Attempts were made to institute a law professorship as early as 1807, but the General Assembly did not establish the University of South Carolina School of Law until 1866. The law school opened in 1867 when a professorship in law was filled by A.C. Haskell. The school awarded its first two degrees the next year. In the following decade, the school produced nearly 40 new lawyers, including some of the first African-American lawyers in the United States. After being closed for seven years in the aftermath of Reconstruction, the law school reopened in 1884 when Joseph Daniel Pope was named professor of law. Under his influence, the faculty expanded, and the law school became a separate department.
From 1884 to 1900, Pope taught the entire curriculum at South Carolina College. In 1900 another professor was added to the faculty, and Pope became dean of the School of Law. Pope died in 1908, and was succeeded by Professor M. Herndon Moore. The faculty was further expanded to add John P. Thomas Jr. and J. Nelson Frierson, both of whom would later become deans. Deans Moore and Thomas modernized the law school and strengthened admissions requirements; in addition, the law program became a full, two-year course of study.
Frierson served as dean from 1920 to 1946. Under his leadership the school earned membership in the Association of American Law Schools in 1924; the following year the school was accredited by the American Bar Association. Dean Frierson also oversaw expansion of the curriculum to a three-year course and further growth in the faculty.
Samuel L. Prince, a practicing attorney from Anderson, South Carolina, succeeded Frierson as dean in 1946. Four years later the school moved to a new and larger building, Petigru College, at the corner of Greene and Pickens streets. The building is named for James Louis Petigru, under whom the first dean, Joseph Daniel Pope, had read law.
Robert McC. Figg, Jr., one of the state's preeminent practitioners, followed Prince as dean in 1959. During Figg’s ten-year-term as dean, the school expanded considerably, eventually exceeding the capacity of Petigru College. Figg’s initiative produced a commitment to construct a new building, which was completed during the term of his successor, Robert W. Foster. Following Foster as dean during the 1970s and early 1980s were Harry J. Haynsworth, Richard E. Day, Harry M. Lightsey, Jr., and Charles H. Randall, Jr. In 1987, John E. Montgomery, a long-time faculty member and associate dean, became dean; he served for sixteen years before returning to the faculty in 2003. Francis P. Mood, a Columbia attorney, served briefly as interim dean prior to the appointment of Burnele Venable Powell as dean in January 2004. Dean Powell returned to the faculty in January 2006. Philip T. Lacy was interim dean until the appointment of Walter F. Pratt, Jr., who began his service on July 1, 2006. Robert M. Wilcox was appointed dean on July 1, 2011.
Today, the University of South Carolina School of Law draws on its rich and lengthy tradition to play a vital role in the institutions of law and government of the Palmetto State. A faculty of some fifty members enjoys a growing national reputation. The school's students continue to be sought by public and private employers and to make significant contributions to the state, the nation, and the world.
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