The University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law is one of two Arkansas law schools, both of which are state supported and part of the University of Arkansas System.
The first formal program of legal education in Arkansas was established in Little Rock (Pulaski County) in 1868 and was known as the Little Rock Law Class. Arkansas Industrial University, now the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County), assumed sponsorship of this law class in 1892, establishing the Law Department in Little Rock under the deanship of Judge Frank Goar. The Law Department existed until 1915, when, as the result of disagreement between the law school and the board of trustees over the law school’s autonomy, the university withdrew its sponsorship, and under the leadership of Dean John H. Carmichael, the Law Department reorganized in Little Rock as a private, bar-sponsored institution. This institution, the Arkansas Law School, graduated its last class in 1967. The Arkansas Law School was not accredited by the American Bar Association, although its graduates could and did sit for the Arkansas bar examination.
In 1965, UA opened a part-time, evening division of the Fayetteville law school in Little Rock. UA’s dean, Ralph C. Barnhart, also served as the dean of the Little Rock division. In 1970, a consultant recommended that the Little Rock division become independent and add a day program. This proposal met with approval from a significant segment of the Arkansas bar. A special university committee appointed to consider the question recommended that the relatively new University of Arkansas at Little Rock (UALR) have jurisdiction over a law school that would offer both day (full-time) and evening (part-time) programs. In 1975, the Arkansas General Assembly enacted legislation, in effect transforming the Little Rock division into the University of Arkansas at Little Rock School of Law and mandating a part-time evening program. One indication of the support the fledgling law school received from the legal community was the merging of the law school’s library with the Pulaski County Law Library, thus increasing the library’s budget beyond what it would have been otherwise. For decades, it was the only dual academic-county law library in the United States.
The UALR Law School graduated its first class in the spring of 1978, with full accreditation by the American Bar Association. In 1979, UALR was admitted to the Association of American Law Schools. That fall, a young partner at the Rose Law Firm, Hillary Rodham, now Hillary Rodham Clinton, taught a workshop as part of the trial advocacy course.
One distinction of the law school is its emphasis on skills courses. It has always required students to take a course in trial advocacy, which is an elective at most law schools. Recently, the faculty has expanded the requirement to two mandatory, upper-level courses in lawyering skills. The law school also houses three clinics, serving actual clients, in the areas of litigation, mediation, and tax, and offers numerous externships as well, placing students in government and non-profit agencies.
Originally, the Little Rock division of the University of Arkansas Law School was located on the second floor of the Gay Building at the southwest corner of Broadway and 3rd streets. In January 1975, the law school opened its doors at 400 W. Markham in space that the Pulaski County Law Library leased from the Arkansas Bar Foundation and subleased to the law school. The law school shared the building with the Arkansas Bar Association and Foundation. From the school’s opening, however, the law school administration and faculty realized that the space was inadequate. In January 1978, half of the faculty and classrooms, a significant portion of the law library, and the law school administration moved a block away to the “Old Federal Building,” on the north side of 2nd Street between Center and Spring streets. University of Arkansas System president Ray Thornton conceived a plan that was ultimately adopted by the Arkansas General Assembly, moving the University of Arkansas System’s Agricultural Extension and Graduate Institute of Technology out of their building on the east side of MacArthur Park and moving the law school in after extensive renovations.
In the summer of 1992, the law school was relocated to the new building, where it remains today. On April 27, 2000, the school was named for William H. Bowen, chief of staff to Governor Bill Clinton from 1991 to 1992 and dean of the law school from 1995 to 1997. President Clinton spoke at the dedication.
In 2014, the UALR William H. Bowen School of Law had one of the smallest student bodies (just over 300 full-time equivalent students) of any U.S. law school, particularly of schools that offer evening divisions. Faculty and administrators number approximately thirty-five, of whom around twenty-five are full-time. One advantage of the law school’s location in the capital city is the richness of the pool of attorneys and judges from which its numerous adjunct professors are hired.
The school awards the Juris Doctor degree. Five concurrent degree programs are available: the JD/MBA and JD/MPA (in conjunction with UALR), the JD/MPH and the JD/MD (in conjunction with the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences), and the JD/MPS (in conjunction with the University of Arkansas Clinton School of Public Service). School publications include the student-managed UALR Law Review, the faculty-edited Journal of Appellate Practice and Process, and the alumni magazine Hearsay. Approximately eighty percent of its matriculants are Arkansas residents. The UALR/Pulaski County Law Library contains more than 303,000 volumes and equivalents and is open to the public.
For additional information:
Averill, Lawrence H., Jr. “A Short History of the Law School at UALR.” University of Arkansas at Little Rock Law Journal 8.4 (1985–1986): 619–635.
Bowen, William H. The Boy from Altheimer: From the Depression to the Boardroom. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2006.
Gitelman, Mort. “One Hundred Years of Legal Education in Arkansas.” Arkansas Lawyer 33 (Winter 1998): 12–15.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law. http://ualr.edu/law/ (accessed September 27, 2017).
Wright, Robert R. Old Seeds in the New Land: History and Reminiscences of the Bar of Arkansas. Fayetteville, AR: M&M Press, 2001.
University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law