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A toast to the first decade

Elon Law celebrated its 10th anniversary Wednesday with a breakfast sponsored by Biscuitville and remarks by school leaders who reflected on the school's nationally recognized approach to legal education.

Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman

Ten years ago, on the morning of Aug. 10, 2006, a group of students walked through the doors of what was once the main branch of the Greensboro Public Library to begin their legal studies as the inaugural class of the Elon University School of Law.

Elon Law was a pioneer in legal education then as the 115 students started class in the fully remodeled building. And it’s a pioneer now, Elon Law leaders said this week, having redesigned its original curriculum to give today’s students an even deeper experiential legal education – in less time, and at better value – unlike any other law school in the United States.

“It is not inconsequential to think about what we have accomplished,”  Elon Law Dean Luke Bierman told this year’s incoming students on Wednesday at an anniversary breakfast celebration, exactly one decade to the day since that first class made Elon Law history. “We are the law school with a difference, and we are proud of that. We think that is essential for your education, for your preparation, for our role in the community.”

National accolades since 2006 include:

2012: The National Jurist named Elon Law one of “America’s 20 most innovative law schools”
2013: Elon Law’s leadership program won the American Bar Association’s E. Smythe Gambrell Award, the top national award for excellence in legal professionalism education
2013: Elon Law was featured for “getting serious about business skills” by the National Law Journal
2015: The National Jurist named Elon to its honor roll of best law schools for practical training
2015: U.S. News & World Report features Elon Law’s new curriculum as one of the most far-reaching innovations in legal education.
2016: U.S. News & World Report features Elon Law as a "pioneer" in legal education
2016: preLaw magazine names Elon Law among "best schools for practical training"

The law school has welcomed over the ensuing years several of the nation’s leading intellectual and legal minds, including retired Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, who visited Elon Law for its dedication in September 2006.

Some of the many other notable visitors to Elon Law include:

  • Cory Booker: U.S. senator and former mayor of Newark, N.J.
  • Harold Ford, Jr.: Chairman of the Democratic Leadership Council, former member of Congress
  • Anthony Foxx: U.S. Secretary of Transportation and former mayor of Charlotte, N.C.
  • Jennifer Granholm: former Michigan governor
  • Jim Hunt: former North Carolina governor
  • Adam Liptak: Supreme Court correspondent for The New York Times
  • David McCullough: Pulitzer Prize-winning author and historian
  • Bonnie McElveen-Hunter: Former United States ambassador to Finland
  • Jeffrey Toobin: CNN legal analyst, journalist, author
  • Nina Totenberg: National Public Radio legal affairs correspondent
  • Aldona Wos: Former United States ambassador to Estonia
Professor Steve Friedland (center)

Elon Law has most recently gained national attention for its redesigned approach to legal education. The Princeton Review and the National Jurist have both showcased the law school over the past year for a curriculum focused on experiential learning in 2.5 years at greater value to students.

Anchored by full-time residencies-in-practice during the second year of study, Elon Law pairs students with attorney mentors, and it requires them to take part in lab simulations led by attorneys, bridge-to-practice courses, and leadership courses. Students have opportunities to gain a richer understanding of the law through additional work in legal clinics, clerkships, and moot court and mock trial programs.

“Our emphasis on lawyering, learning, and leadership are the things we are known for,” Bierman said. “We believe that we are No. 1 for engaged education. That is important for how you will become a lawyer, and it is important for how we build this institution. Thank you for being a part of that.”

Bierman recognized many of the people instrumental to the law school’s creation, including Elon University President Leo M. Lambert, Provost and Executive Vice President Steven House, and former Provost and Executive Vice President Gerry Francis. Bierman expressed gratitude to former deans Leary Davis and George Johnson for establishing the law school’s earliest traditions of excellence.

Also vital to Elon Law's early success is an active and influential advisory board, chaired by CNN analyst David Gergen, a former advisor to four American presidents. Three former chief justices of the North Carolina Supreme Court continue to serve on the Elon Law Advisory Board, as does a former president of the American Bar Association, among other active and interested members of the community.

Financial support from the Bryan Foundation, led by former Greensboro Mayor Jim Melvin, and Bobby Long, a North Carolina entrepreneur and philanthropist, also made Elon Law possible.

The breakfast featured remarks by Professor Catherine Ross Dunham, a founding faculty member and an expert in the law related to civil procedure and civil litigation. She teaches and writes in the area of federal civil procedure and is co-author of the text “Skills and Values: Civil Procedure.”

Dunham told the gathered students, faculty and staff in the second floor commons area that she can’t help but think that Elon Law is experiencing another beginning. The new curriculum is exciting to those professors and staff who founded the school, as it represents the innovation in legal education that first inspired them to join Elon Law in 2006.

Founding faculty were teachers and law school administrators deeply interested in law school teaching and innovation, she said. They have all been privileged to be a part of "the greatest legal education experiment of our careers."

But the need for innovation in legal education will never cease as society, technology and the law evolve.

“You walked through those doors right there and you are now burdened with being the new set of innovators,” Dunham said. “We’re looking to you to show us the next changes, and the next wave, and the next progression in legal education, through your work here. ... I am extremely proud to be a part of this institution. I salute the first 10 years of Elon Law - and the next 10 years of Elon Law.”

Eric Townsend,
8/13/2016 11:00 AM