A Brief History of the Association of American Law Schools

The Association of American Law Schools was founded in 1900 at Saratoga Springs, New York, with Professor James Bradley Thayer of Harvard Law School as its first President. In 1963, Professor Michael H. Cardozo became the Association's first Executive Director and established the Association's national office. The AALS was incorporated under the laws of the District of Columbia as a non-profit educational organization on February 2, 1971.

The AALS seeks to improve the legal profession through legal education and is the learned society for law teachers. In order to achieve this objective, the Association holds an Annual Meeting, sponsors professional development programs, produces a Directory of Law Teachers, sponsors teacher placement services, and compiles statistics.

The AALS is a voluntary membership organization of 176 law schools. The Association visits member law schools periodically to review whether schools are complying with AALS Bylaws and Executive Committee Regulations. 

Establishment of the AALS Archives

In 1989, the AALS realized that documents telling the story of American legal education were so numerous that a depository separate from the Association headquarters was necessary. The Association's records were assembled and placed in the University of Illinois Archives on July 1, 1989, to ensure their availability for future research.

The AALS Archives includes substantial material about legal education. It also includes materials about academic and legal ethics, minorities and women in law, and academic freedom and tenure. The archives also includes biographical sketches of law teachers and academic administrators and the papers of past AALS presidents Vernon X. Miller (1951-52, 1957, 1962-66), Robert E. Mathews (1951-59), F. D. G. Ribble (1952), Jefferson B. Fordham (1958, 1961-62, 1964), Samuel D. Thurman (1961-64), William B. Lockhart (1968-70), and Eugene F. Scoles (1974-81), AALS secretary-treasurer Arthur T. Martin (1944-46), and AALS Archives committee chair Roger F. Jacobs (1987-89). The AALS Archives is a rich source for research into the history and current status of legal education in the United States and the development and application of bylaws and regulations to law schools.

Use of the AALS Archives

Access to the AALS Archives is provided by means of a classification system of Record Series with supplemental finding aids which give greater detail as to the contents of the collection. As of July 2021, the AALS Archives contained 184 record series totaling approximately 306.4 cubic feet of hard copy holdings (the equivalent of over 204 filing cabinet drawers) and 156.46 gigabytes of electronic holdings.

Users may access the records based on a three-level categorization of record series agreed upon by AALS and the University Archivist.

1.  Open record series
2.  Restricted record series
3.  Confidential record series. 

Open record series are available without restriction. To access restricted and confidential record series, researchers must make application to and receive approval from AALS headquarters. Records in restricted series that are more than thirty years old are treated as open records for the purpose of access. Materials may not be removed from the Archives without the written permission of the University Archivist or the AALS Executive Director. For researchers unable to visit the Archives, copies of documents may be secured following the completion and approval of a User Application Form.
Access Policies and User Application Form

Open Record Series

Open Electronic Records

Restricted Record Series

Confidential Record Series

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This page was last modified on September 29, 2021.