Professor and Dean of the Law School

Faculty Photograph of J. Dickson Phillips

In 1959, James Dickson Phillips, Jr. returned to his alma mater, the UNC School of Law, as a visiting professor in civil procedure. By 1964, he achieved the rank of full professor and was appointed dean of the law school. He served as dean until 1974, guiding the law school through the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War and crafting a vision for legal education and public service that would carry Carolina Law into the future and help distinguish it as one of the best law schools in the nation.

During Phillips’s first year as dean of the law school in 1965, the North Carolina General Assembly approved plans for the construction of a new law school building and appropriated $1.8 million for the project. Dean Phillips, however, recognized that the proposed building plans and funding were not going to be enough to match the law school’s increasing enrollment numbers, and so he led the law faculty in applying for a federal grant from the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare. The grant application was successful, and Dean Phillips secured an additional $740,000 in funds for the construction of the new building. Van Hecke-Wettach Hall officially opened for students on September 23, 1968, with the dedicatory address being given by The Honorable Earl Warren, Chief Justice of the United States. 1

Dean J. Dickson Phillips, Jr.
Dean J. Dickson Phillips, Jr.

Dean Phillips actively supported the growth of the Carolina Law student body, increased the number of full professorships, and particularly focused the law school’s recruitment efforts on diversifying the student population. In 1964, student enrollment was at 376, and by 1974 that number had nearly doubled to 700. 2 As a result of efforts by Dean Phillips and the Student Bar Association’s Law School Recruitment Committee, the number of enrolled African American students climbed from one in 1964 to 23 in 1974. Additionally, the number of women attending Carolina Law during Dean Phillips’s tenure jumped from just 10 in 1964 to 121 in 1974.

Dean Rusk (left), Henry Poole '71 (center), and J. Dickson Phillips, Jr. (right)
U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk, left, spoke at the 1971 UNC Law graduation during Phillips’s tenure.

Dean Phillips also dedicated himself to enhancing the curriculum at Carolina Law through the expansion of available coursework, the creation of the Holderness Moot Court Bench, the expansion of the clinical program, and the initiation of the law school’s research and policy centers.3 Dean Phillips recognized that the development of practice skills was equally as important as the study of substantive legal theory in a comprehensive legal education program. When discussing the purpose for the Holderness Moot Court, he observed that the program would be “the best immediate device for bridging one of the obvious education practice gap[s] on a fairly high educational, yet controllable, basis.”4 Likewise, Dean Phillips championed the Law Center as a model for “direct, systematic public service primarily to the state of North Carolina” that would also provide students with the opportunity to monitor legal developments in North Carolina and recommend possible solutions for issues encountered by state policymakers.5

Throughout all the changes that Dean Phillips helped bring to Carolina Law, he always kept the school’s central mission clearly in focus. He prized the school’s unique role in shaping, preserving, and promoting justice and the rule of law in North Carolina. In his annual report for the 1972-1973 school year, he summarized that mission succinctly:

This School presently produces, and for the foreseeable future will continue to produce, a majority of the persons annually entering the profession of law in North Carolina. Therefore the success of the School in discharging that duty is of obvious importance to the State. To a large extent, the caliber of the bar and bench of the State and hence the caliber of the administration of justice, the reform of legal institutions, and the shaping of policy at all levels of government depend on the success of this School. We hope most devoutly that it will be equal to the task and dedicate ourselves to that end.6

  1. Program from the dedication ceremony for Van Hecke-Wettach Hall, May 1 – 3, 1969
  2. William B. Aycock, The Vietnam Era: The Deanship of James Dickson Phillips, Jr. (1964-74), 73 N.C. L. REV. 601, 610 (1995). For another view of Phillips’s decanal leadership, see John C. Boger, J. Dickson Phillips Jr.: Preparation for Judicial Excellence, 92 N.C. L. REV. 1789 (2014).
  3. Letter of April 19, 1969 to Provost J. C. Morrow concerning The Law Center
  4. Letter of November 3, 1965 concerning Holderness Moot Court
  5. Proposal for The Law Center, undated
  6. J. Dickson Phillips, The Law School, 52 N.C. L. REV. 575, 587 (1974)