June 6, 2018 | More than forty years ago, Pepperdine Law School was a fledgling, part-time program in Orange County. In Good Faith, a newly published book on its history, tells the story of how the school grew from its humble origin to become one of the premier law schools in the United States.
The day after receiving the book, longtime Board of Visitor member Scott Racine said this: “I finished the book this morning. I really love it. It caused me to reflect on my 43-year association with Pepperdine. I was in attendance when Harry Blackmun broke the ground for the law school. Little did I know at the time that I would have a lifelong affiliation with the law school. I’m fortunate that I have been a friend of Dean Phillips for so many years. He is a remarkable person who has blessed my life. After graduating from Pepperdine Law School in 1978, I took a two-year sojourn to New York and Washington, D.C. In 1980, I came to the school to say hello to Jim McGoldrick and ran into Dean Phillips who said I ought to teach a class. That lasted to 2012. I am a liberal Jew who loves this school.”
Dean Phillips desired to build a school unlike any in existence. This excerpt from In Good Faith shows how he approached that dream:
It’s All about the Students
Ron had a dream for the law school, and he devoted much thought to how to shape his vision into reality. He desired a faculty that genuinely cared about its individual students in similar style to his days as an undergraduate at Abilene Christian University. “I wanted a family atmosphere where professors knew their students, took a personal interest in them, were highly accessible, were their mentors, had students in their homes, and were actually their friends,” he said. He also had a vision for the work itself. Like his course of study at the University of Texas law school, Ron wanted classes to be academically challenging, but taught in such a way as to be supportive and encouraging to students, rather than unnecessarily confrontational and degrading. He felt there should be a call to excellence, and a requirement that students engage in regular and diligent study, self-discipline, and acceptance of personal responsibility.
With God’s help and with a team of like-minded people, Ron knew he could develop something unique, a law school unlike any other in the country. So as he began his mission to recruit faculty, Ron decided he had two options: (1) hire professors who were already teaching at American Bar Association accredited schools, but were willing to leave their positions to come to Pepperdine; or (2) hire people who were not experienced legal educators, but had the desired personal qualities and the potential to become excellent teachers and role models. For Ron, the choice was easy. He believed that professors who were willing to leave an accredited school to teach at a start-up were probably having problems. “I didn’t want to hire people who were having trouble elsewhere just for their expertise,” Ron said. Choosing character and potential over credential felt like the right way to build the culture he longed to create.
In Good Faith’s authors Jenny Rough (JD ’99) and Jim Gash (JD ’93) express their gratitude to Ron Phillips for his assistance in telling this story. They also extend thanks to the faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of Pepperdine Law who contributed their stories to this book. The authors add, “Our hope is that all who are not specifically named in this history, or whose contribution was not fully explained, will know that their role was critical to the success the school has enjoyed.”
Pepperdine Law School will continue to grow and change over the next forty years. As a friend of Pepperdine, you are part of that story. How has Pepperdine Law School impacted your life? If you wish to share your Pepperdine story, please email firstname.lastname@example.org