“We have an advantage over Dallas.
We have here all of the legislative, judicial and executive branches and all of the top bureaus of state government.
We have the finest laboratory any city could have because we’re the capital city.”
~Dr. C.Q. Smith, Daily Oklahoman
February 4, 1955
“With the full support of the university,
our faculty has built an institution that has been deemed ready
to take its place alongside the nation’s prestigious law schools that founded the AALS more than a century ago.”
~Dean Lawrence K. Hellman
[/third_left][twothirds_right]Oklahoma City University School of Law has the distinction of being the first law school in the state of Oklahoma. Established amidst the excitement of statehood, the first classes were held in the fall of 1907 at Epworth University, a Methodist institution of higher education located in Oklahoma City.
The dean of Epworth School of Law, Judge C.B. Ames, had two goals in those very early years: to keep students from leaving the state to attend law school; and to produce great lawyers. He was going to do the latter by requiring three years of coursework in order to graduate, at a time when the standard was two years. In August 1907, the Daily Oklahoman reported that “the object for which the law department at Epworth University is founded is to afford law students facilities for obtaining a legal education which will thoroughly equip them for the practice of law in any of the states of the union and more particularly in Oklahoma. The course will be comprehensive and of a standard equal to that of the foremost law schools in the United States.”
Faculty were selected from the Oklahoma Bar and special lecturers where identified, including practicing legal scholars such as Judge John H. Burford who was the last chief justice of the Oklahoma territorial supreme court. It was noted in the newspaper that with 15 students enrolled when Epworth began its first law classes in 1907, that was more students than any other law school in the country had at its starting.
By its third year, Epworth Law was growing – more faculty, more students and an increasing number of volumes in the growing library.
In 1909, the state university in Norman opened a law school. Epworth University agreed to close its law school and consolidate with the new law school at the University of Oklahoma. Epworth donated its library to the new law school and OU granted diplomas to the seven 1910 Epworth graduates.
One year later, Epworth closed its doors and reopened in Guthrie, Oklahoma with a new name, Oklahoma Methodist University. Epworth’s chancellor, a number of its faculty and many of its furnishings made the move to Guthrie, as well. The first classes were held at the new university in September 1911.
Legal Education Renaissance
For many years, there was an underlying current of support for a law school in the capital city. As a result, during the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s a number of proprietary law schools cropped up offering a legal education at night. One of which was Oklahoma City College of Law.
Beginning in the 1940’s, Oklahoma City University President Dr. C.Q. Smith began discussing the purchase of Oklahoma City College of Law with its president Roger Stephens. The deal took more than a decade to finalize because Dr. Smith was waiting until the university received accreditation from the North Central Association. When the deal was finally complete, classes began September 12, 1952, with seven instructors including long-time professor Wayne Quinlan for whom the Quinlan Lecture is named.
Longtime Oklahoma Supreme Court Justice Marian P. Opala was among the law school’s first graduates in 1953. At that time, the law school was located in the YMCA building downtown. Classes were held in the evening allowing students to work fulltime and go to law school. In 1956, OCU sold the YMCA building to Kerr McGee and the law school moved back to campus.
It was in 1907 that C.B. Ames had the desire to start a law school in Oklahoma City. He strove to establish a school accredited by the American Bar Association (ABA) and one that was also a member of the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), one that provided a rigorous course of education and prepared lawyers for the practice of law. Over the course of a century that desire has become a reality. ABA accreditation came in 1960 and membership in AALS in 2003. With individualized instruction, prestigious guest lecturers, and the multitude of opportunities to get practical experience under the guidance of professionals, Oklahoma City University School of Law exceeds the vision laid out .[/twothirds_right]