Cumberland School of Law

Cumberland School of Law
Cumberland Law School is unrelated to the University of the Cumberlands in Williamsburg, Kentucky, and is no longer a a part of Cumberland University In Lebanon, Tennessee.
Cumberland School of Law
Logo of Cumberland School of Law
Established July 29, 1847
School type Private
Dean John L. Carroll
Location Birmingham, Alabama, USA
33°27′57″N 86°47′32″W / 33.46570°N 86.79214°W / 33.46570; -86.79214Coordinates: 33°27′57″N 86°47′32″W / 33.46570°N 86.79214°W / 33.46570; -86.79214
Enrollment 533
Faculty 45 professors, 43 adjunct / student to faculty ratio of 20:1 [1]
Bar pass rate 92% (Official ABA Data)
ABA profile [1]
Rascal - Cumberland School of Law Mascot
Rascal - Cumberland School of Law Mascot

Cumberland School of Law is an ABA accredited law school at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama. The 11th oldest law school in the United States, it is 160 years old and has more than 11,000 graduates. Its alumni include two United States Supreme Court Justices;[2][3][4][5] Nobel Peace Prize recipient Cordell Hull, "the father of the United Nations";[6][7] over 50 U.S. representatives; and numerous senators, governors, and judges.

The school offers two degree programs: the 90-hour Juris Doctor (J.D.), and the Master of Comparative Law (M.C.L.), which is designed to educate foreign lawyers in the basic legal principles of the United States.[8] The school also offers six dual-degree programs, and is building a biotechnology law emphasis through its research center.[9]



Cumberland University c.1858. Burned during the American Civil War.

This summary is based on From Maverick to Mainstream,[10] a review of Cumberland's history and the development of the American legal education system.[11]

Langum and Walthall summarize the history of Cumberland Law School as:

From its very local, Tennessee origins in 1847, Cumberland...emerged as a premier law school with a national status. It excelled in faculty, teaching methodology, and numbers of students. Following the American Civil War, Cumberland rebuilt itself and ultimately succeeded on a grand scale with its single-year curriculum.[12]

Early years and founding

Cumberland School of Law was founded on July 29, 1847 in Lebanon, Tennessee at Cumberland University. At the end of 1847, there were 15 law schools in the United States. Founder and first professor Judge Abraham Caruthers said,

I call it an adventure, I speak of it as an experiment.

Prior to the law school's official founding, Cumberland University facilitated the study of law and admitted a diverse student body, evidenced by graduates such as George W. Harkins, a Choctaw chief, who received a law degree from Cumberland and became a judge in 1834.

George W. Harkins, a Choctaw chief and graduate of Cumberland University

Antebellum years

Prior to the founding of the United States' first law schools, the primary means for a legal education was apprenticeship. Establishing law schools was difficult in the early 19th century. Harvard was only able to reestablish its law school in 1829 and Yale in 1826. By 1859 Cumberland, Harvard, and the University of Virginia School of Law, were the three largest law schools in the United States. A year later, 1860, only 21 university law schools existed in the country, and, in no school, did the curriculum extend beyond two years.[13]

During the Antebellum years, Cumberland enjoyed success. Nathan Green, Jr., son of then professor Nathan Green, Sr., stated that Cumberland enjoyed "the highest degree of prosperity", with a beautiful 20-acre (81,000 m2) campus, picturesque trees and fences, and fine architecture.[14] Cumberland's first graduate Paine Page Prim ultimately became chief justice of the Oregon Supreme Court.[7]

Robert H. Hatton (O) - US Congressman, Confederate brigadier general, killed during the Battle of Fair Oaks

Students were taught through reading treatises, approximately two hours worth of recitations each morning, and a mandatory moot court program. Caruthers considered the law a science and the Socratic Method a necessity.[7] The cost was $50 a session and a $5 "contingent fee".[15] After the Civil War, this treatise method, the legal formalism of the school's approach, and Nathan Green Jr.'s unwillingness to make changes, were all considered reasons for Cumberland's drift out of the mainstream.[16]

Civil war

April 13, 1861 jolted Cumberland out of its "Golden Age" when President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to quell the southern insurrection. The campus split within a week; some students joined the northern army; many joined the southern. Nathan Green Jr.'s father, a law professor, went home, but in fear of arrest, Abraham Caruthers fled to Marietta, Georgia, where he died a year later.[14]

During the war, professors John Carter and Nathan Green, Jr. fought as Confederate officers. Carter was killed, but Green survived the war. The campus did not. The trees were cut down and fences destroyed and burned. The Confederate Army burned the University buildings, apparently because a Confederate major was offended that Black Union soldiers had used them as barracks.[17]


The law school began the slow process of rebuilding. In July 1866, Cumberland adopted the image of the phoenix, the mythological Egyptian bird that is reborn from its own ashes. The new motto was "E Cineribus Resurgo" or "I rise from the ashes."[18]

In September 1865 classes resumed with 11 students, which soon grew to 20. The 1865 class included a Confederate General and Union colonel, enemies only a few months earlier. Nathan Green, Jr. kept the school together until Henry Cooper, a circuit judge, Andrew B. Martin, and Robert L. Caruthers, brother of deceased founder Abraham Caruthers, joined the faculty. Robert Caruthers had previously served as the state attorney general and had been elected Governor of Tennessee during the war in 1863, but was never innaugurated. Cooper did not serve on the faculty for long.[19]

Cumberland School of Law - Corona Hall - Law School from 1873-1878

In 1873 Robert Caruthers purchased Corona Hall from the Corona Institute for Women for $10,000, which he immediately donated to the University for use by the law school.

The destruction of the campus and the devastation of war had impoverished the school and it was almost 15 years before it saw students enter from outside the South, when a student from Illinois and a member of the Choctaw Nation[disambiguation needed ] enrolled at Cumberland. But there were few students from outside of the defeated Southern states, which Langum and Walthall claim underscored "how terribly the Civil War blighted Cumberland."[20]

Robert Caruthers persisted, despite the setbacks, and in 1878 Caruthers Hall was dedicated in his honor. This new school replaced Corona Hall, which had limitations. The new hall apparently had "excellent acoustics and hard seats" and is described as a:

splendid structure, built after the latest architectural style, is nearly one hundred feet from base to spire, and contains two recitation rooms for the Law Department, two Society Halls, a Library, and a chapel whose seating capacity is about seven hundred.[21]

National shift in legal education

Caruthers Hall, from the Phoenix in 1903.

Despite the seemingly heroic efforts to keep the school alive, Cumberland was falling into the minority at the turn of the 20th century. It maintained a one-year curriculum when other schools moved toward longer terms, and it was entrenched with legal formalism, which had reached its peak in the 1870s and would soon be on the decline. In 1876, for instance, Harvard Law School began to encourage a three-year curriculum.[22] Through 1919, Cumberland did not adapt to the shift in legal education.[23]

Historian Lewis L. Laska observed that:

Cumberland, which had once marked the high point of professional education, had become a captive of its own success. Unwilling to adopt modern techniques such as the case method, or to expand and deepen its curriculum by opting for the three-year standard, Cumberland became the symbol of the democratic bar.[23]

In 1903 Nathan Green, Jr. became the first dean of the law school. For the prior 57 years the school did not have this position, which was becoming more and more popular among law schools.

Cumberland first admitted women in 1901,[7] and the library grew from 600 volumes in 1869 to 3000 in 1878.[24] Today, the Lucille Stewart Beeson Law Library contains 300,000 volumes and microform volume equivalents.[25]

In 1915 Cumberland refurbished its halls with an $8000 grant from the U.S. government as reparation for federal occupancy during the Civil War.[26]

When Cordell Hull graduated from Cumberland, he commented on the diploma privilege, which granted the right to practice law without taking a bar exam, saying that:

according to custom, we members of the graduating class, the moment we received our diplomas, took them to the courthouse, where a district judge awaited us. He swore us in as members of the bar. I was not 20 years old.[27]

Cordell Hull is today honored at Cumberland with a Moot Court room bearing his name.

Cumberland eventually did adapt to the changing times, moving from Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, to Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama in 1961. It is only one of two law schools in the United States to have been sold from one university to another (the other being the sale of the law school from the University of Puget Sound to Seattle University).

Today the law school is known for its emphasis on trial advocacy and is building a biotechnology emphasis through its Biotechnology Center.

Long range plan of 2005

Memory Leake Robinson Hall in 2006

In December 2005 Cumberland adopted a long-term plan for the school. One call of the plan is to gradually downsize the number of students in order to provide smaller classes and closer individual attention to students. In 1995 the entering class was 212 and by 2007 that number had been reduced to 159.


Judge John L. Carroll, dean of Cumberland, 2006 graduation ceremony.

The law school emphasizes practical skills and integrity. The current dean, former federal judge John L. Carroll (class of '74) has stated that:

"The prevailing philosophy is simple: Practical skill outweighs raw knowledge, and application transcends erudition. If the goal were to produce great law students, the tenets might be exactly the opposite. Our goal is to produce exceptional lawyers. That's why Cumberland’s curriculum emphasizes the core competencies of legal practice: research, writing and persuasion."


The first year required classes are: Civil Procedure, Contracts, Property, Torts, Criminal Law, and Evidence. Students are divided into one of three sections, where the students remain together in their respective classes for the entire first year. First-year students are also enrolled in smaller sections for Lawyering and Legal Reasoning, a class that focuses on honing the students' ability to think and write like a lawyer.

Cumberland School of Law's Cordell Hull Moot Court Room - Portrait at head of room

Second- and third-year courses allow students more choices and some degree of specialization. Cumberland offers a balance of traditional courses, such as Criminal Procedure, Family Law, and Basic Federal Income Tax, and practical courses, such as Basic and Advanced Trial Skills, Business Drafting, Real Estate Transactions, and Law Office Practice and Management.

Students must also take Professional Responsibility and the MPRE, an exam that is required to practice in addition to the Bar exam.

Students are taught using the Socratic Method, typical of law school pedagogy.

Joint degree programs

Cumberland offers 6 joint degree programs:

Foreign programs

The Lucille Stewart Beeson Law Library

The library building is 42,500 square feet (3,950 m2) with 13 conference rooms, 474 study spaces, carrels equipped with electrical and data connections, and three computer labs.

The collection consists of approximately 300,000 volumes and microform volume equivalents. The library also offers electronic and audiovisual resources. There are seven full-time librarians, eight full-time support staff members, and four part-time support staff members.[28]

The Center for Biotechnology, Law, and Ethics

The Center for Biotechnology, Law and Ethics focus is on the research and study of the ethical and legal issues arising from the biotechnology industry, which is important to the City of Birmingham.[9] Each year the Center sponsors a major symposium which attracts nationally known experts.

The 2007 Symposium, entitled “The United States Health-Care System: Access, Equity and Efficiency”, focused on the issues of health care delivery in the United States, particularly to the poor, the problems that exist and potential solutions to those problems. The symposium brought together experts from the University of Minnesota, the Saint Louis University School of Law and Texas A & M University and Cumberland.

The keynote address, which was also the Thurgood Marshall Lecture, was presented by United States Congressman Artur Davis, a leader on issues relating to the delivery of health care services.[29]

Other research centers

  1. The Center for Law & Church[9]
  2. The Alabama Center for Law and Civic Education [9]

Admissions statistics

Candidates are selected based on "LSAT, undergraduate GPA, discipline of study, graduate work, undergraduate grade trends, employment, undergraduate institution, personal statement, and letters of recommendation."[30]

Bird's-eye view of the campus

The Fall 2007 entering class consisted of 159 students selected from an applicant pool of over 1200. The class has an average LSAT of 157 and average GPA of 3.27. The top 75th percentile of the class has an LSAT of 159 and 3.52 GPA. The incoming class also has the distinction of having highest percentage of women (48%) in school's 160 year history.[30]

Bar passage and employment rates

  • First time takers from the Class of 2006 had a 93.3% passage rate on the July 2006 Alabama Bar exam.[30]
  • First time takers from the Class of 2005 had a 94.1% passage rate on the July 2005 Alabama Bar exam.[30]
  • 93.7% of the Class of 2004 is currently employed, with 68.9% in private practice, 5.91% in judicial clerkships, 4.1% in business and industry, 11.1% in government, 1.5% in public interest, .7% in academics, and 6.7% pursued advanced degrees.[30][31]



The Center for Biotechnology, Law and Ethics - 2006 Biofuels Conference
Justice Tempered by Mercy - Statue located in the Courtyard of the Law School
  1. The Cumberland Law Review,[32] whose members are selected by write-in from the top 15% of the freshman class.
  2. The American Journal of Trial Advocacy,[33] whose members are selected by write-in from the top 33% of the freshman class.

Selected student organizations

In 2007, student teams from Cumberland won both the Criminal Justice Trial Competition held in Hamden, Connecticut and the Lone Star Classic Mock Trial Competition in San Antonio, Texas.

In 2008, Cumberland placed first out of 256 other teams in the American Association for Justice National Student Trial Advocacy Competition and in 2009 placed second, losing by one point.[40][41][42][43] The same year, Cumberland made the finals of the ABA National Appellate Advocacy competition. It was one of four from 30 teams in its region that went to the national finals in Chicago. Cumberland won third best brief in the region.

In 2009, a Cumberland team won the regional round of the National Trial Competition in Tallahassee, Florida, advancing to the national championship round in San Antonio. Cumberland was the only school in the competition to have both of its teams advance to the semi-final round. Cumberland also won the American Association for Justice Mock Trial Competition regional championship advancing to the national championship round in West Palm Beach, FL.[43]

Student life

Cumberland offers numerous extracurricular activities.

Housing for law students is not available on campus, but students typically rent apartments or buy houses in the surrounding community.

Competition for grades and rank can be aggressive, but rarely personal, and there is a surprising degree of camaraderie among the students, which many students consider to be atypical of the environment on most law school campuses.


In 2005, 2006 and 2007 the Princeton Review included Cumberland in its "Best 170 Law Schools", ranking it in two top-10 lists for three years in a row.[citation needed] In 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked Cumberland 114th in the nation, listing it as a third-tier school.[44] It ranked Cumberland's Trial Advocacy Program ninth in the nation.[45] In 2007 Cumberland ranked sixth for faculty performance and accessibility and seventh for overall quality of life.[30][40][41][42][43][46]



Dean Tenure
1 Nathan Green, Jr. 1903
2 Andrew Martin
3 Edward E. Beard
4 William R. Chambers acting dean
5 Albert Williams acting dean 1933–1935
6 Albert B. Neil acting dean
7 Samuel Gilreath acting dean 1947–1948
8 Arthur A. Weeks 1947–1952
9 Donald E. Corley acting dean 1972–1973, dean 1974–1984
10 Brad Bishop acting dean 1984–1985
11 Parham H. Williams 1985–1996
12 Barry A. Currier 1996–2000
13 Michael D. Floyd acting dean 2000–01
14 John L. Carroll 2001–present

Notable alumni

Cordell Hull - Nobel Peace Prize, U.S. Secretary of State, Father of the U.N.
Howell Jackson - Supreme Court Justice, Justice for U.S. Sixth Circuit, U.S. Senator, U.S. Representative
Horace Lurton - Supreme Court Justice, Tennessee Supreme Court Justice, and Dean of Vanderbilt Law School
George Doherty Johnson - Civil War general and superintendent of The Citadel (military college)
Carl Hatch (D) - U.S. Senator from New Mexico, author of the Hatch Acts of 1939 and 1940.

U.S. Representatives

Thomas G. Abernethy (D)- U.S. Representative from Mississippi.
Robert Aderholt (R)- U.S. Representative from Alabama (1997- )
Goldsmith W. Hewitt (D) - U.S. Representative from Alabama
  1. Thomas G. Abernethy (D)- U.S. Representative from Mississippi (1943–1973)
  2. Robert Aderholt (R)- U.S. Representative from Alabama (1997- )
  3. Clifford Allen (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  4. Richard Merrill Atkinson (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  5. Maecenas Eason Benton (D) - U.S. Representative from Missouri. Father of famed artist Thomas Hart Benton
  6. Joseph Edgar Brown (R) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  7. Foster V. Brown (R) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee, father of Joseph Edgar Brown
  8. Omar Burleson (D) - U.S. Representative from Texas
  9. Robert R. Butler (R) - U.S. Representative from Oregon
  10. Adam M. Byrd (D) - U.S. Representative from Mississippi
  11. William Parker Caldwell (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee, Tennessee State Senator
  12. Samuel Caruthers (W) - U.S. Representative from Missouri
  13. Frank Chelf (D) - U.S. Representative from Kentucky
  14. Judson C. Clements (D) - U.S. Representative from Georgia
  15. Wynne F. Clouse (R) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  16. William B. Craig (D) - U.S. Representative from Alabama
  17. Jere Cooper (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  18. John Duncan, Sr. (R) - 12 term U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  19. Harold Earthman (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  20. Benjamin A. Enloe (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  21. Joe L. Evins (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  22. Lewis P. Featherstone (D) - U.S. Representative from Arkansas
  23. Aaron L. Ford (D) - U.S. Representative from Mississippi
  24. William Voris Gregory (D) - U.S. Representative from Kentucky
  25. Edward Isaac Golladay (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  26. Isaac Goodnight (D) - U.S. Representative from Kentucky
  27. Oren Harris (D) - U.S. Representative from Arkansas
  28. Robert H. Hatton (O) - U.S. Congressman, Confederate brigadier general, Opposition party member, killed during the Battle of Fair Oaks
  29. Goldsmith W. Hewitt (D) - U.S. Representative from Alabama
  30. Wilson S. Hill (D) - U.S. Representative from Missouri
  31. George Huddleston (D) - U.S. Representative from Alabama and father of George Huddleston, Jr.
  32. Howell Edmunds Jackson (D) - also a United States Supreme Court Justice, brother of General William Hicks Jackson
  33. Abraham Kazen (D) - U.S. Representative from Texas
  34. Wade H. Kitchens (D) - U.S. Representative from Arkansas
  35. John Kyle (D) - U.S. Representative from Mississippi
  36. John Ridley Mitchell - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  37. Tom J. Murray (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  38. Wright Patman (D) - U.S. Representative from Texas
  39. Herron C. Pearson (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  40. Andrew Price (D) - U.S. Representative from Louisiana
  41. Haywood Yancey Riddle (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  42. Martha Roby (R) - U.S. Representative from Alabama
  43. Dennis A. Ross (R) - U.S. Representative from Florida
  44. Thetus W. Sims (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  45. James Edward Ruffin (D) - U.S. Representative from Missouri
  46. Thomas U. Sisson (D) - U.S. Representative from Mississippi
  47. John H. Smithwick (D) - U.S. Representative from Florida
  48. Charles Swindall (R) - U.S. Representative from Oklahoma
  49. John May Taylor (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  50. Anthony F. Tauriello (D) - U.S. Representative for New York
  51. J. Will Taylor (R) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  52. Zachary Taylor (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee
  53. Richard Warner (D) - U.S. Representative from Tennessee

Notable professors

Judge John L. Carroll, dean of Cumberland, addressing Cumberland's 2006 graduation ceremony


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^
  6. ^
  7. ^ a b c d Frank Burns, Cumberland University Law School, in The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture (
  8. ^ a b c d
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k
  10. ^ Google Books Research
  11. ^ David J. Langum & Howard P. Walthall: From Maverick to Mainstream: Cumberland School of Law, 1847-1997, back cover (University of Georgia Press 1997). (Langum & Walthall)
  12. ^ Langum & Walthall, 253
  13. ^ Langum & Walthall, 3-5
  14. ^ a b Langum & Walthall, p.47
  15. ^ Langum & Walthall, p.57
  16. ^ Langum & Walthall, p59.
  17. ^ Langum & Walthall, p.49-51
  18. ^ Langum & Walthall, p.50-51
  19. ^ Langum & Walthall, p.51-52
  20. ^ Langum & Walthall, p.56
  21. ^ Langum & Walthall, P.56-57
  22. ^ Langum & Walthall, p.59
  23. ^ a b Langum & Walthall, p.97
  24. ^ Langum & Walthall, p.62
  25. ^ "Library Information". 
  26. ^ Langum & Walthall, p.98
  27. ^ Langum & Walthall, p.101
  28. ^ " Law Library". 
  29. ^ Dean Carroll
  30. ^ a b c d e f
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^ "Trial Journal". 
  34. ^ Cordell Hull Speakers Forum
  35. ^ Federalist Society
  36. ^ Henry Upson Sims Moot Court Board
  37. ^ Phi Alpha Delta
  38. ^ Trial Advocacy Board
  39. ^ Women in the Law
  40. ^ a b
  41. ^ a b
  42. ^ a b
  43. ^ a b c
  44. ^
  45. ^
  46. ^
  47. ^ Noble, Holcombe B. (February 18, 1997). "Oscar Adams, 72, a Pioneer As Alabama Top Court Justice". The New York Times. 

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