A Look Back at California Western’s Remarkable Journey
In the midst of the Roaring ’20s, an ambitious young attorney persuaded the principal of San Diego High
School to let him start an evening class on campus to help adults prepare for the bar exam.
That course created by Leland Ghent Stanford was the modest but entirely appropriate beginning of what eventually would become California Western School of Law, which over the past 90 years has evolved into one of the most respected and innovative independent law schools in the nation—and a leader in providing what Dean Niels B. Schaumann calls “a 21st century legal education.”
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Odyssey of a Law School: George N. Gafford
“Amidst all the gloom and doom, the future looked bleak for the school and for all of us . . . my thoughts centered on what I might do to preserve the law school as a viable institution.”Those grim words were written by Professor Emeritus George N. Gafford in Odyssey of a Law School, his 2001 personal biography of California Western...
Student Ingenuity, Leadership Furnish New Law School Campus
Roy M. Bell ’74 will never forget the summer of 1973. That’s the year California Western School of Law moved from its campus in Point Loma to the current campus at 350 Cedar Street in downtown San Diego. The move was anything but smooth. In fact, it was an adventure...
Building the First Law Library of the 21st Century
Phyllis C. Marion already had a hand in building two law libraries when she arrived at California Western in 1995 to join the committee planning the first law library of the 21st century. Marion is now Associate Dean for Library and Information Resources...
For nearly 15 years, California Western has shared a special relationship with U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who dedicated the state-of-the-art Law Library in 2000. Shortly after the high-profile event, the law school launched its Kennedy Scholars program in coordination with the California justice...
The heart and soul of what California Western has achieved over the past four decades is embodied in the person of its longest-serving and unquestionably most enthusiastic professor, William C. Lynch. At 81, and in his 36th year at California Western, Lynch has had an extraordinary teaching career, fueled by the energy of someone half his age...
When Professor Glenn C. Smith recently took a moment to reflect on his long and distinguished career at California Western, he felt an almost unexpected sense of amazement as he surveyed the past. “I can’t believe my 30th anniversary is coming up this fall,” he says. “It’s gone by so incredibly fast...
Effective advocacy and wise problem solving are necessary skills for law school graduates. In order to prepare students to be ethical lawyers who embrace responsibility for the quality of justice, law schools must provide students with meaningful connections between legal education and the practice of law...
“We’re excited to mark the 90th anniversary at California Western because it gives us a chance to look back and celebrate. San Diego’s first law school may have had a humble start, but it survived when many other law schools around the country did not,” Schaumann says. “Though it faced various threats to its existence, I think it survived because we’ve maintained the vision of the founder, which is to give students the fundamental tools they need to pass the bar and be ready to practice and begin helping clients immediately after they graduate.”
Stanford (distantly related to Stanford University founder Leland Stanford) had his fledgling course chartered as Balboa Law College and steadily expanded his course offerings, relying on local attorneys and judges as instructors. By 1930, the school had 130 students and five years later moved to a building on C Street in downtown San Diego. Stanford led the school until 1939, when his brother, Dwight, took over as dean.
Balboa Law College expanded to include undergraduate and other graduate studies and changed its name to Balboa University. In the early 1950s, the school moved to an oceanfront campus in Point Loma and changed its name to California Western University.
The 1960s saw the beginning of California Western’s modern era: Robert K. Castetter was named dean in 1960 and would serve for 20 years. In 1962 the school was accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) and it joined the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) in 1967. In 1968 California Western University changed its name to United States International University (USIU) but retained California Western as the name of the law school.
In 1973, the law school moved from Point Loma to its current downtown location at 350 Cedar Street. In 1975, California Western parted ways with USIU to become an independent law school. With the addition of a handful of forward-thinking faculty members in the 1970s, the foundation was laid for the type of high quality law school California Western would become.
Several deans were instrumental in that evolution. Michael H. Dessent, a respected local attorney, succeeded Castetter in 1986 and brought fiscal stability and a high level of professionalism to the school in his decade as dean. Dean Steven R. Smith followed in 1996, improving the faculty, launching new programs, and raising the school’s national profile thanks to his strong relationships with the ABA and AALS. Dean Schaumann’s arrival in 2012 brought a renewed focus on practical legal education that will keep California Western at the forefront of legal education and meeting the needs of both students and employers.
The physical campus was significantly upgraded in 1993 with construction of a new administrative center at 225 Cedar Street, and the opening in 2000 of a new library dedicated by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
Over the past decade or so, program expansion across multiple disciplines has been critical to improving California Western. Just a few examples: the nationally recognized STEPPS program equips students with the knowledge, skills, and values necessary for the ethical practice of law; the California Innocence Project has helped free a dozen wrongly convicted inmates; Proyecto ACCESO in Latin America—along with the school’s other international programs—is transforming legal systems and attorney skills around the world; the many public interest law projects have helped boost communities and earned California Western national acclaim in receiving the President’s Pro Bono Service Award and being the only law school named to President Obama’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction three years in a row.
“When we say that California Western is training future champions of justice, it’s not just PR or hyperbole, it’s actually who we are,” Schaumann says. “Our commitment to excellence is what motivates us and it’s what will ensure that California Western will not only survive but thrive in the years to come. We can only imagine how amazed and pleased Leland Stanford would be to see what his bar preparation course has become.”