storied history, as well as its unique community—forward-looking, optimistic, and collegial,” said Richard E. Lang Professor of Law and Dean of Stanford Law School M. Elizabeth Magill. “Instead of looking backwards, we are taking this opportunity to look toward the future and ask how we can make a difference in the next century.”

During the year-long celebration, the law school is encouraging faculty, staff, students, and friends engage with the school and each other through the web, social media, the Stanford Lawyer magazine, community events on campus, and a series of alumni events around the U.S. and the globe. A special SLS 125 website is launching today, featuring an interactive timeline and an online version of the school’s 60+ Moments in the History of Stanford Law exhibit.

For more information and to participate in the celebration, visit You can also follow along on social media: #SLS125.