(1932-1939) Dean John E. Laughlin

John E. LaughlinJohn E. Laughlin joined the faculty when the school opened in 1911. He taught criminal law and evidence and served as vice dean for more than 20 years.

Laughlin excelled in private practice and earned considerable renown as a trial attorney. He had served as assistant solicitor for the City of Pittsburgh. Nonetheless, upon accepting the deanship, he broke from the tradition of his predecessors, putting aside his lucrative outside work. He would, however, remain an active and influential figure in local and statewide legal circles.

One of Dean Laughlin’s first challenges was— not surprisingly—another move. During the Great Depression, the University took advantage of rock-bottom real estate prices by aggressively buying properties, both on the Bluff and downtown. In 1932, Duquesne purchased the Fitzsimons Building at 331 fourth Avenue, a block from the Law School’s original home.

With the school settled in new, larger quarters for the foreseeable future, a stable faculty and a strong curriculum in place, Dean Laughlin turned his attention to another important element of legal education—the Law Library. Though students had access to the nearby Allegheny County Law Library, Laughlin embraced building the school’s own collections as a personal crusade. During his tenure, holdings grew to exceed 10,000 volumes. 

Laughlin gave up his private practice to focus on the deanship, but remained visible in the legal community. In 1935, Pennsylvania Governor George H. Earle appointed him to the board of commissioners on uniform state laws. Soon thereafter, he represented Pennsylvania’s attorney general at a national conference on uniform state laws in Los Angeles.

Laughlin endeared himself among students with the personal attention and dedication he displayed toward each one. A group of appreciative alumni presented him with a gold watch as a token of respect and appreciation. Years later, Laughlin told his son, “If I can leave you nothing but this watch, you will, nevertheless, have received from me my most priceless possession.”

Laughlin died suddenly in 1939. As the Depression eased, enrollment had grown slightly and had stabilized at 88 students by the end of his tenure, but darker days were on the horizon. Morris Zimmerman, an alumnus and faculty member who had served as Dean Laughlin’s assistant, was appointed acting dean while a search began for a permanent successor.