History of UNM Law School

A Historical Perspective

Formal legal education in New Mexico began in 1947 on the second floor of the grandstand at Zimmerman Field, the University of New Mexico's football field, across from Carlisle Gymnasium. Four professors shared one classroom and two offices, teaching the first class of 53 students, 51 who were World War II veterans. The fourth room was the library. During inauguration ceremonies to celebrate the establishment of the law school, UNM President Philip Wernette and Alfred Gausewitz, the school's first dean, pledged that high standards and quality would never be sacrificed for quantity.

It didn't take long before the law school outgrew the four rooms that housed it. In 1951, the Board of Regents approved spending $295,115 to build a two-story building across the street from University House, the president's residence.

A year later, the school moved into its new quarters, which included a seminar room, a student lounge, offices and three classrooms, one of which doubled as a moot courtroom. The library and its 30,000 volumes took up much of the space on both floors. This new building followed the Spanish-Pueblo architecture of the main campus and was designed to accommodate 150 students. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black was the keynote speaker at the building's dedication.

Bratton Hall

In 1965, the building was named Bratton Hall, for the late Judge Sam Bratton, who had been instrumental in establishing the school. The first Bratton Hall dutifully served the student body until the late 1960s, by which time the student population had grown to 180, overtaxing the facilities.

Once again, in 1967, the Board of Regents approved a new building, to be constructed just north of the medical school, adjacent to the UNM North Golf Course. Renowned Albuquerque architect Antoine Predock, working for George Wright & Associates, designed the modern split-level structure, which spans across 63,000 square feet. The reinforced concrete building cost $1.8 million, much of which was provided through a federal grant. It opened for the spring semester of 1971 and retained the name Bratton Hall. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White spoke at the dedication.

The most innovative feature of the new school was the Forum, which was intended to be an additional informal classroom where students, faculty and lawyers could meet on even ground to discuss issues.

Enrollment continued to grow and in 1978, the state Legislature appropriated nearly $3 million to double the size of the library, expand the clinic and add new classrooms and offices. A few years earlier, a new building went up adjacent to the law school. This housed the State Bar offices and the law school's copy center and supply room. Today, the Institute of Public Law is located there.

Now, more than half a century after it all began, more than 300 students are enrolled in the University of New Mexico School of Law. A faculty of 36 and a staff of 65 work to meet their needs. With the completion of the Frederick M. Hart Wing, the school extends across 150,000 square feet. The same high standards pledged by Philip Wernette and Alfred Gausewitz remain in place.


1947 - The University of New Mexico College of Law enrolls its first class. The school is located on the second floor of the football field's grandstand. The class has 53 students and four faculty. The library has 11,624 volumes.

1948 - After only one year, the school is accredited by the American Bar Association and granted membership in the Association of American Law Schools.

1952 - The college moves into its own two-story building on Roma Avenue. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black is guest speaker at dedication ceremonies.

1954 - Albert G. Simms creates a trust fund that finances the John Field Simms Memorial Lecture, which brings in distinguished national experts.

1961 - The school's name is changed to the University of New Mexico School of Law. The Natural Resources Journal is established.

1965 - The school building is named Bratton Hall.

1966 - The UNM Law School Alumni/ae Association is established.

1967 - The Special Scholarship Program in Law for American Indians is established. Eighteen participants attend the first eight-week pre-law summer session.

1968 - The American Indian Law Center is established to assist tribes and provide research on Indian Law issues.

1969 - The Institute of Public Law is established to provide research for government agencies and short courses for government officials.

1970 - A formal clinical law program is established. A new Bratton Hall is completed on Stanford Drive. Cost of the new 63,000-square-foot split-level building is $1.8 million. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Byron White speaks at dedication ceremonies.

1971 - The New Mexico Law Review is established. A chapter of the Order of the Coif is established.

1978 - A $3 million expansion adds offices and classrooms and doubles the size of the law library to 40,000 square feet.

1982 - Board of Visitors is created.

1989 - Guanajuato Summer Law Institute is established.

1991 - U.S.-Mexico Law Institute and U.S.-Mexico Law Journal are established.

1994 - Southwest Indian Law Clinic is established.

1995 - Indian Law Certificate Program is established.

2000 - Tribal Law Journal is established.

2001 - Utton Transboundary Resources Center established to carry on the work of the late Professor Albert E. Utton related to transboundary resources issues.

2002 - Frederick M. Hart Wing is completed, adding 32,000 square feet to the law school. The law library has nearly 485,000 volumes. Enrollment is 324. Renovation of Bratton Hall begins.

2003 - Law school begins exchange program with the Franklin Pierce Law Center, expanding opportunities for UNM law students to study intellectual property and patent law.

2005 - Economic Development Program begins, expanding the law school's business law curriculum. Henry Weihofen Chair is established. Ramo Lecture on International Justice established, bringing in world-renowned speakers every other year.

2006 - Bruce King Reading Room Opens in the Law Library.