Roscoe Pound Would Be Proud – Reflections On The History Of The GPC

Following the final GPC Series event held in London in last week, it seems timely to go back to where it all began. History informs the present and the future and, in our excitement about the significance of this ambitious project, it is important not to overlook the contribution of the memorable life of the man whose name it bears.

Roscoe Pound (1872-1964) was a remarkable man. Whilst some scholars brand him as ‘the most famous American jurisprudential thinker of the first half of the twentieth century’ and ‘the greatest twentieth century dean of the Harvard Law School’ his is hardly the name on every lawyer’s lips. Nor did he fit the mould of your average law school Dean.

An unconventional route

Son of a well-known Nebraskan judge, law was not his first choice. Instead he pursued a career and doctorate in botany. Roscoepoundiana – a fungus – was named after him, ensuring his enduring botanical fame. I confess to feeling a twinge of envy!

However family pressure could not be resisted and he entered legal practice (possible in those days without a degree). Enrolling in the one year postgraduate law programme at Harvard, family circumstances kept him from completing the exams but not from continuing as a practitioner.

His professional career saw him making memorable and enduring contributions wherever he went. At the Nebraska Bar he helped establish the Bar Association. He was appointed to the University of Nebraska and later became Dean of the Nebraska College of Law (1903-1907). Our students today benefit from his decision to introduce electives into the law degree.

Controversial ideas

In 1906 the American Bar Association (ABA) invited Dean Pound to deliver the keynote address at its annual meeting in St Paul, Minnesota. His speech, ‘The Causes of Popular Dissatisfaction with the Administration of Justice’, shocked many in his audience. Opening with the line ‘Dissatisfaction with the administration of justice is as old as the law….’- and continuing to chronicle the law’s deficiencies, it is not surprising that his address was not well received and the backlash from the profession provoked withdrawal of the initial decision to print and distribute 4000 copies.

However not everyone was a critic. In the audience was Dean Wigmore, Dean of Northwestern University, who soon persuaded Pound to accept a professorial post at Northwestern and later commented that Pound’s speech ‘struck the spark that kindled the white flame of high endeavour now spreading through the entire legal profession and radiating the spirit of resolute progress in the administration of justice.’Discovering that Pound had not graduated in law, he gave him an honorary degree.

Pound continued his distinguished career teaching and writing, finally settling into the post of Dean of the Harvard Law School (1916-1964) – to this day he remains the only Harvard Law School Dean not to have graduated from law school.

Before his time

An influential and widely published academic and administrator, by the time of his death in 1964, Pound had still not received the recognition he deserved from the practising profession to which he had contributed so greatly. Whilst not being prepared to issue an apology, the ABA did make a belated acknowledgement of Pound’s contribution to the profession and to legal thinking by awarding him the ABA medal (its highest award) in 1940.

Pound’s writing remained relevant and thought-provoking and he certainly influenced legal thinking. Those he influenced included Chief Justice Warren Burger, (another judge who ma