Our History and Traditions

Memorial wreath for Louis D. Brandeis

Founded in 1846, the University of Louisville's Brandeis School of Law is Kentucky's oldest law school and America's fifth oldest law school in continuous operation. It began as the Law Department of the University of Louisville and remained so until 1923, when it became the School of Law and hired its first full-time professor.

In the early 1900s, the Jefferson School of Law also existed in Louisville and competed by operating on a part-time basis. The national trend, however, was moving toward a more formal legal education and, in 1950, the Jefferson School of Law and the University of Louisville School of Law merged.

Justice Brandeis began to invest heavily in the school in 1925. His vision for the school was solidified when Harvard law dean Roscoe Pound proposed to increase enrollments at that school. Justice Brandeis objected, calling instead for smaller, better schools and writing that the time had come to "build a law school of distinction."

Law School Deans
Henry Pirtle, 1846-1873
William Chenault, 1881-1886
Rozel Weissinger, 1886-1890
Willis Overton Harris, 1890-1911
Charles B. Seymour, 1911-1919
Edward W. Hines, 1919-1921
Charles B. Seymour, 1922-1925
Leon P. Lewis, 1925-1930
Neville Miller, 1930-1933
Joseph A. McClain Jr., 1934-1936
Jack Neal Lott Jr., 1936-1946
Absalom C. Russell, 1946-1957
William B. Peden, 1957-1958
Marlin M. Volz, 1958-1965
James R. Merritt, 1965-1974
Harold G. Wren, 1976-1981
Norvie L. Lay, 1981-1982
Barbara B. Lewis, 1982-1990
Donald L. Burnett Jr., 1990-2000
Laura Rothstein, 2000-2005
David Ensign, 2005-2007
James Chen, 2007-2012
Susan Duncan, 2012-2017
Lars S. Smith (interim), 2017
Colin Crawford, 2018-2021
Lars S. Smith (interim), 2021-22
Melanie B. Jacobs, 2022-present

As noted by biographer Philippa Strum, Brandeis responded "he wanted 'not a bigger (Harvard Law School), but 20 Harvard Law Schools.' And he immediately set about creating one other Harvard, this one in Kentucky."

He gave the school his personal library, including many rare texts on early civil and common law; his personal papers, comprising approximately 250,000 items; and his money (even buying light fixtures when the law school was located in a downtown building, before moving to its current location on the Belknap campus in 1938).

He also helped raise money from other donors; aided the school in obtaining the papers of Justice John Marshall Harlan, the "great dissenter;" arranged for the school to receive original briefs filed with the United States Supreme Court, a practice the Court still honors; and bequeathed a substantial part of his estate to the University of Louisville.

After his death in 1941, his last remains — and later the remains of his wife, Alice Goldmark Brandeis — were buried unobtrusively beneath the law school's classical portico.

The Law School was renamed the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law in 1997.

As noted by the law faculty in their resolution embracing the Brandeis name, "[t]he legacy of Justice Brandeis has been an historic foundation of the School of Law and is an inspiring charter for its future."

Today, the law school is believed to be America's fifth oldest in continuous operation. The Louis D. Brandeis School of Law is a freestanding building, independent of other units on UofL’s Belknap campus. The law building has more than 82,000 square feet, more than half of which constitute the law library. The building features modern classrooms and wireless technology throughout, as well as a computer lab, lounge area and the Breit Courtroom, an appellate courtroom with a seven-seat bench, witness stand, 12-person jury box, counsel tables and a podium. The Breit Courtroom was updated in 2021, through a donation group led by well known and successful trial lawyer Marc L. Breit, Esq., with a full-service audio/visual system, a SMART podium, new décor and seating. Among its many functions, the courtroom serves as additional classroom space for law students. Additional updates include a renovated entrance to the law school, remodeled restrooms and an updated jury/conference room with A/V capabilities. 

Our Traditions

Gravesite of Louis D. and Alice Goldmark Brandeis

The law school's portico, where the remains of Justice Brandeis and his wife, Alice Goldmark Brandeis, are buried, is a place where students place coins, stones (a Jewish tradition), and occasionally even a box of animal crackers, one of Brandeis' favorite foods. These tokens are often found during the exam period, when students use them in hopes that doing so will bring them good luck during exams.

Also, each year during his birthday week in November, a wreath is placed on the grave. This is also done whenever there is a Brandeis Medal recipient on campus and when a Supreme Court justice visits the law school.