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History and Alumni

A distinguished institution with correspondingly distinguished alumni in law firms, corporations, government, NGOs, global organizations, and on the faculties of law schools worldwide.

The University of Michigan Law School has a long and celebrated history.  Following the Northwest Territorial Ordinance of 1787 which provided public land for universities in the Midwest, the University of Michigan was founded in 1817. By the end of the 19th century, it was the largest and most generously supported public university in the United States and a leader in the field of graduate education.  The Law School, one of the oldest in the nation, was founded in 1859. The statute establishing the University anticipated that its “law department” would include a professor whose specialty was “international law.” In fact, since the 1860’s, foreign students have been part of its student body and international law has been part of the curriculum. By the turn of the century, 80 students from outside the United States had received degrees from the University of Michigan Law School: seven were awarded the LL.M., and 73 the LL.B., the equivalent to today’s J.D. Of the international LL.B. recipients, the largest number, 28, came from Japan.

Unlike other eminent law schools, Michigan was never restricted to the privileged. When Gabriel Hargo graduated from the Law School in 1870, Michigan — then the largest law school in the country — became only the second American university to confer a law degree on an African American. That same year, Michigan became the first major law school to admit a woman, and in 1871, graduate Sarah Killgore became the first woman with a law degree in the nation to be admitted to the bar. By 1890, Michigan had graduated more women than any other law school.

Graduate study at the University of Michigan Law School also has a long tradition, with the first LL.M. degrees granted in the 1889-1890 academic year. Since the 19th century, Michigan’s LL.M. and S.J.D. graduates have advanced to prestigious positions in academia, private practice, government, the judiciary, and in international organizations, just as our J.D.s (altogether over 19,800 worldwide) have done within the United States and overseas. Michigan alumni, living and working in over 79 countries across the globe, have served, for example, as ambassadors to foreign countries, the UN, and the WTO; as top officials at the European Commission, and in governmental bodies around the world; as president of the International Bar Association; as members of the highest courts of Japan, the Czech Republic, the Philippines, the People’s Republic of China, the Netherlands, and New Zealand; as presidents or directors of think-tanks and research institutes such as the Max-Planck Society and corporations such as Ford Motor Company and Sun Microsystems; as founders and partners of global and boutique law firms; and as professors at renowned research centers and universities across all continents.

Please see the History and Traditions site for more details about Michigan Law.