I. Leaving the Nineteenth Century
. . .
G. Legal Education
The first three justices were born and educated in the law elsewhere, like their successors for over thirty years.(78) Not until 1923, when Justice William Nuessle (1923-1950) took office, did any justice complete a legal education in this state. While Justice Nuessle had been born in New York state in 1878, he moved in childhood to Dakota Territory and received his law degree from the University of North Dakota in 1901.(79) Since 1922 more than two-thirds of the justices have been trained in a law office in this state(80) or educated at the UND Law School, although there has never been a Court with all members educated in the law in North Dakota.(81)
Chief Justice Corliss in August 1898 became the first to leave the Court, when he returned to Grand Forks to practice and to teach law.(82) With the encouragement of Webster Merrifield, then president of the young University of North Dakota, ex-Justice Corliss organized the Law School and became its Dean in October 1899.(83)
Corliss was a man of great professional ability, striking appearance, and a personal charm reflected in the writings of those who came in contact with him. He had served as the first Chief Justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court, holding that position from 1889 to 1898. However, his bid for re-election failed--a great loss, since during his tenure on the bench he had authored a series of opinions still notable for their clarity, incisiveness, and grasp of legal principle--and he returned to Grand Forks about the time the school opened to resume private practice. The circumstance of his availability, plus his distinguished background made him the logical and natural choice for the deanship of the new school.
His tenure as dean was relatively brief, from 1899 to 1903. Judge Corliss was engaged in private practice when he assumed the deanship, and found it desirable to continue. This proved to be a factor militating against his administrative effectiveness, and most of the day-to-day work of running the school fell on the youthful shoulders of John E. Blair.(84)
At first, graduation from the UND Law School "carried with it the consequences of automatic admission to the bar--a concession designed to encourage attendance at the school. . . ."(85) But in 1905, upon recommendation by Dean Bruce, "the diploma privilege, whereby every graduate secured automatic admission to the bar, was abolished in place of the far more appropriate system of independent examinations conducted under the aegis of a State Bar Board."(86)
This was a reform of very considerable moment to the legal profession of the state, for it applied not only to students of the school but also to those who were taking the alternate route of entering practice by the older method of office study. It meant that former lax practices in regard to the admission of such students could be gradually tightened.(87)
Since 1895, applicants for admission to the bar had been examined in open court or by a committee of not less than three members appointed by the Court.(88) The 1905 legislature established a Board of Bar Examiners appointed by the Supreme Court.(89) "No appropriation was made for [the] Board but per diems and expenses of the Board were paid for out of the examination fees."(90)
The Supreme Court, in 1905, appointed UND Law School Dean Andrew A. Bruce of Grand Forks, practitioner John Burke of Devils Lake, and practitioner Emerson H. Smith of Fargo to the Bar Board.(91) Except for the period from 1919 to 1923, when the governor of the state was authorized to appoint Bar Board members,(92) the Supreme Court has continued to appoint the Board.(93)
As the legal educations of at least two of the first three justices illustrate, not all applicants for admission to the bar attended a law school; some studied law with a judge or lawyer as a mentor. The last justice to obtain his legal learning by "reading the law" was Thomas J. Burke (1939-1966), who "received his legal training studying under Usher L. Burdick and his father, John Burke."(94) "Reading the law" is no longer allowed; since 1983, a juris doctor or equivalent degree from an accredited law school has been required for admission to the bar.(95)
78. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 28-41.
79. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 42. "One member of the first class [at the Law School in 1899] . . . was William Nuessle, who was later to become a prominent figure in the state's judicial history." Charles L. Crum, The History of the University of North Dakota School of Law, 35 N.D. L. Rev. 5, 6 (1959).
80. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 11-13. For a brief account of how a Supreme Court Justice occasionally acted as a mentor for someone "reading the law," see Hon. Gail Hagerty, Reading the Law, Gavel (Journal of N.D. State Bar Ass'n), June/July 1998, at 16-17. This account tells how Justice James Morris (1935-1964) mentored Orville A. Schulz (later Judge Schulz) in the study of law.
81. See generally Sketch, supra note 2.
82. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 22. Governor Devine appointed a Bathgate lawyer, Newton C. Young (1898-1906), to replace Justice Corliss. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 25. Justice Young resigned in 1906 to practice law in Fargo. See Sketch, supra note 2, at 25.
83. See Fifth Biennial Report of the President of the Board of Trustees of the University of North Dakota (For the Fiscal Period Ending June 30, 1898), in Public Documents of the State of North Dakota, Public Document No. 13, at 4 (1899). When Justice Corliss left the Court, he also joined the executive committee that began the State Bar Association in 1899. Minutes of Executive Committee Meeting (Dec. 28, 1899), in Proceedings of The North Dakota Bar Association (W.H. Thomas compiler & ed., 1905).
84. Crum, supra note 79, at 7-8.
Corliss . . . continued his association with the school for several years longer, alternating between the classroom and a busy practice. He then moved to Oregon, able to look back with satisfaction on a career which had given him the experience of being both the first Chief Justice of the State of North Dakota and the first dean of the state's law school. He had organized the school, he had seen it through the difficult opening years, he had found a competent man [professor A.A. Bruce] to continue the work of development on the full-time basis that was necessary; all in all, he had made no small contribution.
Crum, supra note 79, at 7-8.
85. Crum, supra note 79, at 7.
86. Crum, supra note 79, at 9-10.
87. Crum, supra note 79, at 10.
88. See J.H. Newton, The North Dakota Bar Board, 35 N.D. L. Rev. 220, 220 (1959) ("No examination fee seems to have been required but legend has it that it was the duty of the successful candidates to entertain the examiners in a fitting manner.").
89. See 1905 N.D. Laws ch. 50, § 1, at 80.
90. Newton, supra note 88, at 220.
91. See Newton, supra note 88, at 220.
92. See Newton, supra note 88, at 220-21; see also 1923 N.D. Laws ch. 134, at 103; 1919 N.D. Laws ch. 69, at 80.
93. See Newton, supra note 88, at 220-21.
94. Sketch, supra note 2, at 49.
95. See Admisision to Prac. R. 1(A)(4). See the 1984 edition of the North Dakota Court Rules for commencement date of the requirement.