Giving Voice to the Law School’s Past


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Justice John Paul Stevens
Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens in his chambers in Washington, D.C., 8/31/17

The newest collection in the Pritzker Legal Research Center doesn’t contain a single book, journal or article. Instead, the Law School library has been hard at work archiving records of a completely different sort: taped conversations. Spearheaded by Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez, the digital collection is comprised of audio and video recordings of extensive interviews with some of Northwestern Law’s most esteemed faculty and alumni, with a stated focus on their time at the Law School and the way it influenced their legal career.

While the Pritzker Legal Research Center and the University Library keep documents about the Law School’s history, the goal of the Oral History Project is to fill the gaps of the written records with firsthand accounts and personal stories, and to preserve a side of the past that the Law School community rarely gets to see. “The history of Northwestern Law is unique, multifaceted, and deeply intertwined with the history of both our city and our nation. We wanted to memorialize those who left a mark on our institution and honor the legacy that we continue to carry. The Oral History Project grants us the privilege to get personal narratives from notable figures that have shaped our past, influenced our present, and affect our future,” said Dean Daniel B. Rodriguez.

Participants thus far include Justice John Paul Stevens (JD ’47), who served on the Supreme Court from 1975-2010; David Ruder, dean of the Law School from 1977-1985; Newt Minow (JD ’50), former FCC Chair; and Howard Trienens (JD ’49), former general counsel for AT&T. Jim Thompson (JD ’59), the former governor of Illinois, was the most recent guest interviewed.

The Oral History Project is part of an ongoing University-wide effort to digitize historic material and make it accessible to the public. Audio of the interviews, information about the subjects, and a timeline of their years at Northwestern are available at the NLaw Oral History Project

A Selection of Quotes from the Oral History Project

I like our [justice] system much better than other systems, where they suppress dissent rather than let the dissenters say what they want to say. I think it’s much healthier to have every member of the court perfectly free to express his or her own views.

JUSTICE JOHN PAUL STEVENS (JD ’47), Supreme Court Justice from 1975–2010

I would say the law is such an extraordinary opportunity to do good in the world that you should use what you learn to pursue justice every day of your life.

NEWT MINOW (JD ’50), Former Chair of the Federal Communications Commission and Recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom

Sitting in the office and trying to think of things to write about in law reviews was not my idea of fun. At the law firm, you didn’t have to invent legal problems, they came to you.

HOWARD TRIENENS (JD ’49), Partner at Sidley Austin and VP and former General Counsel of AT&T

[As Dean] I was a hands-on person. With the administration, I tried very hard to be friends with the people there and all of the deans. I was as nice as I could be to them because love, not war, is a much better way to exist in life. And interestingly, when I went to the Securities and Exchange Commission, I found that the comparisons were quite apt.

DAVID RUDER , Dean of Northwestern Law School 1977–1985 and Chairman of the US Securities and Exchange Commission

In the U.S. Attorney’s Office I was aided by older, wiser people who looked out for me because I took care of them. I did good work for them and I made them look good. And you can’t discount that, you can’t discount that at all. Yes, your favorite job is important, your salary is important, your reputation is important. But doing good work for others is the greatest credential you’ll ever have as a lawyer.

GOVERNOR JIM THOMPSON (JD ’59), Governor of Illinois from 1977-1991