Breaking ground at the Sullivan Hall site
Breaking ground in Seattle.

Our law school opened its doors on September 5, 1972 as the University of Puget Sound (UPS) School of Law in Tacoma, Washington. Seattle University acquired the law school 22 years later, in 1994, and we moved into our current home, Sullivan Hall, on the Seattle U campus in 1999.

Much has changed since the law school’s early days, but a few common threads have emerged over the years. The law school has consistently prioritized access to legal education for a wider range of students. Our curriculum has emphasized practical skills such as legal writing and representing real clients. And we’ve always held ourselves, and our students, to high academic standards.

The acquisition by Seattle University gave rise to the law school’s commitment to social justice, now a central principle of our mission-based legal education.

Our graduates, now numbering more than 10,000, are leaders for change, working in every state and around the world in all areas of the law, business, education, the judiciary, and public service.

Three buildings that housed the Seattle U Law School
Three buildings that housed the Seattle U Law School

The creation of a third law school in Washington state was a response to a growing market for legal education in the 1960s and encouraged by business leaders in Tacoma. The military conflict in Vietnam had deescalated, so fewer young men were drafted into the military. And those who returned from the war had education benefits to use. Changing social attitudes meant that more women were interested in becoming lawyers. Layoffs at Boeing meant that more people were considering a change in career. And finally, the baby boom had created an increased pool of potential students.

A UPS feasibility study in 1971 found that Western Washington was the largest area in the country served by only one law school.

The UPS Board of Trustees approved the formation of a law school in December 1971 and hired its first dean less than a month later – Joseph A. Sinclitico, Jr., a Harvard Law School graduate who had been dean at the University of San Diego School of Law from 1964 to 1970.

In only nine months, Dean Sinclitico hired eight faculty members (including a librarian who quickly acquired 50,000 books), found a temporary home for the school in a business park on South Tacoma Way, and recruited an incoming class of 427 first-year students. The law school made history by earning provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association (ABA) in record time, six months after opening.

At the first meeting of the school’s Board of Visitors in 1973, board chairman Judge George Boldt said, “All of us feel the creation of the school has been nothing short of a miracle.”

Notable moments in the law school’s history since then:

  • August 1974: 18 students on an accelerated program become the school’s first graduates
  • 1974-75 academic year:
    • Law Review begins publication
    • Volunteer Income Tax Assistance begins (our first clinical program)
    • Student Bar Association established
  • March 1975: Full accreditation by the ABA and the Association of American Law Schools
  • April 1976: Professor Wallace Rudolph of University of Nebraska named as new dean
  • May 1979: UPS Board of Trustees approve plans for a new law school home at the former Rhodes Department Store in downtown Tacoma.
  • August 1980: Classes begin in the remodeled building, called the Norton Clapp Law Center because it included the law school, Division Two of the State Court of Appeals, and various law offices.
  • January 1981: Respected local attorney Fredric C. Tausend becomes the new dean.
  • 1981: Law school expands legal writing program to include a mandatory two-year writing course with an optional third-year component.
  • 1981: The law library becomes the first in the region to offer both the LEXIS and WESTLAW computer-assisted legal research services.
  • July 1986: Professor James E. Bond of Wake Forest University becomes the new dean.
  • June 1988: Professors Dave Boerner and Paula Lustbader launch the Academic Resource Center, a program to support promising students from non-traditional backgrounds.
  • July 1993: Professor Donald M. Carmichael, the law school’s associate dean for academic affairs, becomes interim dean.
  • November 1993: Father William Sullivan, then president of Seattle University, announces a deal to buy the law school from UPS. It continues to operate in Tacoma until 1999.
  • 1995: James E. Bond returns as dean.
  • August 1999: Brand new Sullivan Hall, the law school’s home on the Seattle U campus, opens to students.
  • 2000: Access to Justice Institute founded
  • 2002: Seattle Journal for Social Justice publishes its first issue.
  • February 2005: Professor Kellye Testy, associate dean for academic administration, becomes dean.
  • 2005: Indian Estate Planning and Probate program founded and eventually evolves into Center for Indian Law and Policy
  • April 2009: Korematsu Center for Law and Equality founded.
  • July 2009: Annette Clark ’89, former associate dean and vice dean, becomes interim dean.
  • September 2009: Retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor headlines a conference on state judicial independence, hosted by Seattle U.
  • November 2009: Berle Center founded
  • Fall 2006: Scholars for Justice, an annual scholarship that covers full tuition cost for all three years of law school, offered for the first time.
  • 2010: Seattle Journal for Environmental Law publishes its first issue after previously publishing under the journal name Bellwether.
  • August 2010: Professor Mark Niles of American University Washington College of Law becomes dean.
  • 2012: American Indian Law Journal publishes its first issue.
  • July 2013: Annette E. Clark ’89 returns as dean, the first alumna of the law school to lead it.
  • August 2015: Law school opens satellite campus in Alaska, the only state without its own law school, for third-year students
  • August 2017: Advanced law degrees – LLM and MLS – added to enrollment options

In the long term, we will be educating many of the region’s finest lawyers, women and men who are destined to play significant roles in determining how our society operates”

—Father William Sullivan

A History of Excellence

No history of the Seattle University School of Law would be complete without a history of Seattle University. "A History of Excellence" is an interactive look at Seattle University's past. It uses video clips, text, and photos to tell the story of the people and events that shaped our institution. Highlights of the feature include: stories of pride and accomplishment, snapshots of student life through the years, video interviews with faculty and staff, and profiles of famous alumni.

Coming soon

Contact us

Seattle University School of Law
901 12th Avenue
P.O. Box 222000
Seattle, WA 98122-1090

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see Administrative Office Directory