In 1779, with the American Revolution at its height, Thomas Jefferson instituted America’s first program for the academic study of law at The College of William & Mary. To guide this new experiment, Jefferson chose George Wythe, a leader of the Virginia bar and Jefferson’s mentor. Considered the most scholarly lawyer in Virginia, Wythe incorporated a range of academic subjects into the study of law, including political science, economics, history, and classical literature. Wythe envisioned legal education not only as training for legal practitioners, but also as a means “to form such characters as may be fit to succeed those which have been ornamental and useful in the national councils of America.” Many of Wythe’s students achieved prominence in the early Republic. Foremost among them was John Marshall, future chief justice of the United States Supreme Court, whose importance for the development of American constitutional law remains unequaled today.
We honor Jefferson and Wythe’s founding vision through:
- Our commitment to training practitioners truly learned in the law through doctrinal, interdisciplinary, and experiential learning;
- Our devotion to the academic study of law, for the sake of preserving what is best in our legal regimes, reforming what can be improved, and, above all, contributing to the world’s understanding of this fundamental human institution; and
- Our dedication to educating citizen lawyers who will serve with distinction in their communities, the nation, and the world.