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(1911-1929) Dean Joseph M. Swearingen

Joseph M. SwearingenThe first dean position in the School of Law was given to the Honorable Joseph M. Swearingen, president judge of the allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

Dean Swearingen never attended law school, though this was not unusual in the late nineteenth century. He graduated from Washington and Jefferson College in 1879 and prepared for practice under the tutelage of local attorney Boyd Crumrine for two years before admission to the Bar.

Swearingen established himself as one of the city’s most diligent trial lawyers, earning a reputation for insightful arguments in equity cases. He was named president judge in 1907 and served for 24 years, concurrently executing his responsibilities as dean for most of that time.

Swearingen’s philosophy of legal education closely aligned with the ethic of Duquesne’s Spiritan fathers, and set a tone that would resonate throughout the school’s history. His school would focus not only on the letter of the law, but also on its spirit and the guiding principles of justice.

His vision was “a thoroughly efficient Law School of the highest character and the broadest range in the determination of its specific and collateral courses,” where students “would be taught the fundamental principles of legal ethics, and of justice, rights and duties, at every point of view.” He sought to train not just successful attorneys, “but broad-gauged, cultured gentlemen.” 

The first catalog expanded on these core values, describing the school’s objective as, “...to prepare young men, especially those engaged in business, not only for the preliminary examination of the State Board of Examiners, but also for entrance into other professions and for admission into higher courses of study.” 

After serving as a full-time dean and judge for 18 years, Dean Swearingen relinquished his academic duties in 1929. In failing health, he would retire from the bench two years later.

The Honorable Joseph M. Swearingen died in 1937 at the age of 82. His vision of “a thoroughly efficient Law School of the highest character and the broadest range” had by then taken shape.