Law Schools

Individual donors writing large checks to law schools make up a relatively small community of philanthropists who are nevertheless quite generous.  

Here at IP we have reviewed major law school gifts from individual donors over the past few years and are analyzing new gifts nearly every week. This guide explores who's making the gifts, what schools are getting the money and what strings are attached to how the money is spent.

Who’s Giving?

Alumni are the most frequent donors in higher education, and law school donations reflect this fact. This holds true when it comes to law school donations. Gifts are often designated for a specific purpose, such as building a new residence hall or endowing professorships.

In the fall of 2015, Chicago billionaire couple J.B. Pritzker and his wife M.K. Pritzker made a $100 million gift to Northwestern University School of Law.  The gift will support several social justice centers at the now-renamed Northwestern Pritzker School of Law, including the Center on Wrongful Convictions and the Environmental Law Center. The gift also will endow the Entrepreneurship Law Center, which will be renamed the Donald Pritzker Entrepreneurial Law Center in honor of Mr. Pritzker's father. This gift is considered the largest single gift ever to any law school, as of this writing.

Prominent trial lawyer Thomas R. Kline also recently gave one of the largest gifts to a law school with a $50 million gift to Drexel Law, which renamed the school in his honor. Kline didn't go to Drexel, but his son did. The seeds of Kline's gift were planted when in 2012 he purchased the former Beneficial Bank building, which is within walking distance from Drexel's campus. Kline's gift will include that building, which will house the law school's Institute for Trial Advocacy.

Charles Widger, who received a law degree from Villanova in 1973, recently gave a $25 million gift to Villanova University Law School. Widger worked in law for a time but also founded investment firm Brinker Capital. Widger's funds will support the growth of an endowment and also address various efforts including creating an endowed scholars program, an endowed university professorship, and a dean's innovation fund.

Billionaire real estate developer Stephen Ross, known for his enormous philanthropy at University of Michigan, particularly its business school, recently gave a $20 million gift to New York University School of Law. After Ross finished his undergraduate studies at University of Michigan, he also got a J.D. from Wayne State University, and earned an LL.M. in taxation from NYU Law.

The College of William & Mary recently received a $50 million gift from an anonymous donor in support of its $1 billion fundraising campaign. The gift will support scholarships for students at both the William & Mary Law School and Raymond A. Mason School of Business. 

Robert and Christina Baker recently gave a donation of $25 million to Yale. These funds are earmarked for the acquisition and renovation of a new building to be used as a residence hall for law students. A portion of the money will also go toward the renovation of existing residence halls at Yale Law School. Upon completion, the renovated building will be renamed the Robert C. and Christina Baker Hall at Yale Law School. Robert Baker graduated from Yale Law in 1959.

Lowell E. Baier recently gave $20 million to Indiana University in Bloomington to support upgrades and renovations at its Maurer School of Law, where he earned his law degree in 1964. Baier practiced law in the nation's capital, and also formed Baier Properties, Inc., a Bethesda-based real estate development company.

Saudi businessman Abdallah S. Kamel gave $10 million recently to Yale University to establish the Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization. 

Landis “Lanny” and Sharon Martin wrote a $10 million check to the Northwestern School of Law in 2013, before it was renamed for the $100 million Pritzker gift. Lanny Martin received his B.S. from Northwestern in 1968 and his J.D. in 1973. The Martins donate heavily to Northwestern different programs. Their first contribution to Northwestern’s law school was back in 1975, when they contributed $50 million to its annual fund. The Martin’s most recent $10 million gift will go toward identifying and implementing innovative strategies to improve the legal education program at Northwestern and help “enhance” the educational experiences of law students.

Who's Getting?

Major universities stand alone as the recipients of recent large gifts to law schools. Not all the law schools receiving the biggest donations are Ivy League, as was the case with Yale and its previously mentioned $25 million donation. But many of them are still top tier schools, with state universities winning many big law school gifts.

Major Universities

The list of major universities receiving large gifts earmarked for their law schools does include one or two Ivy League schools, such as the aforementioned $25 million gift to Yale, but it’s state schools that are winning out in this area of giving.

It’s difficult to top $25 million, but Dale and Sarah Fowler did just that with their $55 million check to Chapman University’s School of Law. Dale Fowler graduated Chapman in 1958, and the couple’s children are also alumni of the school. As for the law school itself, it’s still in its adolescence, having opened its doors in 1995.

The Fowlers' gift was one of the largest gifts Chapman has ever received and is historically also one of the largest gifts ever among law schools nationwide. The Fowlers' millions will be used to improve the legal education and training program at the school as well as hiring top-ranking professors from across the country. A portion of the money will also be used to help "make the cost of law school more affordable for its students,” though neither the school or the Fowlers explained what affordability measures would be taken. In recognition of their gift, Chapman’s law school has been renamed the Dale E. Fowler School of Law.

Thomas R. Kline's $50 million gift to Drexel Law and the Pritzkers' $100 million gift to Northwestern University's law school are also historic gifts in this space.

What are the Gifts for?

Individual gifts for shaping programs just barely edge out law school building renovations and expansions. While some major gifts aimed at improving law programs aren't all that specific in nature, other are more targeted including Kline's Institute for Trial Advocacy, Abdallah S. Kamel's Abdallah S. Kamel Center for the Study of Islamic Law and Civilization, and Lowell Milken's $10 million gift to UCLA, which will create the Milken Institute for Business Law and Policy.

Daniel and Alisa Doctoroff also gave an earmarked gift to the University of Chicago Law School. Their $5 million contribution will create the Doctoroff Business Leadership Program within the law school.

How the Gifts Happen

Call centers and fundraising staff assigned to law schools tend to handle what could be considered smaller gifts. Large law school gifts happen through the involvement of two parties — deans of law schools and the president of the university. Given that all but one of the recent big law school gifts came from alumni and given their average size, it’s safe to assume that law school deans and university presidents go through a careful and time-consuming fundraising process, often spanning many years, to court these donors.

Taking the unusually large gifts out of the mix, the average check written to a law school by an individual donor is around $5 million.

Insights & Tips

With a mean graduation year of 1970, the average age of alumni in this giving space is a little younger than many other areas of higher ed giving.

Even though nearly all of the individual donors to law schools are alumni, not all of them hold law degrees. As we mentioned earlier, this is a really small community of donor who tend to give generously. From the donations we reviewed, donors from the real estate industry, some of whom hold law degrees, tend to give the most generously though the relationship-building process leading up to these gifts is years in the making.

Some of the largest gifts awarded to law schools to date — $100 million to Northwestern from the Pritzkers, $25 million to Yale from the Bakers, and $55 million to Chapman from the Fowlers — are indicative of this trend. Robert Baker (who does have a law degree from Yale) is the founder and CEO of National Realty and Development Corporation, which is one of the largest private real estate development companies in the country. Dale Fowler, who did not earn a law degree from the school, began his real estate development career in Orange County, California shortly after graduating from Chapman. J.B. Pritzker, meanwhile, is the billionaire heir to the Hyatt Hotel fortune and runs a private equity and venture capital firm.