Lincoln College, founded in 1865, became Washburn College in 1868, in recognition of the financial support of New England philanthropist Deacon Ichabod Washburn. Washburn became a municipal university in 1941, and today receives partial funding from the state of Kansas.

Photograph: Earnest Conant, law school dean, 1903-1907.The School of Law was founded in 1903 when Washburn College President Norman Plass asked a prominent Topeka lawyer, Robert Stone, to head a committee for the formation of a law school. In September 1903, Washburn Law School officially opened under the direction of Dean Ernest B. Conant, a Harvard Law graduate. He was the only full-time professor, with 23 practicing lawyers serving as part-time faculty.

In 1905, the Association of American Law Schools admitted Washburn Law into its ranks. Continued enrollment growth and development of a substantial library prompted several relocations into larger quarters in downtown Topeka. The law school moved to the Washburn campus in 1918. In 1923, the American Bar Association included Washburn on its first list of fully accredited law schools.

Photograph: South side of Carnegie Hall (law school) following June 8, 1966 tornado in Topeka, Kansas.On June 8, 1966, a tornado devastated the law school and other campus buildings. Strong alumni, corporate, and public support facilitated the construction of a new law school building. United States Supreme Court Justice Byron White delivered the dedicatory address in September 1969. The centerpiece of the building is the Robinson Courtroom. In 2001 it was equipped with the latest in courtroom technology and renamed the Robinson Courtroom and Bianchino Technology Center.

As early as 1968, Washburn Law recognized that the practice of law was becoming increasingly global and responded with a summer study abroad program. And, when the Kansas Supreme Court authorized senior law students to practice law under supervision, Washburn responded by establishing the Law Clinic in 1970. The clinical program, operating as a student law firm supervised by full-time faculty members, became a model for other law schools in the nation. Under the leadership of Dean Raymond Spring, a separate building was constructed to house the Law Clinic, adjacent to the law school building.

Photograph: Carl Monk, law school dean, 1978-1988.In 1978, Dean Spring returned to teaching as a distinguished professor of law, and Carl Monk, a member of the faculty, became dean. Dean Monk aggressively pursued further improvement of the law school by instituting a planned reduction in the size of the entering class, giving Washburn one of the best student/faculty ratios in the nation. Dean Monk's leadership role in legal education nationally was recognized when he was selected as the fifth executive director of the Association of American Law Schools. Professor Jim Concannon succeeded Carl Monk as dean in 1988. He guided the law school through a $5.2 million expansion of the law library to accommodate the growing collection and technological innovation. Increased alumni support of the school permitted scholarship awards to double in only five years. Three times in four years, the U.S. Department of Education recognized Washburn Law's success in diversifying its student body by awarding Patricia Roberts Harris fellowships.

WashLaw, initiated in 1991 by the Washburn Law Library, is a legal research portal that provides users with links to significant sites of law-related materials on the Internet. It is one of the premier legal Internet research services available to a worldwide audience of practicing and academic legal experts. WashLaw also hosts a large number of law-related discussion groups.

In 1992, the law school established certificate programs allowing students to select an area of concentration within the traditional law school curriculum. Students now may achieve certification in Advocacy; Business and Transactional Law; Estate Planning; Family Law; International and Comparative Law; Law and Government; Natural Resources Law; Oil and Gas Law; and Tax Law. Washburn was selected to edit the Family Law Quarterly for the American Bar Association's Family Law Section in 1992, providing a second law journal editing opportunity for students, through 2016. In addition, the law school expanded its commitment of significant resources to its legal research and writing program.

Washburn University School of Law welcomed Dean Dennis R. Honabach in July 2001. During the 2002-2003 academic year, the law school launched three signature programs: the Business and Transactional Law Center, the Center for Excellence in Advocacy, and the Children and Family Law Center. During the summer of 2004, all of the law school classrooms underwent a major renovation that included desktop Internet access, new furnishings, improved acoustics, new carpeting, and state-of-the-art teaching tools.

During the 2006-2007 academic year, Professor William J. Rich served as interim dean.

Thomas J. Romig, formerly the Judge Advocate General of the Army, began his tenure as dean in July 2007. Washburn Law's regional and national reputation is built upon a solid foundation of excellence in legal education, commitment of the law school at every level to the success of students, and the diverse educational and professional backgrounds of its faculty members. The Centers for Excellence and widely recognized Washburn Law Clinic are leaders on the national level. In 2008, Washburn Law launched its newest Center for Excellence, the Robert J. Dole Center for Law and Government, with a national symposium on "The Rule of Law and the Global War on Terrorism: Detainees, Interrogations, and Military Commissions."

Nearly a quarter of a century (1989) after Washburn Law's oil and gas program was developed to meet the ongoing and ever-changes demands of the industry, the Oil and Gas Law Center was established in 2013. Later in the year, the International and Comparative Law Center was created.

Washburn Law continues to demonstrate its excellence and innovation in numerous areas. The dual JD/MBA program with the School of Business and the dual JD/MSW program with the Department of Social Work enhance opportunities for our students. Washburn Law has one of the best student-to-faculty ratios (9.9-1) among all law schools.

Washburn Law was named a “Best Value Law School” by preLaw magazine in 2011, 2015, and 2016, and a Best School for Small Law in 2015. The Law School was ranked among the “Top Law Schools for Government Law” in the 2012 issue of The National Jurist and ranked #2 in the nation in the 2016 edition.

Washburn Law was named one of the top 20 law schools for jobs as prosecutors and public defenders in the 2012 edition of The National Jurist. Washburn Law Library was named as one of the top 20 law school libraries in the nation in The National Jurist, 2012 edition.

The Legal Analysis, Research, and Writing Program has consistently been recognized in the U.S. News & World Report Best Law Schools: #11 in the nation in 2014, #13 in 2016, and #15 in 2017.

The National Jurist rated Washburn Law as one of the top schools in its “Best Schools for Practical Training” 2014, 2015, and 2017 issues. The Law School’s Business and Corporate Law program was ranked in the top 17 in the nation in preLaw magazine, 2016 edition; the Taxation Law program was ranked among the top 11.

In 2016, Robert “Joe” Pilgrim, ’16, was selected as a top 5 law student in the nation by The National Jurist; in 2017, Jake Bielenberg, ’17, was chosen as one of the top 25 law students in the nation.  

Washburn Law’s 2016 graduates achieved a 91 percent pass rate on the Kansas July 2016 Uniform Bar Exam, which was the highest in Kansas.

The Trial Advocacy program was ranked in the top 16 in the nation in preLaw magazine, 2017 edition.

Since opening its doors in 1903, Washburn Law has graduated some the of the finest law professionals in the country. The law school's more than 7,300 alumni live in 49 states, the District of Columbia, and several foreign countries.

Graphic: Cover of Washburn Lawyer issue discussing Washburn Law role in Brown v. Board of Education.Washburn Law played an important role in shaping the nation's history with its pioneering efforts from the school's beginning in the quest for equality. The first African-American graduated from Washburn Law in 1910, and the first woman graduated from Washburn Law in 1912. In 1951, Washburn Law alumni found themselves on both sides of Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark civil rights case that would forever change the nation.

Five Washburn Law graduates have served as chief justice of the Kansas Supreme Court, including Chief Justice Kay McFarland, retired, the first woman ever to serve in that position. Washburn Law graduates continue to pave the way, breaking through equality barriers in the judiciary, politics, bar associations, and business. Washburn University School of Law, its faculty, and graduates have left indelible marks on our nation.

During its more than 100 years, Washburn Law has been housed in eight different locations and benefited from the leadership of twenty-one deans. During World War II the school's enrollment dropped to 10 students, but continued to remain open. Through it all, the school remained strong and continued to enhance its reputation as a progressive school with innovative programs.

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History of Washburn Law School, 1903-2003
See Topeka Capital-Journal article about Washburn Law history.

History of Washburn Law School, 1903-2003

Professor James Concannon tells the full story, challenges and all, of Washburn Law's first century in "The Ideal Place ... for the Establishment of a Great Law School": History of Washburn Law School, 1903-2003. This comprehensive history provides rare nuggets of information from peers, former students, staff members, and friends of the law school. The work includes more than 100 images; these images, along with numerous supplemental photographs, can be viewed online. See table of contents below.

Graphic: Cover of History of Washburn Law School book.

Price: $28.00
Hardbound: 681 pages + index
Photographs (view online): more than 100
ISBN: 978-0-615-60187-8

Photograph: James M. Concannon.James M. Concannon is a Distinguished Professor of Law at Washburn University School of Law. He joined the faculty in 1973 and served as Dean from 1988 until 2001. He is the school's second longest serving Dean and in academic year 2012-2013 will match Professor James Ahrens as the school's longest serving faculty member. Professor Concannon has written extensively in the fields of evidence and civil procedure, was a Senior Contributing Editor of Evidence in America: The Federal Rules in the States, and serves on the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws.

Table of Contents

  • Title Page (2 MB PDF)
  • List of Illustrations (1.9 MB PDF)
  • Preface (1.9 MB PDF)
  • Forward (Dean Thomas J. Romig) (1.9 MB PDF)
  • The Early Years (1903-1922)
  • The Allen Years (1922-1937)
  • Going Public and Going to War (1937-1945)
  • The Post-War Years (1945-1959)
  • The Howe Years and the Tornado (1959-1970)
  • The Spring Years (1970-1978)
  • The Monk Years (1978-1988)
  • The Concannon Years (1988-2001)
  • Centennial (2001-2003)
  • Women at Washburn Law School
  • A Commitment to Diversity
  • A Tradition of Public Service
  • Washburn Graduates in Academia
  • Epilogue
  • Appendices
  • Index (2.2 MB PDF)