Birmingham School of Law prides itself on having for the last 104 years provided education at an affordable rate for law students.
In 1915, Judge Hugh A. Locke had a vision for a non-traditional law school that would serve men and women who wanted to pursue a legal education but had neither the time nor money a full-time law school required. His vision became a reality, and today Birmingham School of Law still serves students who otherwise could not pursue a career in law. The long and storied history of Birmingham School of Law is a testament to Judge Locke’s dream and to those who continue to contribute to its success.
The Birmingham School of Law originally held classes at Birmingham-Southern College. After a few years, the school moved to the Birmingham YMCA in conjunction with the overall program of the YMCA and its educational department. The partnership with the YMCA continued until 1929 when the stock market crashed, and the Great Depression began. Locke assumed all the risks of salaries and expenses and moved the school to the Jefferson County Courthouse under a lease agreement with the County. The school began operating as a totally independent school. Meeting at the courthouse was ideal, and the students enjoyed the environment of the school.
Birmingham School of Law was Founded.
Birmingham School of Law moves to Jefferson County Courthouse. The school weathered two World Wars, and enrollment continued to increase.
The school didn’t close during the Depression, but operation proved to be difficult during World War I and World War II. The school lost many students and professors during World War II. With mostly women students at the school during war time, Locke doubled up on his duties to make up for the absence of the other teachers. He and the school weathered the crisis with 30 to 40 students and never missed a class. Following the war, the government implemented the GI Bill for the education of service men, and Birmingham School of Law was approved for veteran’s benefits. The number of students increased rapidly to more than 150.
Locke was proud of the school’s female students and supported them in the founding of the State of Alabama’s first chapter of Phi Delta Delta legal fraternity during the 1950s. Now known as Phi Alpha Delta, the fraternity was dedicated to promoting high standards of scholarship, professional ethics, proficiency and achievement among women in law schools and in the legal profession.
Following the death of his father in 1971, Hugh A. Locke Jr. assumed the role of dean and led the effort to save the Birmingham School of Law and the other two non-accredited law schools in the state of Alabama.
Saving the School
In 1974, a resolution was being considered by the Committee on Admission to the Bar and Legal Education to amend Rule 4(c) which would deny a person the right to take the bar examination unless such person attended and graduated from a law school that was approved by the American Bar Association or the Association of American Law Schools. Adoption of this resolution would result in the closing of Birmingham School of Law, Thomas Goode Jones School of Law in Montgomery, and Miles Law School.
During the years that this issue was at the forefront of the law schools, Locke lobbied members of the Bar Commission and the Supreme Court to vote in favor of the non-accredited schools. When the Supreme Court ruling was finally handed down in 1985, the amendment was defeated with only one dissenting vote and Birmingham School of Law remained open to serve the people of Birmingham and the State of Alabama.
Supreme Court Decision allows non-accredited law schools to remain open after Locke Jr. lobbied members of the Bar and the Supreme Court.
Birmingham School of Law begins Saturday program. It is only the fourth school in the nation to do so.
On the Rise
In May 1996, Birmingham School of Law left the Jefferson County Courthouse and moved its classes to the Frank Nelson Building in downtown Birmingham. Students continued to seek out the school for their legal education, and the facility kept growing. Birmingham School of Law alumnus Tom Leonard assumed the role of dean from 1994 to 2002, and Birmingham School of Law graduate Ginger Tomlin served as dean until 2006.
Current dean James J. Bushnell assumed his duties in 2007 and has continued efforts to make Birmingham School of Law a top choice for a legal education. In his first year, the school implemented a senior seminar program which includes a bar review course that prepares students for the bar examination.
In the fall of 2009, the school began offering a Saturday full-time program for law students, only the fourth school in the U.S. to do so. Students can complete every requisite class on Saturdays only and still graduate in four years. Students come to Birmingham School of Law from all four corners of the state of Alabama, to attend the Saturday classes; students travel from Scottsboro, Bay Minette, Florence, Dothan, and more.
A milestone for the school occurred in December 2013 when Birmingham School of Law relocated to the Judge Hugh A. Locke Building at the corner of 3rd Avenue South and 22nd Street. This move marked the first time the school has held classes in its own building. The new state of the art facility includes a 100-seat multimedia auditorium, a formal moot courtroom, an extensive legal library, and an innovative computer lab. The move substantially increased the capacity of the school.
As Birmingham School of Law celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2015, family, friends, students and officials of the school looked back over the years with pride at the accomplishments the school has attained while staying true to its purpose – “to offer the opportunity for a high quality, affordable legal education to those men and women who cannot attend the traditional law school for financial, family, or occupational reasons.” Average enrollment at the school is around 400 and continues to grow.