Mitchell joined the faculty of the Law School at Penn in 1873 as dean of what was then called the Law Department and Chair of Law of Real Estate, Conveyancing and Equity Jurisprudence.
One of the country’s leading authorities on real estate law, Edward Coppeé Mitchell’s books included Separate Use in Pennsylvania, Contracts for the Sale of Land in Pennsylvania, and The Equitable Relation of the Buyer and Seller of Land under Contract and Before Conveyance,” all of which were widely used by teachers of law.
When Mitchell came to the Law School, the faculty consisted of five professors. Students were required to attend most professors’ classes. While each professor set the tuition fee for his own class, the money was turned over to the dean, who divided the funds pro rata according to the number of lectures each professor had delivered.
Lectures and quizzes were the principal methods of instruction. Students frequently supplemented their classroom study by visits to the Philadelphia courts, where the dress code called for silk hats and frock coats.
During Mitchell’s time as dean, he ended admissions quotas for Catholic and Jewish students and admitted Dr. Caroline Burnham Kilgore L’1883, the Law School’s first woman student.
The Law School underwent other major changes during Mitchell’s tenure as well. Whereas before degrees had simply been conferred to any student who attended lectures, in 1875 the board of trustees adopted graduation qualifications.
From then on, students had to perform satisfactorily on exams in all required subjects and submit a sufficiently meritorious original essay to the faculty in order to receive a degree.