The history of South Texas College of Law Houston dates back to 1886, when the local YMCA drafted its constitution, which called for the organization to engage in educational endeavors. In 1923, the YMCA made the decision to establish a law school with a focus on offering night classes for working professionals. So began a tradition of educational excellence and relevant career preparation that has now spanned almost a century.
South Texas School of Law, as it was then known, opened its doors on Sept. 24, 1923, with seven part-time instructors and a first class of 34 students. Classes were held in a single room in the basement of the YMCA, with wooden fans suspended from the ceiling and chairs with arms that served as desks. But by 1945, when it changed its name to South Texas College of Law Houston, enrollment had surpassed the University of Texas School of Law for the first time.
The years that followed were marked by consistent growth in faculty, students, educational quality, and visibility. Reflecting this, South Texas received provisional accreditation from the American Bar Association’s House of Delegates in 1959 and went on to earn the ABA’s full accreditation in 1969. During that decade, it became the first law school in Texas to award a J.D. degree to graduates and ranked 35th nationally in size among all ABA-accredited law schools.
A key moment in the College’s history came in 1974 when the first Spurgeon Bell Moot Court Competition was held. This was a critical step in establishing South Texas’s reputation in advocacy—a reputation that has only grown stronger over time. Four years later, Professor T. Gerald Treece became director of the College’s advocacy program, and under his leadership it developed into a national advocacy powerhouse. In 1979, the program was for the first time named one of the best in the country.
After the college won the ABA National Appellate Advocacy Competition for the fourth straight year in 1993, the ABA retired the national trophies for best team and best brief to the school. The following year, a South Texas team won the Association of the Bar of New York National Moot Court Competition, which Dean Treece called “the Super Bowl of trial advocacy.” And in 2005, the College was recognized by U.S. News & World Report as the No. 1 law school in America for teaching trial advocacy. By 2016, the Advocacy Program had trained student teams that achieved more than 120 national championships – more than any other law school in America.
As it continued to grow, the College also earned a reputation as one of the nation’s most diverse law schools. Enrollment would increase significantly among women and minority students, eventually leading to high rankings from The National Jurist , Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education , and Diverse: Issues in Higher Education .
In the final years of the 20th century, the College continued to underscore its commitment to provide a high-quality, relevant legal education that prepared graduates for a career.
In 1998, the College was admitted as a member school into the Association of American Law Schools (AALS) by a unanimous vote of the AALS House of Representatives; the AALS is considered the learned society for legal education. The College also joined with four other independent law schools – California Western School of Law, New England School of Law, Stetson University College of Law, and William Mitchell College of Law – to create a unique academic partnership, the Consortium for Innovative Legal Education (CILE). The consortium represents a cooperative effort designed to enhance and strengthen the educational mission of each school separately and all of them collectively, providing expanded opportunities for educational programs on a national and international basis.
Broadening its global focus, the College in 2003 announced a joint effort with the Norwich Law School of the University of East Anglia in England to offer international legal education. Two years later, it formalized a U.S.-Sino Educational Exchange Center with the Law School of Shandong University at Weihai, China. The center facilitates faculty and student exchange between the two schools.
In 2009, Donald J. Guter was announced as the new President and Dean of the College. He was selected after a nationwide search, leaving the faculty of Duquesne University School of Law in Pittsburgh, where he also served as dean from 2005 through 2008. Dean Guter served in the U.S. Navy for 32 years, retiring in 2002 as a Rear Admiral, Judge Advocate General’s Corps (JAG). He rose through the ranks of the JAG corps, serving as trial counsel, legislative counsel, and special counsel to the Chief of Naval Operations, and ultimately became the 37th Judge Advocate General of the Navy from 2000-2002.
Under Dean Guter’s leadership, the College has further strengthened its tradition of developing some of the best-prepared lawyers in the state and nation. Students consistently outperform the five-year average bar pass rate for Texas, and graduates maintain one of the state’s highest employment rates. Beyond that, they enter the workforce with less debt than their counterparts at other private law schools.
In fall of 2016, the school continued to receive national recognition, and was named the #1 BEST of the DECADE in Moot Court competitions, holding the most national championships of any public or private law school in the U.S., as recognized by PreLaw Magazine.