Best law school buildings – Nationaljurist

We honor buildings that give off special vibes, through both their appearance and their functionality. These buildings have great aesthetics, lots of space and outstanding amenities.

For two years, Tyler Brewster and his classmates at University of Houston Law Center got a front row seat for the construction of a $93 million facility being built adjacent to the old law school building.

In September 2022, the school officially opened the John M. O’Quinn Law Building, the newest law school building in Texas.

It’s quite impressive. The LEED Silver certified building stands five stories high and encompasses 180,000 square feet.

“I think our building is a trailblazer,” said Leonard Baynes, dean of the Law Center.

Brewster, now a third-year, described the building as ultra-modern with lots of open space and many windows, which let in tons of natural light.

He said the old law building was entirely concrete, with very few windows — more like a military bunker than a law school.

“My favorite spot in the [new] building is the outdoor patio on the third floor,” Brewster said. “When it’s not 100-plus degrees in Houston, you can find me out there having lunch or doing homework. From the patio, you have a great view of the Houston skyline.”

Designed by the architectural firm Shepley Bulfinch, the building includes courtrooms, research rooms and event spaces, as well as several student amenities, such as a meditation room, a lactation room, commuter showers with changing rooms, and an AI-controlled convenience store that is open 24/7.

These features helped the building join preLaw’s biennial honor roll for Best Law School Buildings with a grade of A. Aesthetics play a big part in pre-Law’s assessment of the Best Law School Buildings, accounting for 50% of each building’s score. Other important factors are square footage per student (10%); library hours and number of library seats per student (15%); amenities, including food service, fitness facilities and lockers (15%); and parking, sustainability and other factors (10%).

Brewster is a frequent visitor to the upstairs quiet section of the two-story library.

“I’ll come here when I need to focus on school or work,” he said. “Similar to the view from the patio, the tall windows in the library face the Houston skyline, which helps provide some motivation to students as they pore through dense law casebooks.”

Most of the top law school buildings on our list are loaded with amenities, such as suit-sized lockers, showers, fitness facilities and food options.

Technology is also an important part of the best buildings. One example is the building that houses Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University.

Large digital screens in its lobby allow students to check their class schedules and let prospective students learn about various courses of study.

Memphis is still No. 1

While a number of law schools have been honored repeatedly in our rankings, no school has dominated like The University of Memphis – Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law. A compelling blend of old and new, the building has finished in first place four times. The law school is housed in a building from 1878 which at various times served as a U.S. customs house, a courthouse and a post office. It was renovated in 2010 and outfitted for the law school with up-to-date tech, modern classrooms and generous amenities.

Memphis Law serves as a hub for the local legal community. Numerous events, sponsored by the school and the community, make the building a gathering place for legal education and knowledge.

Dean Katharine Schaffzin said the law school continues to upgrade its tech amenities.

“Our classrooms are all ‘smart’ classrooms and are equipped with the ability to record classroom proceedings for later viewing, as well as stream activities to participants not able to be in the classroom itself,” she said. “We also have a wellness room … that is equipped with yoga mats, televisions for streaming exercise routines or meditation videos, as well as a variety of other relaxation- and wellness-related items for students.”

In the latest ranking, eleven law schools earned an A+. The University of Michigan Law School joined that elite group for the first time, receiving the highest score for building aesthetics.

University of Michigan’s Law Quadrangle is considered to be one of the most picturesque places on the campus. The striking, Gothic-style buildings that form the Law Quadrangle include the Lawyers Club, with residential facilities for students; the Legal Research building; a modern underground library; and Hutchins Hall, with classrooms, seminar rooms and faculty and administrative offices.

In 2012 the school added a four-story academic building called Jeffries Hall and a glass-roofed gathering place called Aikens Commons.

Georgia State University College of Law’s building is a three-time A+ winner. The 200,000 square-foot venue was built in 2015 in the heart of downtown Atlanta.

The on-campus clinic space is designed to function like a real law firm. Students have private offices to meet with clients as well as conference rooms to meet with each other and supervising attorneys.

Despite its downtown location, Georgia State Law’s building provides numerous places for students to gather and study. The fifth floor has a patio with outdoor seating, and the sixth-floor terrace has seating with great views of downtown Atlanta.

One floor of the law library is a quiet floor for studying. The library also has a podcast studio, where students have access to the latest microphones, headsets and recording software.

University of Connecticut School of Law in Hartford has five buildings on a beautifully landscaped 17-acre campus. It includes two fully equipped courtrooms, a student center with a cafe, a spacious quad, a bookstore, a meditation room and a soccer field. It made our list for the third time, receiving an A+.

UConn Law officials recently announced that its 14 clinics will be moving into one building. MacKenzie Hall, which previously housed state offices, has been transferred to the university and will house all the clinics, as well as the Connecticut Community Law Center.

Dean Eboni Nelson said the law school is happy to be able to centralize the clinics, which she called key to UConn Law’s mission of community engagement and essential to the practical training of students.

“The additional space will be put to excellent use,” she said.

School officials hope the centralized location will improve collaboration among the clinics.

While many of the schools on our list are located in the hearts of large cities, Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Oregon, sits amid a forest of trees.

The law school adjoins Tryon Creek State Natural Area, and the architecture focuses on the park’s natural beauty. It’s the perfect setting for a school that prides itself on its environmental law emphasis.

Lewis & Clark’s campus was established in the early 1970s, but improvements to the buildings over the years, including an entrance plaza, student lockers and classroom renovations, help it receive an A grade on our list.

Shiny and new

Washburn University School of Law in Topeka, Kansas, opened its new building in July. The 65,000-square-foot building earned an A- on our honor roll. The space includes appellate and trial courtrooms, an 11,000-square-foot library and a law clinic.

School officials named the building after one of its most distinguished alumni, the late Sen. Robert J. Dole, who received both his undergraduate degree and his law degree from the university in 1952.

“It’s an exciting new chapter in the history of Washburn Law,” said Jeffrey Jackson, interim dean. “The new building is a state-of-the-art learning environment that will provide a cooperative and collaborative space for students to pursue their legal education.”

More than 1,200 donors contributed more than $14 million to what was the largest capital project in Washburn University’s history. Architects incorporated a range of sustainable features, including energy efficient lighting with automatic sensors, window blinds designed to conserve energy, and floor-to-ceiling windows that allow natural light into many areas.

To aid students participating in the school’s remote learning program called Third Year Anywhere, the building is equipped with state-of-the-art technology, including a recording studio and builtin microphones and cameras in all classrooms.

Wayne State University Law School in Detroit recently announced plans for a new building. The school received a $30 million commitment from the state of Michigan to help build a new facility.

This is only the third such capital outlay approval for Wayne State University in the last dozen years and the largest in almost three decades, school officials said. They called the financial commitment a testament to the law school’s growth, trajectory and impact.

Formal advocacy for the project began in October 2022 with Wayne State University’s submission of a lengthy request to the state Budget Office. In May 2023, Wayne State Law Dean Richard Bierschbach explained the need for the project before a subcommittee of the state Legislature.

The existing law building opened in 1966. Since then, enrollment has grown as the school has added programs beyond the J.D.

The school has not established a timeline for completion of the new building.

Keeping history alive

Law schools note that new structures not only help to educate future lawyers but also bolster the surrounding communities. Some buildings located in urban cores help with revitalization. Many increase community engagement by offering public events.

A number of law schools have iconic structures that date back many decades.

One example is Yale Law School’s Sterling Hall, which opened in 1931 and earned an A in our analysis.

Some schools have done amazing work transforming buildings that once had nothing to do with challenging students via the Socratic method.

Take Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles, for example. Its building was formerly a department store. The art deco structure, which dates back to 1929, was purchased by the school in 1994. Routinely honored in our rankings, it earned an A+ again this year.

Stetson University College of Law in Gulfport, Florida, is in a building that used to be a fancy, 1920s-era hotel called the Rolyat. In 1954, the buildings were converted to a law school, and this year it earned an A+ for the fourth time.

In its new building, Washburn University wanted to honor prominent figures who have graduated from the law school. It has included a mural of the lawyers who took the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka case to the Supreme Court and an outdoor plaza honoring Sen. Dole.

And if you walk through the halls of University of Houston Law Center’s new building, you’ll come across many pieces of historical art, as well as rooms named in honor of outstanding individuals throughout the building. The new building is named in honor of the late John M. O’Quinn, a prominent Texas trial attorney and Law Center alumnus.

Dean Baynes said the art and the names are intended to tell a story.

“We’re keeping history alive,” he said. “The building is really a testament to the diversity of our alumni, our city and our state.”

Brewster, the third-year at University of Houston, who is also president of the school’s Student Bar Association, said the building is the perfect symbol to represent the success of the school in the past and its potential for the future.

Click here to see the digital issue article and preLaw magazine’s rankings of the Best Law Buildings.

Sherri Crump

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