My Years at the University of Chicago Law School


From the Fall of 1963 through May of 1966 I was a student at the University of Chicago Law School. I spent many hours in its beautiful building that was designed by Eero Saarinen.



University of Chicago Law School
University of Chicago     Law School 

I chose Chicago because it was an excellent law school and because its Mechem Selection Committee awarded me a full-tuition Floyd Russell Mechem Prize Scholarship. The chair of the Committee was Justice Tom C. Clark, Associate Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. The other Committee members were Associate Justice Roger Traynor of the California Supreme Court; Judge Sterry Waterman of the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals; two past presidents of the American Bar Association; and two political science professors.

This scholarship was started in 1959 as one of the first three-year full-tuition, merit-based scholarships offered by any top-tier law school. It was financed through the School’s general fund and was designed to attract top candidates to Chicago and to free them from student debt in order to pursue their highest career aspirations. Floyd Mechem, by the way, in the early 20th century had been one of the School’s original professors and a leading expert on the law of sales, agency and corporations.[1]

Law school was a major change from my studies at the University of Oxford. There I had two tutorials a week during the academic terms by myself or with only one other student. My tutors gave me a question to address in an essay for the next tutorial along with suggested readings. The rest of the week was spent reading those articles and books and writing an essay and going to whatever lectures I chose. The examinations were at the end of my two years at Oxford.[2]

Law school at Chicago and almost all U.S. law schools, on the other hand, feature large classes with assigned pages in big law books for the next day and lectures and questioning of the students by the professors with exams at the end of the semester. This was a big adjustment for me, and I did not like the forced abandonment of the independence I had at Oxford.  Another major change, especially in the first year, was encountering an entirely new vocabulary and system. I remember how long it took me, especially in the first year, to read anything because I always was consulting the big Black’s Law Dictionary.

Chicago’s first-year students had a legal writing component taught by Bigelow Fellows that provided a break from the large class routine. Learning how to write legal memos and briefs took practice, I discovered. The most exciting part of this course was preparing for, and observing, an oral argument before the Illinois Supreme Court when they visited the law school. The issue in the case, as I recall, concerned a Chicago ordinance regarding pornography, and our assignment was to write a judicial opinion deciding the case after reading the briefs and watching the oral argument. I enjoyed this assignment and replicated it when I taught a course about law to undergraduates at Grinnell College in 1982.[3]

I received excellent grades my first year and was invited to be on the staff of The University of Chicago Law Review my second year. I wrote two comments for the Review that in retrospect were not scintillating. One argued for recognition of a constitutional right to counsel in federal income tax investigations.[4] The other explored the distinction between repair and reconstruction of patented combination; the former was permissible; the latter, was not.[5] I still chuckle about a late 19th century case on this issue that held that replacing toilet paper in a patented toilet paper dispenser did not constitute reconstruction of the dispenser and, therefore, was not patent infringement.[6]

In any event, on the basis of my performance as a staff member on the Review, I was chosen to be one of its Managing Editors for my third year with special responsibility for articles. We had a special issue that year honoring the Law School’s Professor Malcolm Sharp, and I was in charge of soliciting and editing articles about him.

Edmund Wilson

One of the articles was by his friend and noted journalist and literary critic, Edmund Wilson, who spent time with Sharp during the summers in Talcottsville, New York. (I did not do any editing of his submission.) Wilson said,

  • “We saw a good deal of one another then, and were in the habit, at the end of the day, of meeting for conversation and drinks at either their house or mine. We enjoyed a pleasant leisure and peace, a freedom from the immediate pressures with which we elsewhere had to contend, as we sat in my ancient living-room, with its Boston and Salem rockers and its old-fashioned paintings and engravings, or looking from the Sharps’ back lawn, on a green and unmowed meadow, now soaked in the golden light of an orange and silver declining sun. . . . In our conversations on the back lawn of Talcottville, in the little trough of rural civilization that lies between the foothills of the Adirondacks and the wilderness of the Tug Hill plateau, we have covered, in our conversations, many aspects of that disturbed and disturbing world that was invisible from where we sat.”[7]
Wilson’s House
Wilson’s “Stone House” in Talcottville is now on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1789 with limestone from the nearby Sugar River and was made famous in Wilson’s book Upstate. Wilson’s father bought it as a summer place, and it became a symbol for Wilson “of the kind of life he valued,  . . . a life in which an intimate knowledge of the past provided stability in the present and guidance for the future; a life in which human beings had individuality, dignity and worth.”

I was in Professor Sharp’s contracts course my first year, and although often difficult to understand, he was warmly regarded by students as “good and wise and kind.”  Others I fondly remember are Harry Kalven, Jr. for torts; Phil Kurland for constitutional law; David Currie for conflict of laws and federal jurisdiction; Walter Blum for taxation; Bernard Meltzer for evidence; Phil Neal for antitrust law; Francis Allen for criminal law; Jo Desha Lucas for civil procedure; Soia Menschikoff for sales and the Uniform Commercial Code; and Kenneth Dam for international law. The first-year property course was taught by Sheldon Tefft, who because he had been a Rhodes Scholar liked to call on me.

Univ. Chicago Law School Faculty 1966

Because of all the work required for the Review, my fellow staff members and then Editorial Board members and I spent a lot of time together, and they became my best friends. They were and are Bob Berger, Roland Brandel, David Brown, Lew Collens, George Ranney, Walt Robinson, Mike Shakman and David Tatel. All went on to distinguished legal careers.

On November 22, 1963, I was studying in the Law School Library and was shocked when someone told me that President Kennedy had been assassinated.

In June 1966 I received the Juris Doctor (J.D.) degree with Honors and the Order of the Coif for excellence in my studies.

In my last semester in 1966 I was unsuccessful in applying for a White House Fellowship and judicial clerkships with U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren and Associate Justices Byron White and Potter Stewart.[8] Instead my wife and I moved to New York City where I joined the eminent Wall Street law firm of Cravath, Swaine & Moore.[9]

I am glad that I went to the University of Chicago Law School and became a lawyer.

[1]  Gerald de Jaager, The Impact of a Full-Tuition Scholarship,;Bigelow, Floyd Russell Mechem, 15 A.B.A.J. 169 (1929).

[2]  See Post: My Oxford University Years (Aug. 30, 2011); Post: Reading PPE at Oxford (June 6, 2011); Post: PPE Examinations at Oxford (June 10, 2011).

[3]  See Post: A Sabbatical Leave from Lawyering (May 26, 2011).

[4]  Comment, The Constitutional Right to Counsel in Tax Investigations, 32 U. Chi. L. Rev. 134 (1965).

[5]  Comment, Repair and Reconstruction of Patented Combinations, 32 U. Chic. L. Rev. 353 (1965).

[6]  Morgan Envelope Co. v. Albany Perforate d Wrapping Paper Co.,152 U.S. 425 (1894).

[7]  Edmund Wilson, Conversing with Malcolm Sharp, 33 U. Chi. L. Rev. 198 (1966); Edmund Wilson House,

[8]  See Post: Questioning President Lyndon Johnson (April 17, 2011); Post: The Roads Not Taken (April 27, 2011).

[9]  See Post: Lawyering on Wall Street (April 14, 2011).

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As a retired lawyer and adjunct law professor, Duane W. Krohnke has developed strong interests in U.S. and international law, politics and history. He also is a Christian and an active member of Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church. His blog draws from these and other interests. He delights in the writing freedom of blogging that does not follow a preordained logical structure. The ex post facto logical organization of the posts and comments is set forth in the continually being revised “List of Posts and Comments–Topical” in the Pages section on the right side of the blog.

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