Robert G. Hess, L’48, came home after World War II and pondered what to do with his life. Should he join the FBI or go to law school? One Friday he visited Penn Law. By Monday he was attending.
Here’s what happened.
Hess asked a woman in the administrative office what he had to do to get in. She told him to just show up for classes after the weekend. No application required. LSATs? Didn’t exist yet. Hess recalled his easy path to law school, unthinkable today, at the inaugural Senior Partners luncheon, held at the start of Reunion weekend in May. Nearly 60 people attended the gathering, which was for alumni at least 50 years out of law school. There were 13 members from Hess’ class.
“We were known as the ‘bastard class’ because we were the first class after the war,” said Hess, a member of General Patton’s army unit that waded ashore at Utah Beach five days after D-Day.
In the old days, the law school was not only easier to get into but easier to get around. One only had to navigate the current- day Silverman Hall. Burt Levy, C’33, L’36, said the school’s administrative offices and two big classrooms were on the lower floor; upstairs were several smaller classrooms and the library. That was it.
“You ran across the professors in the hallway,” Levy said. “You knew everybody.”
Also unlike today, getting into law school did not mean you’d get out. Everyone graduates now, but Levy said of the couple hundred in his entering class, only 90 graduated. Levy graduated during the Great Depression. And so the Law School, he said, reserved diplomas for those with the best job prospects.
Until more recent times, those prospects were dim for women. Today, half the class are women. But Elizabeth “Libby” Carson, L’53, entered law school with only four other women, one of whom dropped out. “I didn’t feel any phobia about it,” said Carson, who earned a degree but chose to raise a family and serve the community through her work in nonprofits and philanthropy.
As now, the faculty was excellent. Merv Wilf, L’55, who was an adjunct professor at Penn Law for a number of years, said, “The best course I ever had was a seminar with Lou (Schwartz). I use Lou now, not then.”
He said Schwartz had a charming way of pressing for answers without pressuring you, and he had a knack for disguising cases so students would not recognize them.
Hess said his favorite professor was Edwin Keedy, who was dean from 1941 to 1945. “He was sarcastic... He just tickled my funny bone.”
But law school was no joke. “In college I never studied but in law school, I found I had to study.”