Preserving the public spirit of Carolina

The UNC School of Law is serving the people of North Carolina and strengthening the nation’s first public university.

The UNC School of Law is the oldest professional school in North Carolina. It grew from a simple but profound insight: that the American experiment in free government would need public-spirited lawyers with the ethics and expertise to defend the rule of law.

That foundational mission has held steady for almost 175 years. What began with a single professor reading alongside a handful of students has evolved into one of the nation’s premier public law schools with world-class faculty training graduates who serve from Singapore to Salisbury.

Legal education has grown far richer and more complex over the past two centuries, with students taking part in legal clinics, serving pro bono clients and working alongside experienced attorneys in law firms, companies and public agencies all over the country. At its core, an education in the law remains a deeply human endeavor, with the quality of learning defined by the depth of connection between students and faculty.

Carolina Law has always sought professors who prize that connection. Our primary role is to bring together the expertise of our faculty, the experience of our alumni and the energy and creativity of our students. Recruiting the strongest legal minds in the country — both as students and teachers — takes considerable resources. Our biggest challenge in the years ahead will be sustaining the public character and underlying quality of the school, competing nationally for the talent that North Carolina needs.

Fulfilling the historic charge of Carolina Law means graduating skilled professionals who have the freedom to make meaningful choices about their career and commitments. We aim to educate excellent lawyers to work in private practice, certainly. But we also want our graduates to take on the public service, nonprofit work and public interest practice that helps sustain the civic fabric of our state and our country. We need advocates who can afford to take risks on new businesses, devote themselves to campaigns and causes and thrive in communities large and small.

We believe in community leadership as more than just a rhetorical flourish. Twelve of the past 25 governors of North Carolina have been graduates of Carolina Law, and that’s only the most visible measure of our impact across the state. Our graduates are judges, county officials, business owners and volunteers. They are club presidents, board members and donors to all manner of civic enterprises. Take away the graduates of Carolina Law and it’s no exaggeration to say that North Carolina’s core institutions would cease to function.

To make all of that possible, we have to keep our tuition reasonable and our scholarships generous. Maintaining the value of Carolina Law helps attract top talent from all backgrounds, building a legal profession worthy of this great state. It also preserves the public spirit of Carolina, encouraging the great diversity of paths our graduates take to success and service.

When William Horn Battle, Carolina’s first-ever professor of law, passed away in 1879, a speaker at his funeral gave voice to the deep connection between law and democracy.

“The Bar has ever been the mainstay of popular liberty. It has long been its traditionary office to hold the mean between license and oppression; to preserve the liberties of the people, to conserve the just powers of government on whose efficacy depends the whole fabric and structure of our civilization and social polity. … From generation to generation, the story repeats itself.”

Our language has come down to earth in the century and a half since Battle’s time, but our calling continues to soar. From generation to generation, we hand down the knowledge and the responsibility of preserving the law, serving the people of North Carolina and strengthening the nation’s first and finest public university.

I am honored to carry that mission into a new era for Carolina and Carolina Law.