Founded in 1999, the University of St. Thomas School of Law is an ABA-accredited law school in downtown Minneapolis, Minn., offering an innovative curriculum that emphasizes professional formation and the education of the whole person. We strive to help each student develop the professional and ethical values that are vital to long-term success in our profession, enabling them to become lawyers who lead their communities by serving them.

St. Thomas & the Common Good

The concept of the common good, while long a tenet of our faith, has had a bright spotlight in the years that Pope Francis has led the Catholic Church. His words and actions symbolize the common good – a concept that rejects individualism and focuses on the interdependence of humanity and our planet.

In the Catholic tradition, the classic definition of the common good is a set of conditions that allows each and every member of a community to flourish. This, in turn, depends on an understanding of the nature and dignity of the person, and in the Catholic view each person is an image of God with the capacity to reason, choose freely, love and live in community.

Thus, a “common good education” seeks to cultivate respect, understanding and empathy for others. Such an education also seeks to equip students to understand and appreciate the common good of society and to encourage a lifelong commitment to protect and enhance the common good at every opportunity.

– University of St. Thomas President Julie Sullivan

The University of St. Thomas School of Law, as a Catholic law school, is dedicated to integrating faith and reason in the search for truth through a focus on morality and social justice.

To implement our mission, each member of the law school community is dedicated to promoting excellence in:

Professional Preparation

By providing, from a faith-based perspective, practical skills and theoretical legal education and mentoring, the law school commits to preparing students to become accomplished servant leaders in the practice of law, in the judiciary, in public and community service, in business, and in education. The law school's faculty and curriculum will be distinctive in supporting and encouraging students' integration of their faith and deepest ethical principles into their professional character and identity. Because a legal education is enhanced by a broad understanding of global society's many challenges, the law school will also provide students with opportunities for interdisciplinary study and experiential learning.

Scholarly Engagement and Societal Reform

The law school will undertake to expand knowledge about law and society and participate in the improvement of legal institutions and other organizations through recruitment and development of a faculty of outstanding teachers and scholars, sponsorship of academic lectures and interdisciplinary research activity, and establishment of a strong law library collection and staff. As members of a Catholic law school, faculty and students will particularly explore the intellectual integration of faith into the study of law, professional ethics, public policy, and social justice.

Service and Community

The law school will work to establish a diverse community of talented students, faculty, and staff dedicated to supporting and serving each other, the law school's mission, and the local, national, and global communities. The law school, inspired by Catholic social teaching, and members of the law school community, drawing on their own faith and values, will promote and participate in service programs designed to address the needs and improve the conditions of the disadvantaged and underserved. The law school will strive to enhance social justice and will assist students in integrating their commitments to serve society into their personal and professional lives.

In the fall of 2011, the University of St. Thomas School of Law community adopted the following value attributes which are intended to work with the mission and vision.

Professional Formation

We help each student attain personal and professional satisfaction by developing the qualities of excellence, social responsibility, and ethical integrity.  Our students acquire strong technical skills and develop the habits necessary for professional growth through individual reflection, personal dialogue with faculty and other mentors, moral development, and vocational discernment. 


We are a distinctly Catholic law school with a strong ecumenical component, inviting students of all faith traditions to integrate their personal and professional values in their search for justice.   


We recognize the dignity of every human being, and foster in our students a commitment to serving those in need. 


We continue to build a faculty of outstanding teacher-scholars whose work benefits society and enhances the educational experience. 


We are forward thinking and committed to creative improvements in legal education for the benefit of students and society.   


We foster a diverse environment in which each student feels supported in his or her unique journey from law student to lawyer and called to share his or her gifts to enrich the collective learning community.


We take relationships seriously both inside and outside the classroom.  The practice of law is a social endeavor, and we help students to develop the practical skills and emotional intelligence lawyers need to engage and nurture all relationships.

Inspired by justice, guided by faith, grounded in reason, committed to excellence, and devoted to advancing the common good, the University of St. Thomas School of Law sets forth the following general learning outcomes as we work to form professionals who practice the law with purpose:

Learning Outcome 1: Professional Formation and Ethical Responsibilities
Graduates will demonstrate an understanding of their professional and ethical responsibilities in serving clients, the profession, and society. Whether working in law, business, government, or the non-profit sector, each graduate will be able to describe his or her evolving professional identity, which is grounded in a moral core, includes a commitment to self-directed professional learning, and reflects a concern for the disadvantaged and those who lack access to justice.

Learning Outcome 2: Knowledge of Substantive and Procedural Law
Graduates will identify and be able to explain basic concepts, underlying theories, policy implications, and rules of law both in the required curriculum and in their chosen fields of study.

Learning Outcome 3: Legal Analysis, Reasoning, and Problem Solving
Graduates will be able to analyze and assess strategies for solving a problem, including identifying legal and non-legal issues that may be important to clients and exercising good judgment in advising clients.

Learning Outcome 4: Written and Oral Communication Skills
Graduates will be able to communicate effectively and appropriately in written and oral formats with a variety of audiences and in a variety of contexts.

Learning Outcome 5: Legal Research and Factual Investigation
Graduates will be able to retrieve, analyze, and effectively use legal resources; to appreciate different types of resources and their appropriate use as references or authorities; to evaluate the relevance, reliability, currency, and varying strength of legal authorities; and to gather relevant non-legal information or collaborate with non-legal professionals to better understand how the law may apply to a particular situation and the real-world consequences in a given situation.

Learning Outcome 6: Teamwork and Relationship Skills
Graduates will demonstrate competence in initiating and sustaining professional relationships and working with others toward common goals. Graduates will also demonstrate competence in interacting effectively with people across cultural differences.

Adopted by the University of St. Thomas School of Law Faculty, March 16, 2015

1885: College of St. Thomas is founded by Archbishop John Ireland and dedicated to patron saint Thomas Aquinas.

1923: After offering a prelaw program since 1914, St. Thomas opens a School of Law, classified a "day school" by the Minnesota Supreme Court. The court's former chief justice, Thomas D. O'Brien, is named dean.

June 2, 1926: The first class of law students - nine in all - graduates.

1928: From the 43rd Annual Catalog: "First-year law students are challenged to a rigorous, yet familiar docket of courses, including: Contracts and Quasi Contracts, Torts, Common Law Actions, Domestic Relations, Personal Property, Sales, Criminal Law, Damages, Agency and Nature of Law."

1933: The Depression and decline after World War I force the closure of the School of Law.

May 16, 1999: After extensive research, the university's board of trustees announces the reopening of the University of St. Thomas School of Law. David T. Link, dean of Notre Dame Law School for 24 years, is named founding dean in July.

Winter 1999: The University of St. Thomas Law School of Law moves into Terrence Murphy Hall on the downtown Minneapolis campus.

Spring 2000: Patrick Schiltz, professor at Notre Dame Law School, is named associate dean and Edmund Edmonds, library director at Loyola University New Orleans School of Law, is named director of the law library.

August 2001: The founding class of the University of St. Thomas School of Law, 120 members strong, begins classes in Terrence Murphy Hall.

June 2002: Thomas Mengler is named the second dean of the School of Law. Mengler arrives at St. Thomas after 11 years as dean of the University of Illinois College of Law.

February 2002: Ground is broken on the new School of Law building at the corner of 11th Street and Harmon Place in downtown Minneapolis.

August 2002: 99 members of the Class of 2005 begin classes at the School of Law.

April 2003: More than 100 members of the School of Law community take part in the first ever Public Service Day.

April 2003: Keshini Ratnayake receives the first Living the Mission Award as part of the School of Law Awards Day. Consistent with the mission of the law school, awards are presented in the categories of excellence in professional preparation, scholarly engagement and societal reform and service and community

July 2003: The School of Law moves into a new 158,000 square foot building at the corner of 11th Street and Harmon Place. The $34.8 million building includes 11 classrooms, a 40,000 square foot law library, a two-story chapel, and a classically designed moot court room.

August 2003: The American Bar Association House of Delegates grants the University of St. Thomas School of Law Provisional Accreditation.

August 2003: Along with the School of Social Work and the Graduate School of Professional Psychology, the Law school opens the Interprofessional Center for Counseling and Legal Services (IPC).  The IPC houses the Legal Services Clinic of the law school.

August 2003: The School of Law welcomes the 123 members of the Class of 2006. For the first time, a full complement of three classes is in place in the law school.

September 2003: With the start of the academic year, more than 450 members of the Twin Cities bench and bar are involved in the one-of-a-kind University of St. Thomas Mentor Program.
October 2003: The School of Law building is formally dedicated. Archbishop Harry Flynn blesses the building, the Honorable Diana Murphy delivers the keynote address and Saran Jenkins speaks on behalf of the students.

February 2004: The School of Law hosts the second annual University of St. Thomas Moot Court Competition. Second year students Betsy Thompson and Phil Wilson present strong arguments before three judges and about 50 spectators in the Frey Moot Courtroom.

April 2004: Work is completed on the first University of St. Thomas Law Review under the direction of Editor in Chief Ryan Palmer. The 780 page volume is titled "God, the Person, History, and the Law: Themes from the Work of Judge John T. Noonan, Jr."

May 22, 2004: Members of the first graduating class of the University of St. Thomas School of Law receive their Juris Doctor degrees.

February 14, 2006: The School of Law is granted full accreditation by the American Bar Association. The designation comes six months earlier than anticipated.

January, 2012:  School of Law welcomed to full membership in the American Association of Law Schools

Interim Dean Joel A. Nichols

Associate Dean for Academic Affairs Joel NicholsThe University of St. Thomas School of Law is led by Interim Dean Joel A. Nichols. He received his Juris Doctor, with high honors, from Emory Law School, and a Master of Divinity from the Candler School of Theology at Emory University. Nichols earned a Bachelor of Arts, summa cum laude, from Abilene Christian University.

Click here to read more about Dean Nichols.