The George Washington University Law School - Washington DC
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Photo of George Washington portrait

In the early years of the Republic, when the nation’s new capital was no more than a small collection of public buildings separated by pastureland, President George Washington advised Congress to establish a national university at the seat of government. His goal was to educate future generations of civil servants and thereby forge a national identity based on “principles friendly to republican government and to the true and genuine liberties of mankind.” He left in his will fifty shares of stock in the Potowmack Canal Company for the endowment of a university “to which the youth of fortune and talents from all parts thereof might be sent for the completion of their Education in all the branches of polite literature—in arts and Sciences—in acquiring knowledge in the principles of Politics & good Government.”

Though it would be decades before George Washington’s namesake university would be established by an Act of Congress, the George Washington University Law School—founded in 1825, closed in 1826 due to financial difficulty, and then reorganized in 1865—was the first law school in the District of Columbia. Today, the school continues to embody the aspirations of the nation’s first president.

Selected Dates of Note

photo of Supreme Court Justices John M. Harlan and David J. Brewer
Supreme Court Justices John M. Harlan and David J. Brewer, both members of the faculty at the turn of the century, stroll down Pennsylvania Avenue
1865. Classes begin in the Old Trinity Episcopal Church, of which Francis Scott Key had been Senior Warden.

. The Law School is divided into two classes—Junior and Senior. The Course of Recitations “embraced the important departments of Common Law and its Commentaries; of Criminal, Commercial, and Admiralty Jurisprudence; and of Evidence and Pleading.”

. Sixty graduates, from 22 of the then-37 states, receive degrees at the first graduation.

. The case method of instruction is introduced.

. The American Bar Association is organized.

. A course of lectures in patent law, given by the U.S. Commissioner of Patents, is established as a regular part of the curriculum.

. A Master of Laws degree program in Patent Law and Patent Law Practice begins.

. The length of the degree program is increased from two to three years. The Board of Trustees approves the requirement that examinations be given in all courses.

. The Law School takes part in the establishment of the Association of American Law Schools.

. A new Law School building, Stockton Hall, is constructed on the main campus of the University.

 photo of Leon Jaworski on the cover of Time Magazine
Leon Jaworksi was among a number of GW Law graduates involved in the Watergate scandal...on both sides of the ethical divide
1932. The George Washington Law Review begins publication. 1936. The Law School is designated a graduate school and the Juris Doctor degree is established.

. The degree of Doctor of Juridical Science is established.

. The Law School begins accepting graduates of non-U.S. law schools into specially designated master’s programs.

. Law School enrollment surpasses one thousand.

. The National University School of Law, which held an important place in legal education in the District of Columbia since 1869, merges with the Law School. Among its distinguished alumni is Belva Lockwood (Class of 1872), the first woman to argue before the Supreme Court.

. The International and Comparative Law Program is established.

. The International Law Review is founded.

. The Jacob Burns Law Library is completed. Former Chief Justice Earl Warren participates in the building dedication.

. The Community Legal Clinics are established.

Photo of Justice Sandra Day O'Connor at Commencement
Justice Sandra Day O'Connor is among the many prominent legal figures to have addressed the graduating class at recent Law School Commencements.
1970. The Environmental Law Program is introduced in September.

. The Enrichment Program is established to enhance the intellectual life of the School.

1984. The Law School completes a major renovation and building project. Chief Justice Warren Burger gives an address at the dedication ceremony.

. A summer program is established with Oxford University for the study of international human rights law.

. The newly renovated building at 700 20th Street is dedicated in an address by Justice Antonin Scalia.

. The Law School establishes the Munich Intellectual Property Law Center with three leading German academic Institutions.

. The Law School completes a series of major renovation and building expansion projects begun in 1999, incorporating significant improvements in classroom design and technology.