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October 15, 2013

I went to law school because I got fired. But, all’s well that ends well.

I got terminated for, among other things, hiring women in an all men work force. How would you like that case? A wrongful termination case was filed. We won, and I noticed that my lawyer earned more than me. I then decided to go to law school. He was a professor at USD. I interviewed, got accepted at USD, and fortunately also checked out Western State College of Law (WSU). At that time (1981), the school was at 110 W. Ash, on the corner of Ash and Front. There is a Social Security office there now.

The thing that impressed me the most about the school was that so many of the students were in their late 30s and 40s. We were mostly part time and in second or third careers. Many of us were former military and/or law enforcement. I was both. In those days, Western State was one of, if not the largest, law school in the state. There were campuses in Orange County and our smaller facility in San Diego. Western State had a “Whole Person” approach to admission. LSAT scores were looked at, but not conclusive. Even if you did not have a four year undergraduate degree, you could get admitted. You had to pass the “Baby Bar.”The school was accredited by the State Bar of California, but not the ABA. We were told that the school was trying to get ABA accreditation, but no promises were made. (It would be another 10 years until we got accreditation) It was not a big thing at the time. We used the same books as did every other law school and took the same Bar Exam. Many just wanted the J.D. Others were planning to practice locally, so ABA was not that important. 

Many of the professors were part time and were local attorneys. Two of the full professors still around are Professors Golden and Slomanson. I believe Professor Delman was just starting. Judge Earl Gilliam was our contracts professor. The Dean’s office seemed to rotate among different professors. When I graduated, Hadley Batchelder was Dean. He also played a mean banjo and guitar.

I know this may be hard to take, but I believe we were paying $75-$100 per semester hour! After class, many of us (including professors) would move across Front Street to a wonderful place called “Wild Bill’s.” I “studied” many a night there! We had a relatively small law library, but the County Law Library was a block away. All reading and research was actually done with real books with pages. Each case had to be Shepardized individually, making sure you had checked the update pocket part. If another student was checking the same case, you had to wait until they were done. Some students were so competitive as to hold onto the Cal. Apps., Cal Reporters and Shepard updates. Woe unto them when they were caught!

There were no computers in those days! We sent messages to each other by way of a large cork board on the first floor! All class notes were hand written, so the teacher could watch whether you were paying attention. (Just think, no email, no Facebook, no tweeting, no solitaire.) All exams were hand written in “Blue Books.” Attendance was taken in every class. If it was a one hour class, you were allowed one miss. If it was a two hour class, two misses, etc. We were told that you would be dropped if you missed additional classes. We were also warned not to be seen with any published outlines under threat of dismissal.

As I recall, we had a candy and soda machine. Of course, there were pay phones in the halls. The whole school was two floors and just part of the office building. All parking was “on street” and many took buses to school. The trolley was not yet built. We had study groups, mostly in our homes. Student Organizations? All I recall was SBA and Law Review. The law review that WSU published was centered on criminal law and was called The Criminal Justice Journal. It came close to bankruptcy at one point as postage costs were prohibitive. Remember, no computers, scanning, etc. The Journal was sent by mail to all law schools, libraries, State and Federal Courts, etc. A large postage cost as you might imagine. I was on Law Review and we were told the last edition was to be mailed in 1984. Luckily, we got some advertisers for the inside covers and the postage costs were paid. Probably, this was the first time advertisers were in a law review! Oh well, it worked. 

I will continue this memorial at a later date. Be sure to read Professor Vandevelde’s book on the history of Western State/Thomas Jefferson School of Law. You will gain much insight about the early “growing pains” of your school. Be proud of the heritage.

This article was written and submitted to the Jeffersonian by Philip A. Shapiro.