College of Law History
Who was Joe Quinney?
S.J. “Joe” Quinney (1893-1983) was a talented lawyer, prominent businessman, and ski industry pioneer. He was a founding partner in the distinguished Salt Lake City law firm of Ray, Quinney & Nebeker, where he practiced until his death at age 90. A pioneer in establishing Utah’s ski industry by founding Alta Ski Area, Quinney was a prime force in the development of Utah’s legal and business communities. His enthusiastic, lifelong interest in and support for art and culture broadened the force of his statewide impact.
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The First Hundred Years
Legal education in Utah, while long desired, was not achieved beyond a handful of law courses beginning in 1869, until 1883 when University President John Park created a series of law lectures, designed to turn the series into a fully established law department at the University of Deseret. The lecture series, headed by Joseph Rawlins, continued for 8 years, against significant odds, until 1907 when Joseph Kingsbury as president designated a Department of Law.
The law department was now a reality, without a home. Classes were held at the Salt Lake City and County building, which also served as the state capitol, courthouse and government offices for the city and county. The department became a school in the spring of 1912 when the Board of Regents approved a plan to add a third year to the existing two-year law program.
The University of Utah (the name Deseret was dropped in 1892) had a “School of Law.” Registration was $12 and tuition cost $15 per year for one law subject, $30 for two and $40 for three or more. The first commencement was held in June,1913 awarding degrees to eight men, all from Utah.
The new law school had impressive leadership. The first Dean was Frank Holman, a 27-year-old with an undergraduate degree from the U as well as a B.A. and M.A. from Oxford where he had been a Rhodes Scholar. He was a member of the Utah Bar, had his own practice and would later serve as president of the American Bar Association. He earned a massive $2,000 annually, the equivalent of $51,326.70 in 2015.
The School of Law now had a leader, 75 students, and an emerging reputation throughout the Intermountain West. What it still didn’t have was a home. Classes continued to be held in borrowed space at the City and County Building, leaving the law students largely isolated from campus life.
That changed with the completion of the Administration Building (today’s Park Building) in October 1914. The law school took up residence on the third floor, and with $1,500 from the Regents, began assembling a law library.
In 1915, William Leary took over as dean and would remain in that role for 35 years, leaving an indelible imprint on the College of Law. Leary earned his J.D. from the Chicago Law School, which served as a primary role model in the formation and evolution of Utah’s law school. Armed with a total budget of $7,000, Leary immediately began pushing for more full-time faculty. But in the spring of the next year, the law school was decimated by a one-two punch.
First came war. When the U.S. entered World War I in April of 1918, it pulled students and faculty alike into the fray. By the time commencement rolled around the next spring, the law school conferred degrees to just three graduates.
Next came an epidemic of Spanish Influenza. The disease killed 20 million people worldwide in 1918. A third of all deaths in Utah in 1918-19 were from influenza and its frequent complication, pneumonia. For a while, it closed the university. As the Deseret News reported on Oct. 10, 1918, “All collegiate study has been suspended at the University of Utah for the period of the influenza epidemic on the order of President John A. Widstoe.” The law school itself was on the verge of shutting down the second- and third-year courses.
The armistice came along just in time, putting an end to war on November 11, 1918. On top of that, the influenza epidemic was largely contained by the next spring, and within two years, the law school had come back in force, doubling its pre-war enrollment.
Rebecca Garelick was admitted in 1921 and became the first female graduate in 1924, earning admission to the Utah bar that same year. While Garelick had cleared a major hurdle, progress for women would remain slow. By the end of the 1920s, just three women had graduated from the school.
The fourth, Reva Bosone, was a true pioneer. She graduated in 1930 and went on to become the first woman elected to the bench in Utah, and in 1948 became the first woman from Utah to be elected to Congress.
Another woman, Marion Gould, signaled a major milestone for the law school: she was hired—at $200 per month—as the school’s first full-time librarian in 1939. The law school was in fine form as it emerged from the Great Depression.
Then war came to campus once again, erupting in dramatic fashion with the morning raid on Pearl Harbor. Donald Zillman, a former U law professor who has written extensively about the law school, put it this way: “By Monday, December 8, 1941, virtually the entire school knew that military service would be in their immediate future.”
Students flooded military recruitment offices, and the law school again found itself on the brink of closure. By 1944, there were just 25 students in the school. When the war ended in 1945, returning veterans rushed into school the same way they had rushed out. And they had money, thanks to the G.I. Bill signed into law in 1944.
The influx changed the tenor of the law school. Prior to the war, the typical law student prior to the war was in his early 20s, single, and likely to be from Utah or a bordering state. The veterans who came back from war were in their late 20s or early 30s, sometimes with families. The veterans instantly created an older, more mature student body within the law school.
All of this occurred while still without a permanent home for the law school. Complaints about the Park building included noise, poor lighting and ventilation and lack of space. Now with so many students the problems were magnified.
In 1957 the American Bar Association left a withering review in its accreditation inspection: “Unless adequate plant facilities be provided within the next five years, it is the intention of the Council to recommend to the House of Delegates that the school be dropped from the approved list.”
The specter of losing accreditation caught the eye of University administration and the state legislature. Plans circulated to remodel Carlson Hall, originally built as a women’s dormitory. But President A. Ray Olpin was convinced that a new law building should be a priority. The 1961 legislature appropriated $1 million for the new building. Groundbreaking took place in the summer of 1962, and a year later, the College of Law had a 65,000-square-foot building to call its own.
In 2001 another accreditation report took aim at the College’s physical facilities. While the College had long maintained a national reputation for quality, the building itself had been at capacity almost from the day it opened. Complaints began to echo those that had prompted a move out of the Park Building. Changing technologies, new methods for legal education, and another difficult accreditation report in 2009 underscored the need for a better facility.
Hiram Chodosh, who took over as dean in 2006, spearheaded the effort. “We are building a teaching hospital for law,” Chodosh said in a Salt Lake Tribune interview. “We are building clinical and practical training into our program, as well as the ethos of service in each and every student.”
The 155,000-square-foot building houses ‘Centers’ in Criminal Justice, Law and Biomedical Sciences, and Innovation in Legal Education as well as the long-standing and highly-rated Stegner Center. The configuration of the building encourages collaboration between students and faculty, and, allows more opportunities to further the emphasis on public service.
Not only has the building promoted advanced learning, but the school has been able to created additional programs offering additional learning opportunities for those that don’t want or need to become lawyers. Specifically, the law school has created a new Master of Legal Services degree. Similar to an Executive MBA program, the MLS program offers its classes every other weekend on Friday and Saturday, in additional to remote classes. This program offers those interested in amplifying their existing positions with supplementary legal knowledge, benefiting their employers and clients.
Over one hundred years are in the books. What started in borrowed office space on the valley floor in the late 1980’s, has a strong position in the 21st century housed in a contemporary monument to intelligent design. The original graduating class of eight local men has evolved into the 2020’s with classes that are majority women, faculty that is almost evenly split between men and women, and our graduates among the best in the world.
A century of progress has lead to a new century of promise.