History of the Faculty of Law to 1968
In the spring of 1848, a group of 23 students reading law for the Bar of Quebec petitioned McGill College to grant them formal instruction leading to a degree in law. In their petition, they pledged to attend the courses offered by William Badgley, a prominent Montreal advocate and circuit judge, who had been giving occasional lectures in law within the Faculty of Arts since 1844. Due to this request, the Board of Governors of McGill formally established a program of instruction in law on July 15, 1848.
In 1852, the Governors decided to establish a separate Faculty of Law. When the new Faculty was formally constituted in 1853, William Badgley was appointed Dean.
Until the early 20th century, McGill remained predominantly a civil law faculty, preparing students for the practising profession in Quebec. Throughout this period, the Faculty and its graduates contributed enormously to scholarship in the civil law. A particular loyalty to the civil law and the Civil Code can be traced as far back as McGill's first Chancellor and fourth Principal, Charles Dewey Day, who was a member of the three-man commission that drafted the 1866 Civil Code of Lower Canada.
This excellence in the civil law continued with scholars such as Eugène Lafleur, William de M. Marler, Arnold Wainwright, and Louis Baudouin. More recently, McGill has been a focal point for the Revision of the Civil Code.
While the civil law has always been pre-eminent at McGill, as early as 1915, the Faculty began to develop the concept of a national legal education with the appointment of Robert W. Lee of Oxford as Dean. By 1920, the Faculty was offering a three-year B.C.L. program, a three-year LL.B. program, and a four-year B.C.L./LL.B. program for those who wished to practise in another jurisdiction or pursue a career in teaching law. Unfortunately, local pressure led to abandoning the National Program in 1924. In the late 1920s, the Faculty recruited Percy Elwood Corbett, who initiated McGill's second great academic strength: international, constitutional, and human rights law.
In 1928, the Faculty engaged Francis Reginald Scott. During his 58 years at McGill, F.R. Scott established himself as an outstanding constitutional lawyer and civil libertarian. This international and human rights law profile was further enhanced when Corbett persuaded John Humphrey to join the Faculty in 1936. After a decade of teaching international law, Humphrey left McGill in 1946 to become the first Director of the Division of Human Rights in the United Nations Secretariat. He returned to McGill in 1966 where he continued to teach in human rights until his death in 1995.
In 1946, the Faculty engaged Maxwell Cohen, another professor who was to become a leading international lawyer. Cohen played a prominent role in two further initiatives, which reflect McGill's third great academic strength: the establishment of the Institute of Foreign and Comparative Law in 1966, and the re-establishment of the National Program of Legal Education in 1968.
Further details of the Faculty's history can be found in Ian C. Pilarczyk, A Noble Roster: 150 Years of Law at McGill (1999); S.B. Frost and D.L. Johnston, "Law at McGill: Past, Present and Future" (1981) 27 McGill L.J. 33; and in S.B. Frost, "The Early Days of Law Teaching at McGill" (1984), 9 Dal. L.J. 150.