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Green, Leon, 1888-1979



Leon Green was born on March 31, 1888 in Louisiana. After earning his A.B. degree in 1908 from Ouachita College, Arkansas, he worked in business for himself for three years in Texas. Green began to practice law while working towards a law degree, and took his L.L.B. degree from the University of Texas in 1915. For several years, he was both a practicing attorney and an academic, teaching at the University of Texas until he was appointed dean of the Law School of the University of North Carolina in 1926.

Before taking up his duties in North Carolina, however, Green accepted a one-year visiting professorship at Yale, which turned into a permanent position. Green remained at Yale until he was named dean of the Northwestern University School of Law in 1929. He succeeded John H. Wigmore, and remained in the position until 1947.

At Northwestern, Green successfully steered the School of Law through some of its most difficult periods, including the years of the Depression and of the Second World War. His success can be attributed to his tireless efforts on every front - supporting faculty members, guiding and encouraging students, charming and persuading donors, and negotiating with trustees and administrators. His skill also extended to his administrative and academic duties, for he redesigned the School of Law's curriculum, administered the budgets and financial affairs of the School, and wrote numerous popular pamphlets about the study of law, all while maintaining his teaching responsibilities and carrying on his own influential research.

When Green first joined the faculty of the School of Law in 1929, the faculty numbered only six, including himself. Since part of Green's vision for the School of Law was to offer a full complement of courses from the innovative “functionalist” point of view, he needed a larger faculty than was available at the time. Furthermore, Green strongly believed that a small student-faculty ratio was necessary for students to learn effectively. Green engineered the growth of the faculty gradually as he invited the leading legal scholars of the day to teach at Northwestern's School of Law. These men must have been attracted by the quality and spirit of the School of Law, if not by Green's own persuasion, since, as the dean often pointed out to the Trustees of the University, Northwestern's salaries were far from competitive with the other leading schools. In any case, within eight years of his appointment, Green had increased the size of the teaching faculty to sixteen members, in addition to the staff of the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory and the Legal Aid Bureau. Dean Green's letters reveal that he had not only a friendly working relationship with his faculty members, but also warm personal relationships with many of them. It is also clear from his correspondence that he frequently interceded and advocated on his faculty's behalf with the University administration, urging that professors be granted leaves, salary raises and promotions when these were deserved, not only when the budget allowed them.

Together with the faculty, Green developed a new curriculum for the School of Law that was hailed as an innovation throughout the profession. While older and more traditional schools continued to center their teaching around the casebook, the Northwestern University School of Law made use of a variety of other teaching techniques, in an effort to prepare students for the rapidly changing world of legal practice. (An overview of this innovative curriculum may be found in the May 1931 issue of The American Bar Association Journal, “A New Program in Legal Education”, and in the 1934 Northwestern University Bulletin, The Training of a Lawyer.) In addition to small classes, opportunities for individual study, and textbooks and materials developed by the faculty, students also benefited from “hands-on” experience in the Legal Clinic and the Scientific Crime Detection Laboratory, as contributors and editors for the Illinois Law Review, and through interactions with bar associations. Advanced students also had the opportunity to study the most recent legal developments through a course in Contemporary Legislation.

At the same time as increasing the size of the faculty and refining the curriculum, dean Green also sought to improve the quality of the student body. While the number of students was capped at four hundred to maintain teaching ratios, it was frequently the case that not even this many were admitted because of a lack of suitable applicants. Green's breadth of vision allowed him to see that improving the School's reputation was necessary to attract more and better students, yet it was likewise necessary for the School to produce graduates of the highest-quality — and therefore to attract the best applicants — in order to improve its reputation. Green's efforts directly addressed both facets of this challenge by improving the faculty and curriculum as described above and by seeking ways to attract top students from all over the United States.

In spite of the urging of the University administration, Green refused to admit weaker students only for the sake of increasing tuition revenues. Furthermore, he repeatedly sought sources of scholarship funding in order that talented, poor students might be able to study at Northwestern. Green also recognized that housing was a major problem for nearly all of the current students, and a deterrent to every potential student, since what housing was available near the School was often overpriced and of dismal quality. He frequently pointed out that a student with the choice between two top-quality schools was much more likely to choose the school that provided decent housing for its students. For a decade he pleaded with the administration to provide the funds for a dormitory on the Chicago campus. So strong was Green's conviction that good students were necessary for the health of the School of Law and that a dormitory was necessary to attract good students, that when an anonymous donor offered to finance its construction contingent upon the dean's resignation, Green offered immediately to resign. This measure proved to be unnecessary, however, and his goal was finally achieved in 1940 with the completion of Abbott Hall.

Once students matriculated in the School of Law, Green interacted with them both as a professor, since he regularly taught the courses in tort law, and as an administrator. His role was rarely disciplinary, however, since the student body governed itself through the means of the Junior Bar Association. One of Green's primary tasks with respect to students was recommending them upon graduation for jobs with law firms and government agencies. Prospective employers frequently wrote to the dean seeking recent graduates to hire, and Green appears to have tried carefully to match the character and talents of his students with the qualities desired by employers.

Green's correspondence suggests that once students graduated it was difficult to retain their interest in the School of Law. Much of his time was devoted to communicating with alumni, often for the purpose of keeping them informed about the happenings in the School, and occasionally to solicit their advice and their monetary generosity. Believing that the support of its alumni would be beneficial to the School, Green devised several plans for maintaining a viable connection between the School and the graduates. Alumni were invited to luncheons, lectures and other events, were named Law School Fellows with a voice in decisions at the School, were urged to attend meetings with their graduating classes, and were appointed to various committees. Green urged the alumni to contribute to the Law School Development Fund, particularly to the Loan and Scholarship Funds, in order that more students might be given the chance to study at Northwestern.

Dean Green's fundraising efforts extended beyond the alumni of the School of Law. Part of his duties as dean included maintaining good relations with benefactors who had already contributed generously to the School. This he did by seeing that they received the Bulletin and the other publications of the School, and by ensuring that the donors themselves received appropriate publicity and recognition. Green was also alert to opportunities to attract new donors by identifying individuals and foundations that might be approached by the School of Law or by the University.

Green also represented the School and its interests at the local, state and national bar associations. One of his long struggles was with the State Board of Law Examiners which administered the Illinois Bar Exam. Green argued that while law school curricula had kept pace with the rapid changes in legal practice, bar exams had not. The result was that the best students frequently failed bar exams, which consisted more of arcane and “catch” questions than of useful information. Ironically, a school like Northwestern, with a strong and innovative curriculum, had a higher failure rate than many of the less reputable schools, simply because these schools taught students how to pass the bar exam, rather than teaching them how to be lawyers. Green had to fend off the attacks of University officials and alumni angry about the failure rate at the same time as he worked with the Board of Law Examiners to improve the exams. Some degree of change was effected during his tenure, as new questions were introduced on the exams, and Northwestern's students began to meet with more success.

Dean Green performed the daily tasks required of an administrator with the same care that he exercised in his other duties. Salaries were paid, supplies ordered, timetables arranged and rooms booked, all with the able assistance of his secretary, Miss Cecile Deppe. Green was also ultimately responsible for the operation of the Scientific Crime Detection Lab (1931-1938), where techniques of forensic investigation including the polygraph lie detector were developed and perfected, and for the many journals published through the School of Law, including the Illinois Law Review, the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, the Journal of Air Law, and the Journal of Radio Law. While many of these operated as partially independent bodies, the dean was often called on to oversee some aspect of their operation.

During World War II the size of both the faculty and the student body of the School of Law shrank considerably. During this time Green made such changes to the curriculum and to the general operation of the School as were necessary to keep it functioning, reasoning that the expense and effort involved in closing the School and re-opening it after the War would be greater than keeping the School running on a smaller scale throughout the “emergency”. Green also maintained relations with faculty and students who were engaged in government or military service, corresponding regularly with them about the happenings at the School.

During the last years of the War Green was at work on another major redesign of the curriculum, which is described in the 1946 Northwestern University Bulletin Reconversion in Legal Education. This Group Unit Plan met with much acclaim in the legal community. With the curriculum in place, the School of Law was ready for the influx of students in the years following the War. Green stayed at his post long enough to ensure that the School would make the transition successfully. He welcomed back the faculty members who had been absent, and saw the first full class in many years enroll in the School. Assured that the Northwestern University School of Law had recovered its former position of prominence in the minds of lawyers, law professors and students alike, Leon Green resigned from the deanship in 1947. He returned to the University of Texas as a Distinguished Professor, where he pursued his teaching and research interests until his retirement in 1977.

Leon Green died on June 15, 1979. He was survived by his wife Notra, a son Leon Jr., and a daughter Nevin.

Neither personal correspondence nor documents relating to Green's research and teaching are included in this series; many of these can be found in the Leon Green Papers in the Tarlton Law Library at the University of Texas at Austin. A container list of the University of Texas collection is included in the inventory folder.

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

Leon Green (1888-1979) Papers

Identifier: 17/29
Abstract Leon Green was named dean of the Northwestern University School of Law in 1929. He succeeded John H. Wigmore, and remained in the position until 1947. At Northwestern, Green successfully steered the School of Law through some of its most difficult periods, including the years of the Depression and of the Second World War. The series consists largely of correspondence and documents relating to the administration of the School of Law. The collection of correspondence includes letters to and...
Dates: 1929-1947