Jacqueline Denning '76 was inducted as an honorary member of the Order of the Coif during William & Mary Law School’s Awards Ceremony on May 10 at the Kimball Theatre. The event, held the day before the Law School’s Diploma Ceremony at Lake Matoaka Amphitheater, included the presentation of awards and special recognitions to law graduates of the Class of 2014.
Having graduated number one in her class at Emory University with a degree in chemistry, Denning was awarded a fellowship to earn a Ph.D. in chemistry from Stanford, but chose instead to become a law student at William & Mary. She graduated seventh in her class and was an articles editor on the William & Mary Law Review. She then took a job with the prestigious Washington, D.C. law firm of Arnold & Porter, soon becoming a partner and remaining with the firm until her retirement several years ago.
As a litigator, Denning specialized in complex civil litigation and handled a large number of class action law suits. Given her background in science, she excelled in cases involving complex scientific and technical issues. In addition to being a very successful trial lawyer, Denning was a highly effective appellate lawyer.
“We believe that Jackie was the first female graduate of William & Mary Law School to secure an initial position at one of the major law firms in D.C.,” said Davison M. Douglas, Dean of the Law School. “We also believe she is the first woman graduate of the Law School to become a partner at one of the major law firms in D.C. I should say she did a marvelous job paving the way for other William & Mary graduates. To this day, Arnold & Porter remains one of the largest law firm employers of our graduates in Washington, D.C.”
Membership in the Order of the Coif is the highest academic honor a law student can achieve. It is equivalent to membership in Phi Beta Kappa for undergraduates. Coif chapters may elect to honorary membership "those who as lawyers, judges and teachers have attained high distinction for their scholarly or professional accomplishments." The Law School's Coif chapter inducted its first members beginning with the Class of 1981; law alumni chosen as honorary inductees graduated in earlier classes. William & Mary law faculty who are Coif members select the graduate who will receive this honor.
Denning praised the excellent faculty at the Law School, and then turned to the graduating class of 2014.
“A law school is also judged on its students, and you, members of the Class of 2014, have reason to be proud,” she said. “Your accomplishments during your three years here have made this a better place, and has expanded the Law School’s reputation for excellence.”
Thomas Jefferson founded William & Mary Law School in 1779 to train leaders for the new nation. Now in its third century, America's oldest law school continues its historic mission of educating citizen lawyers who are prepared both to lead and to serve.