When Don Burnett came to the University of Louisville to serve as dean of the law school in 1990, he was familiar with the connection between the city and one of its most famous sons, Justice Louis D. Brandeis.
But it wasn’t until he got further into his role as dean that Burnett says he truly began to understand the depth of that bond.
Burnett came to admire Brandeis’ respect for small institutions, his appreciation for federalism, his interdisciplinary insights and his vision of universities as hubs of innovation. Burnett especially admired Brandeis’ commitment to pro bono work.
“He really thought that was part of the obligation of lawyers and part of the noble calling of the law as a career,” said Burnett, who served as dean of the law school from 1990-2000.
Burnett knew that Brandeis had been a generous donor to the law school, helping the school financially as well as donating his personal library and correspondence.
In light of all this, Burnett began advocating to change the name of the law school in honor Brandeis. Many law schools are named for donors, after all, and Brandeis’ gifts helped shape the law school in more ways than one.
“His contributions were more meaningful than money alone,” Burnett said. “They were the contributions of someone who exemplified with the highest value and the greatest potential of the law.”
Working with colleagues, including then-Associate Dean Linda Ewald, Burnett began circulating the idea among faculty, alumni, the local bench and bar, university leadership and the Brandeis family itself. There was broad support for naming the law school in honor of Brandeis.
On Feb. 24, 1997, the UofL Board of Trustees made it official: the law school became the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law.
But before that change, Brandeis’ legacy took life in another way: In 1990, the law school established one of the first five mandatory pro bono requirements in the country. The first semester the program was instated, administrators saw a huge, positive student response.
“We realized we were doing something very substantial to a large number of our students,” Burnett says. “It spoke to their sense of professional responsibility — the highest calling of the law.”
Carrying the Brandeis name has given the law school a unique advantage in the national landscape of legal education, Burnett says. Prospective students know this is a school that carries on the name and spirit of a towering figure who saw law as a noble calling.
“His legacy has its home at the University of Louisville.”