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Historical portrait of Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell

Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell, the first dean of HLS

Harvard Law School traces its origins to Isaac Royall, Jr., who in 1781 left land to Harvard University, with the proceeds intended to “endow of a Professor of Laws at said college, or a Professor of Physics and Anatomy.” After a period during which parcels of Royall’s lands were sold and interest was allowed to accrue, Harvard funded its first chair in law in 1815. Isaac Parker, the first holder of the Royall chair, began teaching in 1817. The Royall chair continues to support an HLS professor today, more than 200 years later.

In 1827, the struggling young law school was down to only one faculty member, Asahel Stearns, and one student. In this year, an enterprising alumnus stepped in to save the school by establishing the Dane Professorship of Law, and insisting that the chair be given to Joseph Story, the nation’s youngest Supreme Court justice. Story believed in the concept of an elite American law school, based on merit and dedicated to public service: a tradition that continues today. A second critical figure in the development of the Law School arrived on the campus in the 1870s. Dean Christopher Columbus Langdell believed that the study of law should be an interactive and disciplined form of education, in which students were challenged directly by teachers, and through which they learned to analyze cases for themselves. This Socratic method of instruction demanded new teaching spaces, and Austin Hall was built on the north side of Harvard Yard to accommodate the School’s new vision.

Following Langdell’s remarkable 25-year tenure, an elite group of men and women have served as the School’s Dean.

Deans of Harvard Law School, 1870 - Present

Deans of Harvard Law School, 1870 - Present

Chart of HLS deans in chronological order

Click the chart to view full size. Credit: Illustration by Lorin Granger

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1870 – 1895, Christopher Columbus Langdell
1895 – 1910, James Barr Ames
1909 – 1910, Samuel Williston*
1910 – 1915, Ezra Ripley Thayer
1915 – 1916, Austin Wakeman Scott*
1916 – 1936, Roscoe Pound
1921 – 1922, Edward Henry Warren*
1925 – 1926, Joseph Warren*
1929 – 1929, Joseph Warren*
1929 – 1930, Joseph Henry Beale*
1936 – 1937, Edmund Morris Morgan*
1937 – 1946, James McCauley Landis
1942 – 1945, Edmund Morris Morgan*

1946 – 1967, Erwin Nathaniel Griswold
1948 – 1948, Robert Amory, Jr.*
1959 – 1959, Livingston Hall*
1967 – 1968, Andrew James Casner*
1968 – 1971, Derek Curtis Bok
1971 – 1981, Albert Martin Sacks
1981 – 1989, James Vorenberg
1989 – 2003, Robert C. Clark
2003 – 2009, Elena Kagan
2009 – 2009, Howell E. Jackson*
2009 – 2017, Martha Minow
2017 – Present, John F. Manning

* indicates “acting” appointment